As you may have heard, earlier this week President Obama was caught on an open mike asking outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, and by extension, President-elect Vladimir Putin, for “space” on “on all these issues, but particularly missile defense” because “after my election I have more flexibility.” The scandal isn’t really the embarrassing gaffe itself — or the equally embarrassing subsequent endorsement of his reelection by Pravda — but the true substance behind it.
After all, the character of the president’s words was nothing new. President Obama has been caught before voicing his condescending contempt for his constitutional accountability to an American public he clearly sees as an obstacle to progress. The moment with Medvedev was a bit rushed, but had he more time, no doubt the president might have gone on at length about Americans clinging to our guns and religion, our 72-degree thermostats, how our doctors perform unnecessary surgeries on unsuspecting patients, how our law-enforcement officers often act “stupidly,” and how much easier life would be if he were a dictator like the president of China.
What the president misunderstands — or perhaps, simply dislikes — is that under our Constitution, the president is not supposed to feel especially flexible: That’s the whole point of a limited government. James Madison made clear in the debates of the Constitutional Convention and in the Federalist Papers that federal officials — especially those of an activist bent — are supposed to feel very, very constrained. In a constitutional republic, the government’s freedom is constrained by the people, to protect us from things being other way around.
And even more to the point, what exactly does the president think he needs “flexibility” to do?
He engineered or oversaw unprecedented federal takeovers of the American auto industry, our financial system, our home mortgage industry, the health-care system, the student-loan industry, and the education system, and attempted a takeover of the energy system. He has run the federal government without a budget for three years. In foreign policy, he appeased anti-American rivals by undermining democratic allies in Israel, Honduras, and Eastern Europe.
This record, breathtaking in its hubris and scope, has been the work of Barack Obama, constrained. What could he possibly have in mind if given the “flexibility” that comes with a second term?
Ending missile defense? Sounds like it. Middle-class tax hikes? They’re already scheduled. Obamacare II? Stimulus III? Cap-and-Trade Redux? Amnesty? What will it mean for Russia’s neighbors? For Israel? For gasoline prices? For gay marriage? For religious liberty? For Iranian nukes? For the budget? For the strength of the dollar?
What even comes after trillion?
President Obama has, in word and deed, spent three years making clear that he brooks no formal limitation on his executive power. His only limiting principle, if you can even call it that, has been public opinion — “my election,” as he put it to Medvedev. Once reelected, finally loosed from even that informal, self-imposed check on his ambition, what would the suddenly “flexible” President Obama suddenly believe himself free to do?
Of course, the president himself moved quickly to clarify his comments to Medvedev, promising that he didn’t mean what he clearly meant. Apparently, he wants us to believe his intent is to mislead the Russians, not the American people.
But then again, this is the same man who once promised a “net cut” in federal spending, said he opposed the individual health-care mandate, promised to close Guantanamo, promised if you liked your health care you could keep it, promised that conscience rights would be protected under Obamacare, and on and on.
The president’s open-mike gaffe does not prove anything we didn’t already know. Mr. Obama does not feel bound either by his own past words or the Constitution — only by the stubborn, retrograde political ideas of the benighted voters he needs to fool in order to win his second, liberated, term.
Barack Obama may not be the first American president to look down on his countrymen, but he seems at least to be the worst at trying to hide it.
The chilling question is: What happens if he wins a second term, and no longer has to try?
— Jim DeMint is a Republican senator from South Carolina.