Those of you who remember the space of time between January 20, 2001 and January 20, 2009 might recall that cries for George W. Bush’s impeachment rang out roughly every five seconds from some corner of the American left (and some libertarian circles as well). The Iraq War was a primary impetus for these calls, because I guess continuing a war that had been granted Congressional approval but was becoming increasingly unpopular ran afoul of some constitutional principle. Of course this was not the only motivating factor behind calls for Bush’s impeachment. At some point late in his second term his mere existence was viewed as grounds for impeachment. The most serious centered around supposed abuses of executive power, highlighted especially by his use of presidential signing statements. The anger over these relatively mundane statements revealed more about the bone-dry ignorance of those who sputtered the most outrage over them, because it was quite evident that these individuals didn’t even know what these signing statements were or what they were meant to accomplish.
George W. Bush was obviously not the first, and he certainly won’t be the last president to receive such treatment. Every president faces hostility from members of the opposing party, and every president will be the subject of frivolous and not-so frivolous impeachment talk. Perhaps this is just indicative of our polity’s reflexive desire to howl “IMPEACH HIM!” at every instance of executive overreach. After all, while Bush was not guilty (IMO[NS]HO) of any impeachable offense, arguments that he extended his executive powers to the breaking point are not exactly unreasonable. That Bush merely continued the long tradition of augmenting presidential powers beyond their constitutional breaking point is really no excuse. We can endlessly debate the merits and demerits of executive actions undertaken by our 41st president, but the point is that they are in fact at least debatable.
Which brings us to our 44th president. President Obama’s
imperial edict issuance of amnesty by executive order is so breathtaking in its abuse of presidential authority that even advocates of comprehensive immigration reform such as the editors of the Wall Street Journal are left shrieking in horror. We’ll leave aside the Journal’s insistence on using the idiotic phrase “anti-immigration” Republicans and note that even they think he clearly went beyond the scope of his powers. There is no shortage of commentary explaining why President Obama lacks such authority, so I’ll leave that discussion aside right now (although here’s one for starters). I also won’t get into a detailed discussion of what the Republicans ought to do (although you can go here, here, here and here if you’d like).
What I would like to note is the utter silence of the left on this issue. Actually, it’s not really silence – rather, the left is in full-throated support of this action. Okay, maybe that’s not true, as some on the left don’t think the president went far enough. But, by and large, the left is completely hunky dory with this decree. And they are not alone, as some of the geniuses at the USCCB had already signaled their contentment with Obama’s act of contempt for the constitution. We’re not even two years removed from the Bishops marching out in opposition to the HHS contraception mandate, and there they are providing a wink and a nod this round of executive overreach. I guess some violations of the constitution are okay so long as they accord with your policy preferences.
Which brings us to the nub of the issue. After years of bemoaning every real and imagined instance of George W. Bush overreach, the left in almost its entirety has either remained silent or actively applauded every instance of Obamian executive rule-making. This most recent example is just the latest in a long line of executive abuses of authority by this administration. Whether it be forcing Churches to cover contraception, or “recess” appointments when there wasn’t any Congressional recess to be speak of, or name your favorite example of some departmental rule-making beyond the scope of its Congressional authority, and there have been opportunities for honest citizens of the left to cry out in opposition. But their silence is deafening.
You see for progressives it’s all about the ends, not the means. If the ends are good, then the means don’t really matter. Now if the ends are bad, then well, any means is de facto illegitimate.
Jay Nordlinger talks about an example of this from his own personal experience.
In 2003, I was at a dinner party on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. All liberals, plus me. The Texas sodomy decision had just come down from the Supreme Court. My hostess asked me what I thought. I said that I agreed with Justice Thomas — who wrote essentially this: “The Texas law is dumb. If I were a member of the state legislature, I would vote to repeal it. But I find nothing in the Constitution that forbids a state to make such a law.”
My hostess looked at me as though I had come from Mars. She did not look at me with hostility. She looked at me with incomprehension. If you’ve got the power, you use it, for good ends. If you’ve got the black robe and the gavel — why, ram home what is right!
When I was in college, and figuring things out, I noticed that the Left had a disdain for process. They would use it, if the process was to their advantage. But they would jettison it the second the process was inconvenient. What mattered was the result, period.
Jonah Goldberg has written about all this in his excellent book, Liberal Fascism. For over a century the American left has steadily worked to undermine the constitutional process. It has done so via the Courts. It has done so through the presidency. It has even done so in subtle ways culturally. Why do you think there has been so much bellyaching about gridlock and Congress’ failure to “compromise?” The left wants to leave the impression that the failure to produce legislative action is a bug and not a feature of our constitutional process. This impatience with our peculiar republican form of government is what has spurred all of the actions that have degraded our constitutional system.
It is tempting to bemoan the hypocrisy of the left and its refusal to hold President Obama to the same standards it held President Bush. But the left is not being hypocritical, at least not now. No, the real hypocrisy occurred in the years between 2001 and 2009 when the left pretended to care about things like separation of powers, checks and balances, and limits on the Executive’s authority. In reality, they didn’t give a fig about any of these constitutional checks on the presidency except insofar as the wrong guy got to exercise said authority. So when Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, or some other individual with an -R next to his name next occupies the Oval Office, please lend all leftist cries about abuse of power all the credence they deserve.