George Will on Obama’s Militaristic Rhetoric

George Will has a superb column on Obama’s rhetoric in the State of the Union Address:

Obama, an unfettered executive wielding a swollen state, began and ended his address by celebrating the armed forces. They are not “consumed with personal ambition,” they “work together” and “focus on the mission at hand” and do not “obsess over their differences.” Americans should emulate troops “marching into battle,” who “rise or fall as one unit.”

Well. The armed services’ ethos, although noble, is not a template for civilian society, unless the aspiration is to extinguish politics. People marching in serried ranks, fused into a solid mass by the heat of martial ardor, proceeding in lock step, shoulder to shoulder, obedient to orders from a commanding officer — this is a recurring dream of progressives eager to dispense with tiresome persuasion and untidy dissension in a free, tumultuous society.

Progressive presidents use martial language as a way of encouraging Americans to confuse civilian politics with military exertions, thereby circumventing an impediment to progressive aspirations — the Constitution and the patience it demands. As a young professor, Woodrow Wilson had lamented that America’s political parties “are like armies without officers.” The most theoretically inclined of progressive politicians, Wilson was the first president to criticize America’s founding. This he did thoroughly, rejecting the Madisonian system of checks and balances — the separation of powers, a crucial component of limited government — because it makes a government that cannot be wielded efficiently by a strong executive.

Wilson is of particular importance here.  Wilson’s dissatisfaction with the Constitution stemmed from the many limitations said document placed on the government.  Not only did the Framers grant few specified powers to Congress, they instituted various mechanisms that made it even more difficult for government to enact the reforms that Progressives like Wilson so desired.  Wilson wanted to convert the United States government into a parliamentary system.  Under this kind of design, instead of a legislature-dominated government complicated by checks and balances, we would have an executive-led government with few checks on the Prime Minister’s power.

Wilson was unable to transform the government to his liking.  The Constitution still divides power in so many ways that it would be theoretically be difficult for the Progressive reformers to get all that they wanted.  So instead of working within the system, the left has basically just ignored that pesky ancient document.

Franklin Roosevelt agreed. He complained about “the three-horse team of the American system”: “If one horse lies down in the traces or plunges off in another direction, the field will not be plowed.” And progressive plowing takes precedence over constitutional equipoise among the three branches of government. Hence FDR’s attempt to break the Supreme Court to his will by enlarging it.

In his first inaugural address, FDR demanded “broad executive power to wage a war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe.” He said Americans must “move as a trained and loyal army” with “a unity of duty hitherto evoked only in time of armed strife.” The next day, addressing the American Legion, Roosevelt said it was “a mistake to assume that the virtues of war differ essentially from the virtues of peace.” In such a time, dissent is disloyalty.

Yearnings for a command society were common and respectable then. Commonweal, a magazine for liberal Catholics, said that Roosevelt should have “the powers of a virtual dictatorship to reorganize the government.” Walter Lippmann, then America’s preeminent columnist, said: “A mild species of dictatorship will help us over the roughest spots in the road ahead.” The New York Daily News, then the nation’s largest-circulation newspaper, cheerfully editorialized: “A lot of us have been asking for a dictator. Now we have one. .?.?. It is Roosevelt. .?.?. Dictatorship in crises was ancient Rome’s best era.” The New York Herald Tribune titled an editorial “For Dictatorship if Necessary.”

Commonweal. Some things never change.

And so now we’ve arrived at Obama’s America, and the left’s impatience with the Constitution manifests itself again.

Obama, aspiring to command civilian life, has said that in reforming health care, he would have preferred an “elegant, academically approved” plan without “legislative fingerprints on it” but “unfortunately” he had to conduct “negotiations with a lot of different people.” His campaign mantra “We can’t wait!” expresses progressivism’s impatience with our constitutional system of concurrent majorities. To enact and execute federal laws under Madison’s institutional architecture requires three, and sometimes more, such majorities. There must be majorities in the House and Senate, each body having distinctive constituencies and electoral rhythms. The law must be affirmed by the president, who has a distinctive electoral base and election schedule. Supermajorities in both houses of Congress are required to override presidential vetoes. And a Supreme Court majority is required to sustain laws against constitutional challenges.

“We can’t wait!” exclaims Obama, who makes recess appointments when the Senate is not in recess, multiplies “czars” to further nullify the Senate’s constitutional prerogative to advise and consent, and creates agencies (e.g., Obamacare’s Independent Payment Advisory Board and Dodd-Frank’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) untethered from legislative accountability.

Like other progressive presidents fond of military metaphors, he rejects the patience of politics required by the Constitution he has sworn to uphold.

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Dante alighieri


  1. Dan in Philly commented at another blog.

    “Let me be clear, O is and always has been an ordinary political hack who was picked up by a brilliant campaign because he happened to be in the right place at the right time. This brilliant campaign ran him, and ever since he’s been trying and failing to lead the country. He’s been a failure from the beginning because he’s been a fraud from the beginning.”

    Paraphrasing Camus: The “general welfare” will be liberals’ alibi for our enslavement.

