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.

Remedial Civics

This is one of those “wait, that can’t be true … but then again that is obviously true” stories: “Only 36% of Americans can name the three branches of government.”

If you have any appreciation for the destruction to our education system wrought by progressivism, particularly by the exlusively-progressive plague of public sector unionism, then you are not likely to be very surprised by this headline. Likewise, if you are sentient and in possession of basic senses, you also are not surprised to learn that a great majority of your fellow citizens are utterly clueless about basic civics. The age of reality television and selfies has clearly seen the chaff of society overshadow the wheat. No future historian will confuse the early period of the 21st century with the Age of Enlightenment.

But… 36%???

One would think that by merely existing in an age of ubiquitous information, on-demand content and 24 hour news and internet, at least half the national population would be able to absorb through data osmosis the basic foundations of our republic. With all the inescapable political banter soaring through the ether, surely even the most checked-out or apathetic citizen must know that there exist simple delineations between the President, the Congress and the Supreme Court? This headline would be staggering if it said 50%, but 36%? Almost two-thirds of Americans really have no clue how our government works. I wonder who that benefits, and I wonder if said beneficiaries have incentives to keep it this way.

Woodrow Wilson urged Americans to reject the Founding Fathers and the Constitution in order to bring about a “renewed” America because the left can only thrive with an electorate which holds no first principles. A citizenry that abandons interest in its natural rights and the separation of powers meant to protect those rights is an aimless and rootless citizenry always chasing “progress” down whichever road the winds are blowing. For Wilson and the progressives, strict separation of powers with clearly demarcated responsibilities therein just would not do. These eminent geniuses had it all figured out, and something as trivial as checks and balances was not going to stand in their way. But in 1912, Americans tended to revere notions of natural rights and constitutional liberty, so the cause of disavowing them of their quaint ideals fell to the ultimate elitist, a Princeton President and all-around narcissist, Captain Woodrow. Wilson running against the Founders and Constitution was merely the first step in a long campaign to undermine the values of our republic. The seed of the idea of an omniscient executive had been planted, waiting for Roosevelt to come along and water the shit out of it, which he surely did, starting in 1932.

Since Marxist ideology burst on the scene in the 19th century, leftwing regimes have understood that the path to control of the citizenry is information. The more informed the population, the less likely it is that your socialist utopia is going to fool them into compliance. The 20th century incarnations of Marxism, whether through Hitler’s Nazism or Stalin’s Communism understood this and were thoroughly ruthless in their censorship, propaganda and disinformation outfits. They also correctly identified the fundamental antagonist to the socialist enterprise, capital, and thus set out to shut down stock exchanges whenever they acquired territory. How it is that so many erstwhile sophisticates of the millennial generation find it trendy to wax nostalgic over collectivism and express vague platitudes as to the inherent virtues of socialism will forever escape me when the requisite qualities of any socialist operation typically consist of harsh censorship and restrictions on capital generation. But in order to make the connection between the abysmal failures of socialism – in theory and in practice – and a culture of repression and censorship, you must be educated on actual history and economics. Which brings us back to the issue at hand: education.

If the population is educated and informed, especially regarding the specifics of our constitution and of our history, then it is likely to be a proud and patriotic population. But if the population withers intellectually and ceases to be educated in such matters as remedial civics, then the project of our republic suddenly appears vulnerable. If the citizenry gradually shifts from participatory and engaged to apathetic and indifferent, and in doing so becomes less educated and less concerned with the genetic coding of our complicated federalist system, how easy it would be to take advantage. And that is what the progressives have done.

Whether or not they set out to import the Bismarckian model of education from Germany as a Trojan Horse for bureaucratizing and centralizing our country, the progressives have definitely capitalized on the opportunity and used the national public education monopoly to attain power and to keep the citizenry placid and immobile. The power comes from the pernicious and corrupt relationship between teachers’ unions and Democratic politicians, who court lavish campaign contributions from the union bosses in return for preferential treatment in collective bargaining sessions. They effect to keep the public stagnant by treating public education primarily as a jobs program for adults rather than as an education program for students. National curricula are designed and overseen by a cadre of leftwing academics at the DOE and the College Board. Each and every attempt at reforming the public education cartel is met with furious and unhinged behavior by the unions and the progressive left, which is thankfully becoming more transparent to the parents of low-income and minority students, who see the unions and the leftists standing squarely in the way of their children’s opportunities for advancement, all in the name of protecting cushy pensions and work benefits.

