Dictator for a Day

Today is the day! Executive Order day!

This is an amazing moment in American politics, not just because the President of the United States is poised to become Thomas Friedman’s benevolent dictator for a day, but because of what it says about the progressive left.

Via MacGruber, er, Jonathan Gruber, we have stone-cold confirmation that Obamacare was sold through a year long campaign of comprehensive deception from top to bottom, involving everyone in the Democratic orbit from the White House to Congressional leaders to media sycophants. At every turn conservatives, libertarians and anyone else inclined to balk at naked expansions of federal power were shouted down and mocked by the progressive amen chorus led by the likes of Ezra Klein and Jonathan Cohn. And Gruber was used in virtually all of the left’s petulant, smarter-than-thou harangues against opponents of the bill as unimpeachable evidence that “independent, unbiased” voices had confirmed that the magic being promised in the ACA was in fact real.

And these revelations come on the heels of one of the more historic re-balancing acts of political power the country has ever seen. No president has presided over such a demolition of his party’s fortunes as has Obama. 59 Senators down to 45. 270 House Dems down to barely 180. But the real story is in the states, where the GOP now dominates in state legislatures and governorships, and for a very simple reason: voters in all states are wary of the public sector model that delivers nothing but high taxes and higher costs of living and are thus making sure that, at the state level at least, the progressives are as far from power as possible.

All of this, and the Borg hive mind that defines the left comes up with “Obama should act like a king.”

It’s amazing, but not surprising if you know where the hard left is coming from, which is from a place where the ends forever justify the means, so long as those ends involve increasing the presence of the federal government in more and more Americans’ lives. It is the will to power and nothing else. All the gauzy platitudes you hear are simply just different forms of #Grubering. “Social justice,” “fairness,” “equal pay,” “clean environment,” “jobs”…. the left don’t believe in any of it. They believe in power and growing the bureaucracy, the instrument through which they project their power.

And so we arrive at today’s immigration executive order. My contempt for this action has little to do with the substance or with immigration overall. The issue is with the process, and the president’s and his cheerleaders’ utter disregard for constitutional propriety. Obama will not be invoking “prosecutorial discretion” today when he announces his order, but rather a pronounced end-run around the will of the legislature; said legislature having made its voice heard by expressly NOT passing the Senate version of the immigration bill that we hear so much about.

This idea that because one body of Congress has passed something while the other has not, yet because the President wishes it were passed then the onus is on the chamber standing against the measure to change its mind and pass whatever the other party wants, or else…. is really the stupidest argument I can imagine concerning the machinations of how our government is supposed to work. But it’s the principal argument being used as a cudgel by everyone on the left, and it’s a shameful disgrace to witness such wanton disregard for process and the rule of law. As Charles Cooke put it so eloquently:

The great virtue of the rule of law is that it separates means and ends, thereby preventing individuals from appealing only to the outcome of a given action and ignoring entirely how it was achieved. In the United States, it is simply not enough for a reformer to cry “it was a nice thing to do”; he also has to demonstrate that what he did was both legal and that it was in keeping with the essential tenets of ordered liberty. That way, the people can reasonably expect to predict what the state will do at any given point, and are accorded a certain recourse if it declines to follow the rules. Whatever progressives might think, “good” and “kind” and “necessary” are not self-evident, but sit firmly in the eye of the beholder. Ensuring that we have broad agreement as to which actions comport with those values and which do not is why we have a system in the first instance. We do not judge virtue on the basis of what the ostensibly virtuous can get away with.

The modern left, to borrow from The Federalist’s Ben Domenech, are now the Eric Cartman Democrats.

I do what I want!

I would add to Domenech’s penetrating insight my own pop culture analog for the American left: Cersei Lannister. Her bemused “is this meant to be your shield?” scoff at Ned Stark’s royal parchment carrying the King’s own decree is exactly in line with the Democratic Party’s opinion of the Constitution. Both are mere pieces of paper that mean nothing compared to their own ambition. Cersei shreds the document without an ounce of regret, just as progressives have shredded the Constitution in their century-long odyssey to remake a self-governing republic into a stagnant and tired welfare state.

David and Goliath

I have not yet read Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, but I have read Ben Domenech’s outstanding piece in The Federalist on the application of the David and Goliath trope to our modern politics, as well as Daniel Hannan’s marvelous new tome on the uniquely British origins of constitutional liberty, and I believe they share a common and important insight about man’s capacity to resist arbitrary rule, in the same sense that underdogs like David are compelled to resistance against all kinds of Goliaths.

Domenech taps into one of Hannan’s central points about the American Revolution: that the revolutionaries did not see themselves as progressives or even radicals, but as conservatives bent on restoring their rights as free-born Englishmen. To the extent the patriots viewed themselves as revolutionaries at all, Hannan explains, it was in pursuit of a 360 degree turn of the wheel, back to their Anglo-Saxon roots when traditions of representative assembly carried over from their Germanic tribal days blended with budding conceptions of personal autonomy, as well as a preference for local adjudication based on precedent over abstract principle, known as the “common law.” After the Norman conquest however, much of this tradition was wiped out or sent underground as the continental invaders imposed feudalism and the Divine Right of Kings on the land; this would be the galvanizing force of English rebel libertarians for five hundred years until at last with the Glorious Revolution of 1688 they were able to “cast off the Norman yoke” and reassert the primacy of their natural rights.

