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How liberals stopped worrying and learned to love the Unitary Executive

The New York Times published an amazing piece on Sunday called “Shift on executive power lets Obama bypass rivals,” in which they applaud Obama’s executive power grabs.  The sub-title hails these expansions of unitary power as “a measure of change.” 

There isn’t much sugar-coating in this piece.  Obama’s actions are called “unitary” several times, and author Charlie Savage acknowledges that “as a senator and presidential candidate, [Obama] had criticized George W. Bush for flouting the role of Congress.” 

The President’s aides promise that “many more such moves are coming,” and assure us this isn’t just a re-election ploy by Obama – if he gets a second term, he’ll keep bypassing Congress and asserting new executive powers, particularly if the Republicans take the Senate.

Then we get this absolute howler from University of Chicago political science professor William G. Howell: “What is surprising is that he is coming around to responding to the incentives that are built into the institution of the presidency.  Even someone who has studied the Constitution and holds it in high regard  -he, too, is going to exercise these unilateral powers because his long-term legacy and his standing in the polls crucially depend upon action.”

Yes, it’s pretty clear that Barack Obama holds the Constitution, and such defensive mechanisms as Supreme Court judicial review, in “high regard!”  The Constitution is suffocating in his passionate embrace.

All this unitary power is justified to the New York Times because tyranny is necessary when democracy coughs up Republican majorities in the House.  Obama supposedly tried to “work through the legislative process to achieve his domestic policy goals” during his first two years – even though the only thing he’s got to show for it is ObamaCare, and that was rammed through Congress over the strenuous objections of the American people, using midnight votes and back-room deals.

Sadly, those stupid American voters responded to this by delivering control of the House to Republicans in the 2012 tidal wave, so Obama had to take off those legislative kid gloves and become the very same type of unitary executive that gave liberals the vapors during the Bush Terror.  It’s the simple calculus of tyranny: democracy is indulged, up until it gets in the way of the leader’s glorious vision, at which point it becomes an obstacle to be circumvented.

Here’s how the Times sums up the President’s journey into benevolent dictatorship thus far:

The Obama administration started down this path soon after Republicans took over the House of Representatives last year. In February 2011, Mr. Obama directed the Justice Department to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act, which bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages, against constitutional challenges. Previously, the administration had urged lawmakers to repeal it, but had defended their right to enact it.

In the following months, the administration increased efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions through environmental regulations, gave states waivers from federal mandates if they agreed to education overhauls, and refocused deportation policy in a way that in effect granted relief to some illegal immigrants brought to the country as children. Each step substituted for a faltered legislative proposal.

In other words, all the stuff you voted against happened anyway, America, because His Majesty knows what’s good for you.  Surprisingly, the Times doesn’t see fit to mention Obama’s unilateral war on Libya among these achievements.  So much for the War Powers Act!

One of the items that was mentioned is Obama’s unilateral decision to nullify the Defense of Marriage Act… which is rather hard to reconcile with his later assertion that the Supreme Court better not strike down ObamaCare, because it was passed with a congressional majority.  The Defense of Marriage Act enjoyed vastly more support than ObamaCare, after all.  Logical inconsistency is a huge perk of unitary power, and it’s quite intoxicating!

The Times tells us Obama really cut loose after “negotiations over a deficit reduction deal broke down”… something we know was largely Obama’s fault.  Obama was the one storming out of meetings and threatening to cancel Social Security checks.  He was also the one that opened “negotiations” with a demand for a “clean” increase in the debt ceiling, meaning he gets all the money he wants without any conditions whatsoever. 

In the end, Obama was correctly hailed by the media as the winner of the debt ceiling showdown.  Those who wanted to keep the debt ceiling in place, or impose spending caps and a balanced budget in exchange for one last infusion of debt, were defeated.  How’s that Budget Control Act of 2011 working out for everyone?  Are you enjoying all that marvelous deficit reduction?  Obama’s debt load just passed the $5 trillion mark last week, which is more than his first 43 predecessors combined managed to accumulate. 

The sole specific example of unitary power the Times attributes to Bush is an executive order allowing religiously affiliated groups to receive taxpayer grants, along with some vague condemnation of Reagan and Bush for using administrative powers for de-regulation.  That’s pretty thin gruel compared to the list of power grabs presented for Obama, without criticism.  I seem to recall the Left including more particulars when it complained about the “unitary executive” during the Bush years.

Of course, it would be indecorous to bring up those critiques now, because most of them pertained to security policies that Obama has continued.  It would also be… unhelpful to remind people just how vociferous the Left’s criticism of executive power was. 

We also don’t want to dwell on how the increasing size and reach of government inescapably makes separation-of-powers struggles more intense.  The size of the modern super-State distorts the Constitution as if it were written on the side of an over-inflated balloon.  The Founders probably did not envision a future President circumventing Congress in order to refinance student loans.

This new embrace of unitary power is a key component of the media’s in-kind contribution to the Obama 2012 campaign, which – believe it or not – is going to claim that everything bad about the past three years happened because evil Republican obstructionists interfered with Good King Barack’s wise policy agenda.  This includes the two years when Obama’s party ran every single branch of government. 

The 2010 midterm landslide – an angry public’s first chance to weigh in at the polls after the ObamaCare debacle – must be de-legitimized.  The debt-ceiling battle must be recast as an attempt by intransigent Republicans to disrupt America’s smooth course toward a $20 trillion national debt.  And the same people cheering Obama’s extraordinary assertions of power are already planning the fiery op-eds they’ll write to denounce President Mitt Romney’s first series of executive orders.

Written By

John Hayward began his blogging career as a guest writer at Hot Air under the pen name "Doctor Zero," producing a collection of essays entitled Doctor Zero: Year One. He is a great admirer of free-market thinkers such as Arthur Laffer, Milton Friedman, and Thomas Sowell. He writes both political and cultural commentary, including book and movie reviews. An avid fan of horror and fantasy fiction, he has produced an e-book collection of short horror stories entitled Persistent Dread. John is a former staff writer for Human Events. He is a regular guest on the Rusty Humphries radio show, and has appeared on numerous other local and national radio programs, including G. Gordon Liddy, BattleLine, and Dennis Miller.

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