Fight the Power

Posted: May 17, 2013 12:01 AM
Speaking at Ohio State just a few days before abuse of power and dishonesty scandals swept over his administration, President Obama sang one of his trademark odes to the benevolence of government:

Unfortunately you've grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that's at the root of all of our problems. ... They'll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because what they suggest is that our ... experiment in self-rule is somehow just a sham with which we can't be trusted.It was vintage Obama -- caricaturing his opponents' views (who believes government is at the root of "all" our problems?), and implying that concern about government overreach is equivalent to rejecting self-rule.

It's plausible to grant that Obama himself did not know that IRS agents were targeting tea party groups, Jews and other -- one almost wants to write "enemies of the state" -- for audits, harassment and delay. If Obama understood the conservative critique of big government even a little, he would know that his lack of knowledge is expected. In fact, it's part of the problem. As David Axelrod put it, the government is just "too vast" for the president to control. Who would have thought?

Obviously the government has always been too large for any one person to control. But our brilliant founders arranged matters so that power would be diffuse. Interest would counter interest, branch would check branch and transparency would ensure accountability to the voters. As James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 51:

Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?

The tea party movement -- those the IRS harassed -- dressed up as Founders, a rich irony. A good progressive, Obama finds Adams, Jefferson and Co. passe. He doesn't recognize the capacity of government to abuse power when in the proper (i.e. Democratic) hands -- or, more likely, doesn't care. His arrogance about his own good intentions for the "middle class" -- odd that he almost never speaks of the poor -- makes him contemptuous of those who agree with Madison that government power must always be carefully constrained.

You needn't believe that Barack Obama personally texted IRS agents and instructed them to harass conservatives to know that he disdains the constitutional order. The evidence is in the legislation he signed. Both the Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank create boards with utterly (in the case of Dodd Frank) and nearly (in the case of Obamacare) unreviewable power. Both are the subjects of lawsuits challenging their constitutionality.

Dodd Frank (aka "Dodd Frankenstein") creates at least two panels that are insulated from Congress's power of the purse. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Financial Stability Oversight Council derive their funding directly from the Federal Reserve. The president can appoint the director of the CFPB but can remove him only in very limited circumstances. The courts, which can normally overturn agency actions deemed "arbitrary or capricious," have limited review. The president highlighted his contempt for law by illegally naming the current director of CFPB as a "recess appointment" - when the Senate was not in recess.

The FSOC can declare firms "too big to fail" and thus obligate taxpayers for bailouts. The courts will have no say.

Under Obamacare, the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) is exempted from the notice and comment rules of federal agencies. IPAB dictates automatically become law unless Congress itself intervenes, but Congress has little time to do so and must vote by a three-fifths majority to modify an IPAB decision. The courts are not permitted to review its rulings.

Even abolishing IPAB has been made virtually impossible by the law.

At his Thursday press conference, Obama promised that if "there's a problem in government, we'll fix it." But his overweening signature legislation guarantees that power will be abused. Shielding government agencies from judicial and congressional review is an open invitation to the kind of misuse a wiser person would guard against. Wiser men did. They created our constitution, which Obama and his progressive allies flout.

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