The left views informed people who are passionate about our founding ideals with suspicion and contempt. The excess vitriol spewed at the Tea Party by progressives was so intense and unhinged precisely because the Tea Party stands above all else for the Constitution. The Constitution is sacred because it is so wary of concentrated power. The most emphasis during all the convention debates and through all the Federalist and Anti-Federalist papers centered around the separation of powers. Our Founders were well-read philosophes who agreed comprehensively on one thing: they did not want a king. And so all the energy of the debate focused on how to establish a republic that balanced and separated powers hitherto reserved for a king?

Woodrow Wilson announced that for the modern left, a king is exactly what is desired. Thus the need to undermine the nature of our founding by gradually eroding reverence for it. The left needs a dumb society if they are to be in charge. It needs useful idiots. When only 36% of Americans can identify the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of our government, I’d say that the left is winning.

Administrative State

For a hundred-plus years the progressive vision has sought to overturn the constitutional vision of separation of powers; of separate branches in conflict. Because the latter vision makes it purposely hard to enact laws, the former vision became frustrated and sought to find ways around the separation of powers. Hence the administrative state: a fourth branch of government that gained power through Congress willfully ceding their own. The oppressive administrative state under which we live today is answerable to no one, behaves as if it’s the aristocracy, and fights like hell to protect itself rather than serve the people it is tasked to serve. It is the nature of bureaucracy.

And progressives love it because a) it angers those of us who take constitutional democracy and separation of powers seriously and b) because it allows their preferences to be enacted on the country with minimal resistance. Congress won’t pass cap-and-trade? There’s an EPA for that. Congress won’t pass labor laws you like? There’s an NLRB for that. Won’t pass campaign finance restrictions? The IRS will take care of it. And on and on.

The thing they don’t realize because their ideological vision begins and ends with “must attain power,” is that as the administrative continues to grow and grow, often it’s going to establish entities that progressives hate. The DHS, the war on drugs, the militarization of police, Pentagon bloat…. this is all the result of Republicans using the administrative state to their liking (not to mine!) and to the chagrin of progressives.

People need to wake up and realize that, like the UK ceding most of its autonomy to Brussels via the EU, we are doing the same with the administrative bureaucracy, which is unelected, unaccountable, and makes most of the rules we have to live under quietly and in darkness.

Rand Paul’s Filibuster

One year ago today, Rand Paul captivated much of the country with his filibuster of John Brennan’s nomination to the CIA. The 13 hour marathon went spectacularly viral on social media and was responsible for CSPAN’s largest ratings in a while. By now very few Americans are unfamiliar with the Kentucky senator’s passionate rebuke of our clandestine drone program, and that is due to Paul’s political instinct for latching on to broad populist concerns that generally transcend partisan lines. Whether it’s reforming mandatory minimum sentencing, advocating government (state and federal) exit from marriage contracts, suing the NSA for domestic spying or championing drug war reform and felon voting rights, Paul has shown he is virtually peerless at applying his libertarian message to issues that garner broad support and thus enhance the appeal of libertarian ideas overall. Still, for all his policy entrepreneurship in just three years in the Senate, Paul is known most for his stance on drones.

As much as the filibuster was about drones, it was also about much more. It was about the wider War on Terror, as well as a plea for a restored reverence for the Bill of Rights, especially the fifth amendment. Most of all though, the filibuster was a disquisition on checks and balances and constitutional separation of powers. Rand used the hypothetical threat of an American being killed via drone strike on American soil without due process as a vivid entry point through which his audience could begin to appreciate the distorted power distribution within the branches of government.

