History didn’t end quite as soon as Francis Fukayama famously forecast. Every generation will face interesting times, it seems. But, David Brooks, the New York Times’ idea of a conservative, recently bid to team with Fukayama to seize a consolation prize.If you can’t end history, maybe you can end the American Constitutional order. That would be interesting, and pleasing to deep thinkers disappointed in Congress’s failure to pass a lot of awesome new laws.
Brooks doesn’t exactly say so, but trashing the Constitution is what he advocates in his modestly titled piece: “Strengthen the Presidency.” Brooks sensitively builds his case by sharing the wrenching plight of Congressional budget analysts who toil thanklessly to analyze the impact of lots of really good bills that somehow never get passed.
The pathos! “They work furiously hard to analyze the impact of bills — immigration reform, tax reform, entitlement reform and gun legislation — but almost none of these bills ever makes it into law. There’s all this effort, but no result.”So, Brooks asserts we’re in era of “reform stagnation.” Years might go by without big, new laws.
To explain the drought’s cause, Brooks cites Fukayama’s essay in the current issue of The American Interest, The Decay of American Institutions, which diagnoses increased polarization, too many interest groups and lobbyists, and expansive power grabs by courts that foster too much litigation, all of which have combined to shrink the influence of the executive branch.
It’s a neat bit of verbal alchemy to jump from congressional gridlock and then somehow land at a hogtied presidency, but Brooks and Fukayama are agile enough to pull it off. Brooks has just the solution: Pump up the presidency! Expand its powers! Not because we necessarily trust the executive, but because we’re better off when the president is stronger than outside interest groups that “capture” Congress. Brooks must rank that insight as among nature’s self evident truths, because he leaves it mostly undeveloped.
Brooks argues the executive could forge solutions on things like immigration reform (and presumably the rest of his litany of tragically unpassed bills) that Congress is just too polarized to tackle. Further, he’s enthused that executive staffs are usually more expert than congressional staffs, and more insulated from the groups that do tawdry things like try to petition government.
The way out our reform wilderness, Brooks declares, is giving more policy making authority—“legislative power” in the Founders’ quaint parlance-- and administrative “flexibility” to the executive branch.
At this point, anyone who occupies the real world rather than an elite faculty lounge or Gray Lady Editorial suite should be choking. What universe is Brooks describing? Since when is the US president bound and hobbled from faithfully executing the law? For that matter, how is this president even hindered from making the law up?
One of the president’s first acts, in the name of stimulating the economy, was to rain down nearly a trillion dollars on his pets and friends in all levels of government and all stripes of left-wing activism. The Left is obscenely funded for a generation.
When Chrysler and General Motors crawled kneeling to Washington with cupped hands, the president decided he’d really rather the UAW keep its generous packages and get awarded billions in equity ahead of the secured creditors and fund investors. He ignored the law and made his leftist will happen.
When disaster struck the Gulf in the BP oil spill, the president didn’t rely on his crack environmental regulators and federal courts to administer the law and award compensation. He wrote a new script, demanded a $20 billion down payment from BP for a compensation fund, and made up the remedial program as we went.
When voters slapped the president back and put the other party in charge of the US House, this administration quickly pivoted (the only real pivot he ever executed) to achieving rule by regulation, crafting sweeping attacks on carbon, coal, American energy, and, it now appears, any property owners with mud on their land, vital wetland habitat, don’t you know?Navigable interstate waters, to be sure!
When Congress passed Obamacare, the Constitution’s First Branch did not so much codify a health plan as toss a two-thousand page invitation to the administration to draft tens of thousands of pages of regulations with the actual substance and details. Now, the president has demonstrated his belief—backed up by action—that he can alter and ignore whatever parts of the statutory law he wants for as long and whatever reason he wants.
Then there’s the sinister, unAmerican face of this president’s executive latitude. Audits of critics and activists by the IRS and other agencies. Mysterious paramilitary raids on companies like Gibson guitar. Targeted harassment and stonewalling nonprofit applications by conservative groups. Frivolous investigations and lawsuits by Eric Holder’s Justice Department against companies, states, schools, anyone or anything that displeases the administration or its leftist allies. The unscripted confession by the EPA administrator his agency subscribes to ancient Rome’s strategy of a few exemplary crucifixions to keep the locals in line. New IRS rules to knock conservative nonprofits further out of the game.
This all adds up to an exceedingly strange time for Brooks to conclude that because Congress doesn’t pass the shiny new laws he and Fukayama might favor, we should give up on separation of powers, checks and balances, and the creaky, old Constitution that made America the most successful nation in the known universe. Instead, we should vest domestic rule in an exalted executive.
Brooks might learn something from the honest liberal law professor. Jonathon Turley recently testified to Congress this president has become “the very danger the Constitution was designed to avoid.”
Brooks doesn’t care. He was never much a conservative. Now, he’s exposed himself as not much of a constitutional democrat. RIP Mr. Madison.