  2. The human being is created with body and soul, rational and immortal. The citizen constitutes government to protect and defend his unalienable rights and his freedom. For this duty taxes are levied. The present administration has decreed that all people will purchase Obamacare or pay penalties and heavy fines. The freedom of the citizen to exercise his conscience has been eradicated from the First Amendment and from the definition of man as having a free conscience, rational and immortal. With the redefinition of the citizen as having no freedom of conscience to be acknowledged by the government, the free man, who exercises his conscience in freedom is not represented by the very government that he has constituted and funds with his tax dollars. This is taxation without representation. The fines and penalties to be extorted from the citizen who exercises his freedom of conscience are just that: EXTORTION, the buying of insurance to protect oneself from damage and penalties.
    The very existence of the United States of America is contingent upon the eternal truths, inscribed in our founding principles, in our Declaration of Independence and in our U.S. Constitution, being acknowledged and practiced, to guarantee, as Abraham Lincoln said: “that government of the people, for the people and by the people will not perish from the face of the earth”.
    The American Civil Liberties Union, while ecstatically enjoying the display of brute force by our government is not exempt from the extortion or tyranny. As soon as the government decides it needs the ACLU’s land, the government will take the land under the Rural Councils Executive Order 13575. When the government decides that it no longer needs someone, or that someone begins to think for himself, or becomes a loose canon, that person may be detained indefinitely, without charges under the National Defense Authorization Act . This is the denial of free will and a rational and immortal soul.
    What Obamacare does not accept is that you cannot kill a person twice. After all the abortions are done, the immortal soul remains to indict the murderers. The immortal soul of the innocent victims cannot be silenced nor murdered twice. Obama, being a student and adherent to Saul Alinsky’s philosophy of: “Take as much as you can, as fast as you can”, has not yet put two and two together. Alinsky asked God to send him to hell. Alinsky, therefore, acknowledged God, the immortal soul, eternal life and the eternity of hell. Obama needs to get on board the next barge to be ferried by Sharon across the River Styx.

  3. T. Shaw: Our reliance on Divine Providence, which John Mills’ utilitarianism and Paul Erhich’s Population Bomb, Thomas Malthus’ demographic projections, and Roe v. Wade have rejected, is simply, Our Creator providing for his children. The atheist does not and cannot speak for our founding principles: our Declaration of Independence, and our Constitution. The “general welfare” absolutely includes the Preamble: “to secure the blessings of Liberty to ourselves and to our posterity”, all future generations. Less is not more. If one notices that the “more” one is promised, the “more” one gets is less. The Israelites saw Goliath and fainted at his size. David saw Goliath as the biggest target…EWTN

  4. Richard the Lion Heart’s (and it seems all saxon monarchs’) Motto: “Dieu et mon droit.” I translate trust in “God and my strong right arm.”

    Henceforth, I apply the following to Obama, “pharaoh.”

    The pharaoh must go.

  5. Good post, Paul. I remember Goldberg talking about this tendency toward militarizing peace time in his book Liberal Fascism. Wilson wanted to see agenda items having a “moral equivalency” to war, i think that was his term. This kind of fascist thinking was considered good by liberals back then–case in point: the “mild dictatorship” advocated by Commonweal as Will mentions. I think the only difference is the terminology used–they are more careful not to use certain words.

  6. I learned that the OWS folk call demonstrations ‘battles’. On a college campus in Chicago I overheard one OWSer say to another, “I’ll see you at the battle”. None of these folks could last one day in basic training. It’ funny/pathetic in one regard, but scary in that they seem to crave violence.

  7. 1. Most constitutional states function passably with parliamentary institutions. Separation of powers is quite atypical, characteristic of the United States and three or four other well- established electoral systems; none of the others are ensconced in a state with a population larger than Belgium’s.

    2. During that portion of the Wilson Administration which preceded World War I, the ratio of federal expenditure to domestic product was about 0.014.

    3. One consequence of the collision of social crisis and extant political forms during the Depression was that those occupying the salient positions in all three branches of government took to simply ignoring inconvenient constitutional provisions rather than organizing a campaign to amend the constitution to alter the range of delegated powers. You might interpret that as a mark of collective faithlessness. Then again, you might interpret that as a mark of institutional inadaptability.

  8. Separation of powers is quite atypical, characteristic of the United States and three or four other well


    During that portion of the Wilson Administration which preceded World War I, the ratio of federal expenditure to domestic product was about 0.014.

    I never suggested that Wilson was particularly successful, merely that he wanted to transform the governmental structure of the U.S. FDR was the one who more ably picked up the Progressive mantle.

  9. It appears that for government officials to want to change our form of government and our founding principles, they do not understand nor appreciate them, nor do they have the power to change our founding principles without two thirds of the states ratifying the change. Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations was the forerunner of The United Nations. The United Nations, like global world government will force The United States to violate her sovereignty, and become subserviant to what has become one government under the World Bank. The Vatican came out with one economic world government under God, our Creator, one citizen at a time. Divine Providence. AWESOME.

  10. Mary de Voe – I hope you’re not really calling for the president’s death – or his damnation. I don’t think we should be wishing people on Charon’s next boat.

    (Completely agree with your comment about extortion, by the way.)

  11. If Obama won’t repent, then he deserves the fate that God award King Manasseh. It took 12 years of imprisonment in an Assyrian dungeon for him to repent. What will it take for Obama?

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