Since Woodrow Wilson progressives have believed that government power should be concentrated in the executive branch and that the presidency demanded a “vision.” George Will describes the Wilsonian impulse as a desire for the president to interpret the constitution in a way that comports with the wishes and wants of the people and to be the voice that affirms these wants. Wilson’s view of the American founding and of separation of powers would become the legacy sentiment of the American left for a hundred years: not good enough. For Wilson and his ascendant progressive cohort, science was becoming the dominant and indisputable truth; bolstered by Darwin’s theory of evolution in biology, they set out to apply the science of evolution to human behavior. Wilson believed that government’s purpose was to efficiently guide humanity towards its inevitable endpoint of societal evolution. The perfect society would be attainable once the experts were put in charge. You know, top men

F.A. Hayek famously disparaged this inclination to impose scientific plans on a society the fatal conceit. The idea that you can acquire enough knowledge to plan an economy through the expertise of administrators is essentially the definition of hubris. That you would attempt such a project in a polity expressly founded in opposition to this conceit is nigh treasonous. And yet there was Woodrow Wilson, the first American president to directly challenge the very nature of our government’s structure and the idea that power should be diffuse and majorities neutered. Our Madisonian construct is meant to consist of constantly shifting majorities among competing segments of government, while factions are to be constrained by being discouraged on large scales, the idea being that the inevitable rise of small factions within civil society would harness productive resolutions among competing interests. Wilson and the progressives declared all this nonsense, said “Hail Science!” and went to work on a century long project to gradually erode checks and balances by growing the executive to a scale fit to house a legion of expert administrators, aka “unelected bureaucrats.”

This was the subversive message of Rand Paul’s filibuster. The crucial issue he really meant to highlight was embedded inside his bombastic portrayal of an immediate threat to our natural rights posed by drones. That is not to say that Paul was not sincere about his clarion call for reform to both overseas and domestic drone protocols. Rand is nothing if not a rabid defender of all of the Bill of Rights, and his alarm at the vague guidelines, oversight and legality of the government’s drone program was about protecting various parts of our fourth, fifth and sixth amendment rights. More than anything to do with drones though, the crux of the filibuster was about drawing attention to the bipartisan abuse of executive power.

Paul is fond of quoting Montesquieu (really, who isn’t?), the French political philosopher whose principal contribution to politics was the idea of separation of powers. A merger between executive and legislative branches would mean no liberty, according to Montesquieu’s revolutionary tripartite concept under which our government was conceived. Likewise, as Paul offered repeatedly throughout his filibuster, a combination of the executive and the judiciary can yield no justice. Paul was rightly tying the concern over due process and extrajudicial assassinations to the broader discussion of an overreaching executive. The presidency has simply become too big, with too many agencies and bureaucracies under its aegis. Congress has gradually and steadily forfeited much of its authority to the executive on everything from war powers to educational administration (as if that should be a role of the federal government at all). I believe Rand Paul was sincere when he said he would have stood and raised the same objections regardless of who was occupying the White House. This was not a partisan attack on Barack Obama, but a larger critique of the subtle degradation to our constitutional prerogative to live under three coequal branches of government.

Before Wilson, Congress had far more authority than it enjoys today and the roles of the branches were unambiguous: the legislature writes the laws, the executive branch executes the laws, and the judicial branch determines the constitutionality of the laws. But with the rise of our imperial presidency – brought to you unapologetically and enthusiastically by progressives and their presidential “visionaries” – the executive branch has become Leviathan, buttressed by unaccountable battalions of expertise known as executive agencies, able to cast the tentacled nets of the administrative state across the land, unimpeded and with little input from the other branches. Our government as currently construed is not very far from completing the progressive vision of having a benign dictator administer an expert plan for the country. As the executive branch grows and grows, and with it the number of petty authoritarians manning the cubicles at EPA, IRS, DOE, HHS, and wherever else the executive agencies have usurped power, the ability of Congress and the Supreme Court to effectively check its authority diminishes. We know who is responsible for this. Paul’s meta-narrative was not to affix blame for the bloated, corrupt, too-powerful presidency, but to cast a bright shining light on it and to spend thirteen hours subtly lamenting the fact that not enough Americans in the 21st century seem to care that government today is not functioning as it was designed.

And what better way to jar Americans out of complacency than to warn them that an unchecked executive might drop a drone through their roof. That was the real point of the filibuster, to wake Americans up to the perils of absolute power.