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Mr. Majesty

Friday, July 11th, 2014

Are American presidents becoming (or have they long since become) tantamount to elected kings?

Cato Institute scholar Gene Healy has penned volumes about the super-sized presidency (The Cult of the Presidency and False Idol: Barack Obama and the Continuing Cult of the Presidency, for two). So he’s well-qualified to assess conservative law professor F.H. Buckley’s Once and Future King: The Rise of Crown Government in America.

Buckley both credits our Constitution for protecting our liberty and indicts it for fostering the modern assaults on that liberty.

Our government has lapsed into an “elective monarchy,” which also afflicts parliamentary systems but to which presidential systems are especially susceptible. For “presidentialism fosters the rise of Crown government.” It “encourages messianism by making the head of government the head of state,” insulating him from legislative accountability and making it harder to remove him.

Though Healy finds the argument well-defended in many respects, he isn’t entirely convinced. He’d like more evidence, for example, that parliamentary systems are as better equipped to reverse big and bad policies as they are at imposing them.

I’ll let these two argue the nuances regarding which form of out-of-control national government is most dangerously constituted. We can be grateful, at least, that our own elected king is curbed by term limits much less easily shucked than has proved the case in other presidentially governed countries.

Like these others, we may have an elected monarch. But, pre- and post-FDR, he is not a monarch-for-life. Not yet.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Do Not Pass Dumb, Do Not Collect Your Wits

Friday, June 13th, 2014

In the empire of fibs and euphemisms, the person who re-asserts the bald truth can find himself excoriated not merely as a traitor to All That Is Good And True and Beautiful, but scorned as a crazed lunatic and all-around dangerous fellow.

After economist David Brat defeated the House Majority Leader this week, folks left, right and center set themselves to poring through the professor’s writings for any juicy tidbit to get excited about. The drollest kerfuffle was over this:

If you refuse to pay your taxes, you will lose. You will go to jail, and if you fight, you will lose. The government holds a monopoly on violence. Any law that we vote for is ultimately backed by the full force of our government and military.

Max Weber: 1864-1920Charles Cooke defended Brat from the New York Daily News, the Wall Street Journal, and Politico’s Ben White, all dismissive or worse. And then, for the real meat of the frenzy,  “[a]s is its wont, the progressive blogosphere lost its collective marbles too: One contributor sardonically described Brat’s claim as a ‘doozy,’ while another contended that such opinions were sufficient for ‘one to question his, shall we say, cognitive coherence.’”

Cooke’s point is that Brat’s thesis is obviously true.

But it’s more than that. This notion that governments claim a monopoly on the use of force is non-controversial. It was defined neatly in almost those very words by the near-universally respected sociologist Max Weber. A long time ago.

And, news to progressives with short attention spans, Barack Obama also stated this as a bedrock truth: “What essentially sets a nation-state apart . . . is the monopoly on violence.”

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Legal, Shmegal

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

Lots of unanswered questions about the prisoner swap of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban detainees held at the Guantanamo Bay military prison.

Will negotiating this swap cause more Americans to be taken prisoner?

Did Sgt. Bergdahl desert his unit five years ago? Was he responsible for the deaths of other soldiers who had to search for him in dangerous terrain?

“[Bergdahl] served with honor and distinction,” National Security Advisor Susan Rice told the media.

How dangerous are the five released prisoners? Can we be confident they won’t return to the battlefield?

Only one question has been clearly answered: the Administration broke the law.

By law, the president must notify Congress 30 days before the release of anyone held at Gitmo. Obama didn’t do so.

“Oh I think he clearly broke the law,” said CNN Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin. “The law says 30 days notice. He didn’t give 30 days notice.”

George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley concurred, telling CNN, “I don’t think there’s much debate that they’re in violation of the law.”

Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM), a former Ambassador to the United Nations, admitted as much, but called the law “impractical,” asking, “What is [Obama] supposed to do, give them 30 days?”

Well, yes.

The law, after all, was passed by a Republican House and Democratic Senate, and signed by Obama himself.

The president added a signing statement, at the time, expressing his view that Congress didn’t have the power to so limit him. Obama, like his predecessor, ignores the law, pretending that a president’s signing statement is an all-powerful pocket veto.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Words Without Meaning

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

“I promise you that we hold everybody up and down the line accountable,” President Barack Obama told Bill O’Reilly of Fox News during last Sunday’s Super Bowl interview.

When studies show one in 20 food stamp transactions to be fraudulent; when the GAO finds $120 million a year spent paying federal workers who are deceased; when, well, “name your own favorite absurdly wasteful program here,” how does the word “accountable” pass through the president’s lips without a respondent clap of thunder followed by the sizzle and pop of a lightning bolt?

Yet, Obama claims — no, promises! — that this omnipresent accountability reaches absolutely “everybody” in the federal government.

