Barack Obama, Re-Founding Father
It isn’t just “Obama’s power grabs.” It’s a redesign of the Founders’ original vision.
By Daniel Henninger in the Wall Street Journal
To the list of questions Hillary Clinton will never answer, add one more: Would a second Clinton presidency continue and expand Barack Obama’s revision of the American system of government that existed from 1789 until 2009?
The central feature of Mr. Obama’s rewrite of what one might call the Founding Fathers’ original vision has been to abolish Congress. Yes, the 535 men and women elected to Congress still show up at the old Capitol building, as they have since November 1800. But once past passage of ObamaCare and Dodd-Frank, the 44th president effectively retired Congress from its historic function. If you put the president behind the wheel of a car in front of the White House to visit Congress, he’d probably get lost.
This is not a joke if you are one of the many million Americans the Re-Founding Father has commanded, via vast executive power, to do what he wants you to do. He did it again last week.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, whose neo-constitutional function is to serve as a primary executor of Mr. Obama’s re-dos, waved into existence a massive expansion of the Clean Water Act. Landowners across America woke up to discover that the EPA has designated ponds, creeks, rivulets, ditches, catch basins and water-filled potholes as subject to what the Clean Water Act originally called “navigable waters.”
From somewhere on Capitol Hill, a plaintive Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat North Dakota’s voters bothered to elect in 2012, said: “It’s frustrating that after so much time, the EPA today decided to finalize this rule instead of . . . releasing a revised rule as our legislation would require.” Legislation?
Conservatives by now are numb to Mr. Obama’s expansions of executive power. They call it an “abuse” of authority, and no doubt it is. “Abuse,” however, makes it sound like the whim of one politician, a Huey Long-like convulsion. This isn’t a one-off. This is how the modern Democratic Party governs. It is how a Clinton presidency would govern every day of the week.
This is not the Democratic Party of Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Jimmy Carter or even Bill Clinton. It is the progressive left wing, which won party control by defeating the Clinton machine in 2008. As a matter of ideology, it is “impatient” with the pace of change possible under the pre-2009 system of checks and balances. Former law professor Elizabeth Warren could teach seminars on the progressive Re-Founding of America.
Barack Obama, channeling decades of theory, says constantly that the traditional system has failed. He said it in his 2011 Osawatomie, Kan., speech: “It doesn’t work. It has never worked.” He has attacked Congress repeatedly as a failed institution, teeing it up for mass revulsion just as he did the 1%.
With Congress rendered moribund, the new branch of the American political system is the federal enforcement bureaucracy. The Department of Health and Human Services’ auto-revisions of the Affordable Care Act are the most famous expressions of the new governing philosophy. But historians of the new system will cite the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights’ 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter on sexual harassment as the watershed event.
This letter—not even a formal regulation—forced creation of quasi-judicial systems of sexual-abuse surveillance on every campus in America. The universities complied for fear of lawsuits from enforcers at the Departments of Education and Justice.
The Justice Department’s Special Litigation Section and Housing and Civil Enforcement Section have forced numerous settlements from police departments, school districts, jails and housing agencies. Whatever the merits, the locals know the price of resisting Justice is too high.
Some would argue that a mandated system of progress is so far off the public’s radar that it’s politically invulnerable. Still, it’s possible that the Obama presidency’s extra-congressional coercions may be hurting Democrats.
Even as progressives claim to speak for “the people,” the increasingly manifest reality is that their power flows from the death star in Washington. In last November’s election, the death star’s environmental policies became an issue in Senate elections in Colorado, Iowa, Alaska, North Carolina, West Virginia, South Dakota and Montana. The Democrats were wiped out.
The Education Department’s campus kangaroo courts and its “lists” of schools “under investigation” flow from one Washington office building. Even the Harvard Law faculty pushed back.
The left’s bloodless analysts might argue that none of this matters because their voting coalition and Electoral College math still favor victory for 2016’s rerun of an “historic” presidential campaign. They may be right. If for another eight years the progressives can pick federal enforcement lawyers, while the Supreme Court still gives “deference” to most of this, the Re-Founding of the American system will be a done deal. Even C-Span won’t cover Congress.
“Obama’s power grabs” is Republican boilerplate. Voters don’t care about power grabs. But most voters, perhaps including many pre-2008 Democrats, still care about being represented in Washington as defined by the first Founding. Mrs. Clinton may wish to run silent on this transformation. Her opponents should not.
1) I don’t recall Obama running on this idea, or even talking about it.
2) To me, a sitting President running for reelection is being disingenuous if he fails to mention his beliefs that we then vote on.