But the President's closest advisers apparently still don't understand that the "progressive Camelot" they've spent the last two years building has been swept away for good, and by The People themselves. Liberal mouthpiece National Public Radio (NPR) reports that according to Center for American Progress director John Podesta (Obama's transition coordinator and Bill Clinton's chief of staff), the nation's CEO still has plenty of executive power to deliver "real change" in the next two years, and to "push the country to a better place." Podesta emphasized the strong hand the President can take in writing regulations to implement audacious initiatives like health care and financial reform, "shift[ing] authority out of Congress and into a realm where Obama can wield much authority." Podesta's gang suggests "that the president use his Constitutional authority to make things happen through executive orders, rule making, managing agencies, creating public-private partnerships, commanding the armed forces, and diplomacy."
It's amazing how enraptured so many "liberal" people are with the idea of a (benevolent) dictatorship. Podesta's ramblings about the loveliness of Presidential power are merely a refined version of the sentiments expressed earlier this year by no less an authority on political philosophy than comedian/film director Woody Allen, who remarked to a Spanish newspaper: “I am pleased with Obama. I think he’s brilliant. The Republican Party should get out of his way and stop trying to hurt him. It would be good … if he could be a dictator for a few years because he could do a lot of good things quickly."
It's a good thing that George Washington didn't quite see things Woody's way, and take up the title of King that many wanted him to assume. He too probably could have "done a lot of good things quickly." But of all people, he understood that that is not what government in America is all about--and that LIMITED government was precisely what the American people had just fought (and won) a bitter, bloody war to establish.
The issue of Presidential power-lust was explored eloquently this past October by Rep. Mike Pence (R., Ind.) in a speech delivered at Michigan's Hillsdale College. This was one of the most insightful and well-written speeches I've ever read, going right to the heart of why the concept of President as messiah and law-giver is fundamentally at odds with the system of government intended by America's founding fathers. You can read the speech in its entirely here; in this post I'll only quote the central point made by Rep. Pence:
THE PRESIDENCY is the most visible thread that runs through the tapestry of the American government. More often than not, for good or for ill, it sets the tone for the other branches and spurs the expectations of the people. Its powers are vast and consequential, its requirements impossible for mortals to fulfill without humility and insistent attention to its purpose as set forth in the Constitution of the United States.Truer words were never spoken! If only our "leaders" could or would accept the principle that it doesn't matter how noble or superior their ideas and aspirations are; if a majority of the people don't agree with them, they should not become law. If they can't be implemented through an open, honest, and truly democratic legislative process--rather than through logrolling, corrupt backroom deals, or judicial fiat--they should not be implemented at all.
Isn’t it amazing, given the great and momentous nature of the office, that those who seek it seldom pause to consider what they are seeking? Rather, unconstrained by principle or reflection, there is a mad rush toward something that, once its powers are seized, the new president can wield as an instrument with which to transform the nation and the people according to his highest aspirations.
But, other than in a crisis of the house divided, the presidency is neither fit nor intended to be such an instrument. When it is made that, the country sustains a wound, and cries out justly and indignantly. And what the nation says is the theme of this address. What it says—informed by its long history, impelled by the laws of nature and nature’s God—is that we as a people are not to be ruled and not to be commanded. It says that the president should never forget this; that he has not risen above us, but is merely one of us, chosen by ballot, dismissed after his term, tasked not to transform and work his will upon us, but to bear the weight of decision and to carry out faithfully the design laid down in the Constitution in accordance with the Declaration of Independence.
* * * *
It is a tragedy indeed that new generations taking office attribute failures in governance to insufficient power, and seek more of it. In the judiciary, this has seldom been better expressed than by Justice Thurgood Marshall, who said: “You do what you think is right and let the law catch up.” In the Congress, it presents itself in massive legislation, acts and codes thousands of pages long and so monstrously over-complicated that no human being can read through them—much less understand them, much less apply them justly to a people that increasingly feel like they are no longer being asked, but rather told. Our nation finds itself in the position of a dog whose duty it is not to ask why—because the “why” is too elevated for his nature—but simply to obey.
America is not a dog, and does not require a “because-I-said-so” jurisprudence; or legislators who knit laws of such insulting complexity that they are heavier than chains; or a president who acts like, speaks like, and is received as a king.
The president is not our teacher, our tutor, our guide or ruler. He does not command us; we command him. We serve neither him nor his vision. It is not his job or his prerogative to redefine custom, law, and beliefs; to appropriate industries; to seize the country, as it were, by the shoulders or by the throat so as to impose by force of theatrical charisma his justice upon 300 million others. It is neither his job nor his prerogative to shift the power of decision away from them, and to him and the acolytes of his choosing.
Today, the line between leadership and dictatorship grows thinner by the day. The people of recently-democratic Venezuela, where the National Assembly has just given President Hugo Chavez the power to rule by decree for 18 months, are learning that to their woe. And it could happen here, if we let it.
Don't you think Rep. Pence, who's given these truths such forceful expression, might make a good President himself?