President O was responding specifically to O’Reilly’s charge that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the official responsible for the disastrous Obamacare rollout, has faced no consequences.

She’s not alone. Only by replacing the word “everybody” with the phrase “virtually no one” would Mr. Obama’s statement be made accurate.

Yesterday, I detailed several different ways the IRS has violated people’s most important and basic political rights — from blocking citizens trying to form non-profit groups for communicating their ideas to trashing privacy rights by handing personal tax information to one’s political opponents to harassing donors to “the other” candidate with multiple unwarranted audits. No one in any of these scandals has been disciplined, let go or in any meaningful way held accountable.

“Political language is designed,” as George Orwell warned, “to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

Up and down the line.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

One Man Walkout

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

A famous poem ends “‘You lie,’ he cried, And ran on.” One of the better moments of modern televised State of the Union addresses was when a lowly member of Congress had the audacity to shout “You lie!” after a controversial immigration point.

Last night, Representative Steve Stockman (R-Tex.) did not run or shout, but merely walked out of the room.

Months ago, Stockman had handed out a book to each member of the august two-branched body he serves in, a book entitled Impeachable Offenses: The Case for Removing Barack Obama from Office.

What’s his beef with the president?

Tonight I left early after hearing how the President is further abusing his Constitutional powers. I could not bear to watch as he continued to cross the clearly-defined boundaries of the Constitutional separation of powers.

Even worse, Obama has openly vowed to break his oath of office and begin enacting his own brand of law through executive decree. This is a wholesale violation of his oath of office and a disqualifying offense.

Stockman is not alleging that all executive orders are dangerous or unlawful — just that some are indeed unconstitutionally usurping legislative powers.

The Prez certainly did imply that he was going to use them beyond their place in the Executive Branch, that is, instead of legislation from the Legislative Branch. Every Congressman should be concerned.

On the bright side, President Obama may be just blowing smoke. He’s just puttin’ on a show to appear more powerful.

On the dark side, a lot of people applauded. The idea of a leader with unilateral power, the culture of dictatorship, is never far enough away. . . .

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

The State of the Union of the States

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

Politicians know all about lying with statistics. But it’s more effective to lie with anecdotes — using stories to ignore the biggest Statistic in the Room.

President Barack Obama delivered his constitutionally obligatory State of the Union address to Congress last night. He told a lot of stories, and most of them may have been mostly true, for all I know. But what we do know for sure is that these stories distracted us from the one statistic that matters.

You know, to the actual state of the union.

Which is not sound.

The rising level of debt is putting the finances of the union in grave jeopardy. Politicians have promised too much — delivered too much — courtesy of borrowing from future tax revenues. The current debt is larger than the nation’s annual GDP. (That’s the stat that matters.) The federal government owes more than all of us, together, earn in a year.

This, of course, is unsustainable.

And yet the president is doing precious little to curb this unhappy meeting with destiny. Deficits are down a tad. He took credit for that. He didn’t credit the Republicans, his recalcitrant enemies.

But, in a State of the Union address filled with programs to expand and goals to “guarantee,” he didn’t offer to cut anything, did he? (Other than promise, yet again, to close Guantanamo.)

Indeed, in Obama’s most recent bickering “negotiation” with the House had his bid for extending unemployment benefits met with an ask price of an offsetting cut elsewhere in the budget. The prez balked.

Our “state”? In a deep debt hole, oblivious, and still digging.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Grasping for a Legacy

Monday, January 27th, 2014

Rush Limbaugh recently characterized United States President Barack Obama as a narcissist — and not for the first time.

On the surface, Limbaugh’s complaint about presidential narcissism seems ludicrous: people are thinking about the president “all the time” — the man is in the position to be contemplated by millions every hour, every minute. He’s thought about in Arkansas and Zimbabwe, Alaska and Kenya, Washington, D.C., and every potential drone target in the mid-East.

So, whatever existential crisis runs through the president’s brain should worry us, too. This isn’t narcissism. Or messianism. It’s simply the position of power he’s in, and the position of null-power we’re in.

Nick Gillespie, at Reason, thinks that the prez is going through a major crisis of self-confidence. As nearly everything around Obama has turned to lead, his personal charm has shown to be something less than alchemical. He may be golden tongued, but nothing he touches upgrades to noble. The prez understandably would want a legacy, and Obamacare ain’t going to be it.

Gillespie suggests that Obama begin to end the war on marijuana. That would be a legacy!

And it would. Alas, Obama may have had some inclination to do this earlier, but likely feared that, just as it was Nixon who had to go to China, it would be best if someone other than an admitted former toker begin the legalization of drugs.

Too bad. Now’s the time.

Though neither Rush nor Nick nor I know the president’s heart, this seems certain: Obama rests most of his hopes for change on massive government programs, not on the repeal of programs. Wrong direction for a progressive!

But the right — responsible — direction for America.

Let’s hope “narcissism” trumps ideology.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.