Or, “I am the state”. This remark has been attributed to Louis XIV, probably the most powerful king of France. During his long reign of seventy-two years, the Sun King, as he was known, systematicaly increased the power of the monarchy by reducing or eliminating any other center of power in France. The French legislature, the Estates-General, had already ceased to meet. The nobility was emasculated and made to serve as Louis’s personal servants. Louis revoked the Edict of Nantes, which gave some protection to French protestants, and made sure the French Catholic Church was under his control. By the end of his life, Louis could truly say that all of the functions of the state rested in him personally.
“I refuse to take ‘No’ for an answer,” said President Obama this week as he claimed new powers for himself in making recess appointments while Congress wasn’t legally in recess. The chief executive’s power grab in naming appointees to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the National Labor Relations Board has been depicted by administration supporters as one forced upon a reluctant Obama by Republican intransigence. But this isn’t the first example of the president’s increasing tendency to govern with executive-branch powers. He has already explained that “where Congress is not willing to act, we’re going to go ahead and do it ourselves.” On a variety of issues, from immigration to the environment to labor law, that’s just what he’s been doing—and he may try it even more boldly should he win reelection. This “go it alone” philosophy reflects an authoritarian trend emerging on the political left since the conservative triumph in the 2010 elections.
The president and his coterie could have responded to the 2010 elections by conceding the widespread public hostility to excessive government spending and regulation. That’s what the more clued-in Clintonites did after their 1994 midterm defeats. But unlike Clinton, who came from the party’s moderate wing and hailed from the rural South, the highly urban progressive rump that is Obama’s true base of support has little appreciation for suburban or rural Democrats. In fact, some liberals even celebrated the 2010 demise of the Blue Dog and Plains States Democrats, concluding that the purged party could embrace a purer version of the liberal agenda. So instead of appealing to the middle, the White House has pressed ahead with Keynesian spending and a progressive regulatory agenda.
Much of the administration’s approach has to do with a change in the nature of liberal politics. Today’s progressives cannot be viewed primarily as pragmatic Truman- or Clinton-style majoritarians. Rather, they resemble the medieval clerical class. Their goal is governmental control over everything from what sort of climate science is permissible to how we choose to live our lives. Many of today’s progressives can be as dogmatic in their beliefs as the most strident evangelical minister or mullah. Like Al Gore declaring the debate over climate change closed, despite the Climategate e-mails and widespread skepticism, the clerisy takes its beliefs as based on absolute truth. Critics lie beyond the pale.
As his recess appointments made while the Senate is not recessed might indicate, Obama already seems to feel he can do without the legislative branch. He doesn’t like opposition very much either. These authoritarian tendencies seem to be getting increasingly prominent on the Left. There seems to be an increasing sense that the American people are just too stupid to appreciate the good that Liberal policies can do them and so maybe they shouldn’t be asked.
If Obama does win, 2013 could possibly bring something approaching a constitutional crisis. With the House and perhaps the Senate in Republican hands, Obama’s clerisy may be tempted to use the full range of executive power. The logic for running the country from the executive has been laid out already. Republican control of just the House, argues Chicago congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr., has made America ungovernable. Obama, he said during the fight over the debt limit, needed to bypass the Constitution because, as in 1861, the South (in this case, the Southern Republicans) was “in a state of rebellion” against lawful authority. Beverley Perdue, the Democratic governor of North Carolina, concurred: she wanted to have elections suspended for a stretch. (Perdue’s office later insisted this was a joke, but most jokes aren’t told deadpan or punctuated with “I really hope someone can agree with me on that.” Also: Nobody laughed.)
The Left’s growing support for a soft authoritarianism is reminiscent of the 1930s, when many on both right and left looked favorably at either Stalin’s Soviet experiment or its fascist and National Socialist rivals. Tom Friedman of the New York Times recently praised Chinese-style authoritarianism for advancing the green agenda. The “reasonably enlightened group” running China, he asserted, was superior to our messy democracy in such things as subsidizing green industry. Steven Rattner, the investment banker and former Obama car czar, dismisses the problems posed by China’s economic and environmental foibles and declares himself “staunchly optimistic” about the future of that country’s Communist Party dictatorship. And it’s not just the gentry liberals identifying China as their model: labor leader Andy Stern, formerly the president of the Service Employees International Union and a close ally of the White House, celebrates Chinese authoritarianism and says that our capitalistic pluralism is headed for “the trash heap of history.” The Chinese, Stern argues, get things done.
Just like Mussolini got the trains to run on time, I guess. Actually he didn’t. I think though that it would be unfair to blame Obama too much for the increasing power of the executive at the expense of the legislative branch. Congress has a good share of the blame too, since too many Congressmen are simply unwilling to do anything that might jeopardize their chances of reelection and so don’t mind ceding their power. Whoever wins this year’s election, we have got to re-establish the principle that we are a nation,even the President, under the rule of law. Otherwise we might be living under our own Sun King.
There is a lot more to the article and I suggest you read the whole thing.
- THE NEW AUTHORITARIANISM: At City Journal, Fred Siegel and Joel Kotkin write: If Obama does win, 20… (pjmedia.com)
- Silent Sovereign (truthtofreedom.com)