Our own founders were interested in a similar restoration of their rights when they told King George III to shove it. But these were not men rebelling against a foreign power, rather they saw themselves as any colonial would have at the time, whether patriot or loyalist: as Englishmen. Our “revolutionaries who took up arms against the British weren’t just rejecting a form of political leadership, disemboweling the past in order to start a new regime (as the French did). They were seeking to claim back their old rights from nearly a century earlier.” And this is where Domenech draws a parallel between Gladwell’s advocacy for underdogs and our present conservative political stalemate between the Establishment and the Tea Party, “which is carrying on the traditions of the American Revolution, in ways they may not even recognize.”

It is not difficult to intuit why underdogs enjoy rich histories in both fact and apocrypha. Every child loves a story about a small band of heroic warriors who triumphed against long odds, and it usually doesn’t matter if the tale is true or enhanced through mythological retelling, like the difference between the 1980 US hockey defeat of the USSR and the legend of Sparta’s 300. What matters is the romantic allure of the underdog prevailing simply because his was the just cause, his heart the pure. But can the same exaltation of the underdog be applied to intra-partisan politcal arguments over tactics? The David and Goliath parable seems only relevant to tales of combat and competition, but do rhetorical skirmishes between the Tea Party and the Establishment deserve the same juxtaposition? Domenech thinks so:

For those intellectuals on the right equipped with some insight, they recognize that the thread of populism which runs through Bunker Hill and The Alamo is an ally, not a foe. But for those who are prisoners to their narrow frame of the world, misunderstanding this long-running American tradition has turned into dripping condescension of the populist right. They decry the Tea Party and its new institutions as a kabuki dance performed for filthy luchre from ill-mannered hicks and racists… not realizing that it is in the nature of populism, particularly conservative populism, to see the structures of power more clearly for what they are, as opposed to what they claim to be.

Just as the aristocracy of the day bought the Tories with the benefits of privilege, so today the existing Goliaths guard the status of the self-styled elite. Their approach to government not only protects elite status but also creates it, typically without merit – paired with the authoritarian technocrats’ belief that they know best, and have the right to make that best a reality. It’s why such elitism is the one thing they are conservative about – the modern aristocracy bequeaths titles of nobility for surviving the attacks of the hicks, protecting its own, and attempting to control the agenda in the same way they did in pre-revolutionary times. But the more Goliath ignores, insults, and fights David, the stronger he becomes.

The problem is that these Goliaths are slow and clumsy, and that, equipped with the technology-driven power of collaboration and the institutional wherewithal to match the established fundraisers, the Davids have more than enough smooth stones in hand to do what they came to do. The superior force on which the giants’ success depended grows ever less impressive with each passing election cycle. And the rebels are at the gate.”

“Elites” is a pejorative more generally used to describe paternalist liberals and their effete coastal constituencies, but here it accurately characterizes the temperament of entrenched Republicans in Washington as well. It’s become almost cliche for populist conservatives to accuse Establishment conservatives merely of “protecting the status quo,” but often cliches become cliches because they are true. There is a certain arrogance among many Republican elder statesmen in their frustration and occasional contempt for the new flock of conservative populists in the Capitol. And even if Establishment concerns about tactical politicking are sometimes warranted, they too often forget what the insurgents represent: the underdogs.

There is profound confusion on left and right about the Tea Party’s staying power as a national force in politics. The left derides it as an “astroturf” conspiracy cooked up in the devious halls of Koch Bros., Inc. The right haughtily insists that without Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell, all would be well in today’s GOP-controlled Senate and the federal government would not have been “disastrously” shut down, thereby halting for a whole two weeks a small amount of non-mandatory operations. But the truth is that the Tea Party is stronger and more viable than ever because it is a diffuse movement of principles and ideas rather than an organized entity with uniform leadership and planning. Quoting Van Jones at a Netroots meeting of progressive minds in 2011, Matt Kibbe addresses Jones’ exasperation at how the Tea Party “talk rugged individualist, but they act collectively” by explaining:

“He and his colleagues don’t seem to understand that communities can’t exist without respect for individual freedom. They can’t imagine how it is that millions of people located in disparate places with unique knowledge of their communities and circumstances can voluntarily cooperate and coordinate, creating something far greater and more valuable than any one individual could have done alone.”

It is understandable why a former communist Occupy Wall Street cheerleader would express confusion and deem “ironic” that a group of passionate individualists should be able to achieve political ends collectively. He simply doesn’t appreciate the power or the validity of the principles that guide them. But for the staid Goliaths of the GOP to similarly disregard and disrespect the diffuse coalition of focused and committed Davids in their own ranks explains why there is a “civil war” in the Republican Party today. It is never wise to discount the underdogs, especially those named after this celebrated example from our own history. What is the story of the American Revolution if not one of underdog triumph?