Professor Obama and the Constitution

Posted: Dec 04, 2012 12:00 AM
Professor Obama and the Constitution
Remind me -- what was the college course Barack Obama used to teach? Constitutional law? Or was it "Machiavelli for Beginners"? If it was the former, did it cover the American system of checks and balances and separation of powers? Did it dip, however briefly, into the dangers that the founding fathers wished to forfend, such as accumulation of unchecked power in a single governmental branch? Or in a single man?

If the course taught by the future President Obama tended to evade such considerations, and instead to emphasize princecraft, the art of prevarication and the hidden dagger -- yeah, it shows; more and more dismayingly all the time.

Semi-buried in the White House's fiscal-cliff-avoidance offer to the Republicans last week was a pernicious proposal giving him executive authority to raise the debt ceiling without consent of Congress. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell reportedly laughed at the proposal as a whole. He might better have wept. A president bent on usurpation is in the end no laughing matter.

Obama, who seems to see himself as God's gift to the American people, has a track record here. He rammed Obamacare through Congress without a single Republican vote or concession to his critics. He brushes off (and the mainstream media generally lets him get by with brushing off) intellectual and philosophical pushback. He draws himself up, acts offended, goes back to saying the things he was saying previously, as with the current debate over taxing "millionaires and billionaires" versus addressing the problem of gross overspending by the federal government. It's hard, is it not, to argue with a man who's always right?

Now, the debt ceiling ploy. Obama won't get from a Republican House of Representatives --though our Democratic Senate is another matter -- the authority he proposes to wield In Behalf of Us All. Maybe he sees the proposal as a throwaway line - catnip for people he doesn't like or trust to begin with. Why, in any case, allow him power he presently lacks to decide how much money the country can borrow, subject only to explicit veto by Congress (a doubtful prospect indeed when your party leaders line up behind you, zombie-like, in preference to admitting that Republicans might find something intelligent to say)?

Franklin Roosevelt had similar intimations of infallibility, which came to naught after he tried to "pack" the Supreme Court with pro-New Deal justices and thus win general approval of his whole program to make over the government. The founding fathers had foreseen such eventualities. They knew human nature, and humans love of power. The Constitution that Professor Obama once received a salary to teach was a document bristling with all kinds of internal barriers and protections against the concentration of power. "A" could do what "B" couldn't; "C" had still other functions. The three were obliged to work together. Obama strains continually against these cords: hoping his rhetorical abilities will scare the daylights out of opponents and naysayers.

This brings up a corollary point. Are the voters and the media -- in 21st-century speak -- his enablers? That's to say, didn't we put him where he is? Don't we share some responsibility for his policies and behavior? And can't we, not to mention, shouldn't we, speak out against and contradict actions with the potential of undermining constitutional liberties and the country's economic integrity, such as it is?

A president who once taught the Constitution should be expected to think every now and then about the constitutional obligations -- the human restraints -- that rightly come with power-sharing. On the other hand, if "Machiavelli for Beginners" was in fact his curricular subtitle, ex-Professor Obama might think a little about what comes with upsetting the people, making them fearful and angry and desirous of throwing him out.

From "The Prince," Chapter 19: "[C]oncerning his subjects, when affairs outside are disturbed he has only to fear that they will conspire secretly, from which a prince can easily secure himself by ... keeping the people satisfied with him, which it is most necessary for him to accomplish."

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