If you Google “George W. Bush shredding the Constitution,” you will get many millions of hits. The New York Times railed that “ever since 9/11, we have watched Republican lawmakers help Mr. Bush shred the Constitution in the name of fighting terrorism.”
President Bush attempted to listen in on the international calls of suspected terrorists, he used waterboarding on exactly three terrorists, and he put detainees in Guantanamo.
Mr. Obama — greeted rapturously in 2008 as the “constitutional-law professor” who would restore respect for our founding document — has demonstrated a contempt for law unseen since Richard Nixon.
Nixon was devious, insecure, and paranoid. Everyone knows that those are unfortunate traits. Ever since Nixon, we’ve been encouraged to be wary of leaders who are suspicious or guarded.
Obama is brimming with excessive self-regard, intellectual vanity, and supreme self-righteousness. No one has ever warned Americans to regard these as dangerous traits, but they may be more worrisome than Nixon’s cynicism. Arguably, more damage has been done to the world by zealots than by misanthropes.
One of the president’s defenders, The New Republic’s Noam Scheiber, was asked recently whether the multiple scandals engulfing the administration would have “legs.” He didn’t think so. The scandals lack a common “narrative,” he explained.
In fact, the common thread couldn’t be clearer: The Obama administration is unwilling to let something as trivial as the Constitution interfere with its plans for our improvement.
The IRS scandal is hydra-headed. It features the leaking of private tax-return information to Pro Publica, lying to Congress, and allegations that particular individuals were targeted for audits in retaliation for political activity. The chief outrage, however, is the fact (acknowledged by the IRS) that the tax-collecting agency was attempting to hinder the political activities of groups that disapprove of the current administration — a naked attack on the First Amendment.
It’s true that were it not for the pernicious regime of campaign-finance law in this country, the IRS would not have the discretion to interfere with Americans’ most crucial freedoms. But that power was placed in their hands, and one might have thought that under the leadership of our first “constitutional-law professor” president, it might have been safe. Instead, it was flagrantly abused. Could it be that the president’s supreme confidence that he was fighting venal “special interests” in the wake of the Citizens United case provided a rationalization?
The dragnet investigation of the AP in search of a leaker and the criminalization of reporting in the case of James Rosen are further evidence of the Obama effect. All presidents hate leaks, but not even Nixon attempted such a bald interference with the rights of the press. Nixon did break into the files of a leaker’s psychiatrist, but he didn’t characterize a reporter seeking information as a “co-conspirator,” as Obama has done to James Rosen. Obama is certain that his motives are unassailable; thus, the normal protections granted to reporters are dispensable.
Perhaps Obama deserves the benefit of the doubt on matters of national security. He might deserve it, if he hadn’t tolerated brazen leaking of national-security information in the Stuxnet and bin Laden cases, when the leaks flattered him.
Other protections of the First Amendment have also been tossed aside. Obamacare mows down the “free exercise” of religion by requiring that employers who object to abortifacients and contraceptives on religious grounds provide them anyway. He’s fighting the “war on women.” The Constitution must yield.
Obama has asserted the broadest possible discretion for himself and executive agencies. In the GM and Chrysler bailouts, he dictated that union claims would trump those of other creditors, bypassing the law. In the case of the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico, he decreed the fine for BP, bypassing the courts, and unlawfully imposed a moratorium on all drilling. A court rebuked him — in vain.
Speaking of courts, a federal appeals court has decreed that Obama’s “recess” appointments to the National Labor Relations Board and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau when the Senate was not in recess were unconstitutional usurpations. It was for the “middle class,” so it’s okay.
Obama’s decisions to waive the work requirements of the welfare-reform law, to grant waivers from Obamacare to certain favored corporations and unions, to grant amnesty to a whole class of illegal aliens, to terminate the Yucca Mountain nuclear-waste depository, and much more, reveal a president unmoored to law, tradition, or the Constitution.
To paraphrase Dan Pfeiffer, the Constitution is “irrelevant” when you know you’re right.
– Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2013 Creators Syndicate, Inc.