A Far Cry from the Founders
From the IRS to Obamacare to Dodd-Frank, the president disdains constitutional order and constraint.

Tea Party rally in Nevada.


Mona Charen

Speaking at Ohio State just a few days before abuse-of-power and dishonesty scandals swept over his administration, president Obama sang one of his trademark odes to the benevolence of government:

Unfortunately you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all of our problems. . . . They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because what they suggest is that our . . . experiment in self-rule is somehow just a sham with which we can’t be trusted.

It was vintage Obama — caricaturing his opponents’ views (who believes government is at the root of “all” our problems?), and implying that concern about government overreach is equivalent to rejecting self-rule.


It’s plausible to grant that Obama himself did not know that IRS agents were targeting tea-party groups, Jews, and other — one almost wants to write “enemies of the state” — organizations for audits, harassment, and delay. If Obama understood the conservative critique of big government even a little, he would know that his lack of knowledge is expected. In fact, it’s part of the problem. As David Axelrod put it, the government is just “too vast” for the president to control. Who would have thought?

Obviously the government has always been too large for any one person to control. But our brilliant Founders arranged matters so that power would be diffuse. Interest would counter interest, branch would check branch, and transparency would ensure accountability to the voters. As James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 51:

Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?

The tea-party movement — those the IRS harassed — dressed up as Founders, a rich irony. A good progressive, Obama finds Adams, Jefferson, and Co. passé. He doesn’t recognize the capacity of government to abuse power when in the proper (i.e., Democratic) hands — or, more likely, doesn’t care. His arrogance about his own good intentions for the “middle class” — odd that he almost never speaks of the poor — makes him contemptuous of those who agree with Madison that government power must always be carefully constrained.

You needn’t believe that Barack Obama personally texted IRS agents and instructed them to harass conservatives to know that he disdains the constitutional order. The evidence is in the legislation he signed. Both the Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank create boards with utterly (in the case of Dodd-Frank) and nearly (in the case of Obamacare) unreviewable power. Both are the subjects of lawsuits challenging their constitutionality.