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Channeling Scoop Jackson

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

When Barack Obama became President of the United States, he swore an oath to “preserve, protect and defend our Constitution.” Unfortunately, evidence has accumulated ever since that he feels no obligation to honor his commitment.

In fact, Mr. Obama has been violating that oath, left and, well, left. Here are a few of the most egregious examples:

Under the President’s health care legislation, now universally known as Obamacare, Americans are compelled to purchase health care. The constitutionality of this measure is being tested in court at this writing. But such a mandate smacks of big government overreach that must be struck down by the Supreme Court.

Then, late last year, there were Mr. Obama’s “recess” appointments of several controversial nominees to positions requiring Senate confirmation. For the first time in the country’s history, a president made such appointments when the Senate was not actually in recess.

On the basis of this precedent, Mr. Obama (or his successors) may choose to flout Senators’ constitutional prerogative even further – say by making recess appointments when the Senate breaks for lunch. And, given the lack of outcry or meaningful push-back from Senators to date, whynot?

The latest, and one of the most ominous examples of President Obama’s low regard for the Constitution, came to light in congressional testimony last week by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. He told incredulous Senators that the United States would only go to war in Syria if it gets international permission. Wherever you come down on the advisability of America engaging militarily in yet-another Middle Eastern nation, if we decide it is in our national interest to do so, it should be up to our elected representatives, not the United Nations, the Arab League or some other multilateral entity.

Mr. Panetta added true insult to constitutional injury. He declared that the administration might or might not inform Congress should it decide to use force. Presumably, any such decision would, like the U.S. intervention in Libya, be dressed up as a humanitarian operation. Its true purpose, however, would surely be to topple the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad – a government that, like Muammar Qaddafi’s, it was, until recently, assiduously romancing.

These were not misstatements or Freudian slips on the part of the Defense Secretary. In his hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Mr. Panetta declined several opportunities to clarify or revise his position. Consequently, one can only conclude that Team Obama has embraced the sort of diminution of U.S. sovereignty that helped scupper John Kerry’s presidential bid in 2004, when he pledged to seek UN permission before engaging in military action.

Many years ago, I had the privilege of working for the late, truly great Democratic Senator Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson. It is simply inconceivable to me that such anti-constitutional misconduct – by a president of either party – would be tolerated were he still in the U.S. Senate.

Scoop Jackson would have been affronted by the dire implications of such behavior for the system of checks-and-balances that are enshrined in the Constitution and that are supposed to limit the scope and potential for abuse of the government it charters. He would never have stood for relegating our national security decisions to the say-so of others, or having our military be, as President Obama once put it, “volunteered” by them.

Ever the level-headed politician, Senator Jackson would also have recognized the validity in such cases of the old adage, “what goes around comes around.” President Obama is creating precedents today that a future Republican president could exploit to the detriment of his partisan rivals. Some of them may turn out to be the very legislators who are today largely turning a blind eye to what this chief executive is doing, evidently on the grounds that the ends justify the means.

It is striking that few, if any, Democrats in Congress appear to recognize the peril to our country posed by President Obama’s anti-constitutional behavior. Even more amazing is the fact that none of them seem to appreciate that they have a vested interest in shoring up the Constitution, not allowing it to be eviscerated, piece by piece. If they allow this to continue, they will surely rue the day at some point in the future when another Commander-in-Chief is running roughshod over their institutional duties, prerogatives and policy preferences.

Naturally, in the course of a national election, Democratic politicians are reluctant to part company from the man at the top of their ticket, especially in ways that might be seen to align them with his critics. Still, violating the Constitution is the sort of thing that should compel them to do so. After all, they also took an oath to “support and defend the Constitution.” I feel sure Scoop Jackson would do so, were he alive today. The country urgently needs his successors on Capitol Hill – on both sides of the aisle – to channel his character and fidelity to the oath of office that they have all sworn.

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