As Bob Hope and Bing Crosby observed in Road to Bali:
He gets his shirts straight from Paris
Cigarettes from the Nile
He talks like a highbrow
But he plays Chicago style . . .
I’ve no idea where President Obama gets his shirts and smokes, but he certainly talks like a highbrow, sufficiently so to persuade presidential historian Michael Beschloss to pronounce him the day after the 2008 election “the smartest president ever.” Yet, in the end, he plays Chicago style. You can take the community organizer out of Chicago, but you can’t take the Chicago out of the community organizer. Or as the Agence France-Presse headline put it, “Combative Obama Warns Supreme Court on Health Law.”
Headlines in which the executive “warns” the courts are usually the province of places like Balochistan, where powerful cabinet ministers are currently fuming at the chief justice’s determination to stop them kidnapping citizens and holding them for ransom — literally, that is, not merely figuratively, as in America. But, here as there, when Obama “warns” the Supreme Court “over health law,” it’s their health prospects he has in mind. He cautioned the justices — “an unelected group of people” — not to take the “unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.”
The eunuchs of the palace media gleefully piled on: As the New York Times sees it, were the justices to take an “unprecedented” step so unprecedented there are two centuries’ worth of precedents going back to 1803, they would be fatally damaging “the Court’s legitimacy.”
All that’s unprecedented here is the spectacle of the president of the United States, while the judges are deliberating, idly swinging his tire iron and saying, “Nice little Supreme Court you got here. Shame if anything were to happen to it.”
A nation can have formal “checks and balances,” but in the end free societies depend on a certain deference to the proprieties. If you’re willing to disdain those, you can drive a coach and horses through accepted norms very easily. The bit about “a democratically elected Congress” was an especially exquisite touch given Obama’s recently professed respect for the democratic process: As he assured Vladimir Putin’s sock puppet the other day, he’ll have “more flexibility” to accommodate foreign interests after he’s got his “last election” and all that tedious democracy business out of the way. His “last election,” I hasten to add, not America’s.
Aside from his contempt for judicial review and those rube voters, what other checks and balances doesn’t he have time for? Well, he makes “recess appointments” when the Senate isn’t in recess, thus circumventing the dreary business of confirmation by that “democratically elected” legislature he likes so much. But hey, it’s only members of the National Labor Relations Board and the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, so why get hung up on constitutional niceties?
By the way, have you heard of this Consumer Financial Protection Bureau? No? Don’t worry, no big deal, it’s just a new federal agency. Because we can always use another of those, right? What’s one more acronym jostling in the ever-more-crowded alphabet soup of federal regulation? CFTC, CPSC, CNPP, and now CFPB. Not to be confused with CFPB-FM, the Inuit radio station just south of the Arctic Circle in the Nunavut village of Kugaaruk, where in 1975 the world’s all-time coldest wind chill was recorded: minus 135 degrees Fahrenheit.
Where was I? Oh, yes: the world’s all-time coldest wind chill. That’s what you’re going to be feeling at this point in an Obama second term. If you like his contempt for judicial review, parliamentary scrutiny, and representative democracy now, wait’ll you see how “flexible” he’ll get starting in January 2013. The CFPB appointment is not a small thing. Indeed, its new director, one Richard Cordray, embodies what’s gone so disastrously wrong with American government: You’ll have to be in compliance with him, but he doesn’t have to be in compliance with anybody, whether the Senate or the U.S. Constitution. As I say somewhere in my recent book, you don’t need a president-for-life if you’ve got a bureaucracy-for-life. More and more aspects of the citizen’s daily existence are regulated by rules and officials both of which are ever more disconnected from any meaningful accountability to the people’s representatives. As the president says, look for even more “flexibility” in a second term: more non-recess recess appointments, more executive orders, more bewildering innovations from the commissars of the hyper-regulatory state.
Which brings us to another aspect of government that Obama apparently finds a frightful bore: budgets. In free societies, the executive is subject to the creative tensions of popular restraint, legislative restraint, judicial restraint, and fiscal restraint. All these the president has artfully sidestepped. In the last three years, the United States has ceased to have any meaningful budgeting at the national level, with the consequence that Washington piles on roughly a trillion dollars of new debt every seven or eight months. This week, before the fawning toadies at the Associated Press luncheon, Obama attacked Congressman Paul Ryan’s plan to prevent America plunging into the debt abyss and at least keep its fingernails clawing at the clumps on the cliff edge for a couple more decades. Don’t believe him, sneered the president. “Hundreds of national parks” will close. Parts of the country will see “complete elimination of air-traffic control.” We will be unable to “combat violent crime.” Two million mothers and young children will wind up without “access to healthy food.” Anything else? You bet. The Ryan plan will doom everything everywhere — “the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food that we eat.”
“This is not conjecture,” said the president. “These are facts.”
Speaking of facts, in the last year the federal government has added the equivalent of the GDP of Canada in new debt. Who’s buying it? The Chinese? Not so much. They’ve got pretty much all the Washington IOUs they need. Sixty-one percent of debt issued by the Treasury is bought by the Federal Reserve — which is to say the left hand of the U.S. government is lending money to the right hand of the U.S. government. That’s one reason the dollar is in steep decline against every major currency. Indeed, had it not been for the French and Germans et al. inaugurating the new century by inventing a currency for an artificial jurisdiction with even less connection to economic reality (the European Union), it’s likely that the markets would have yanked the rug out from under the dollar by now.
Nonetheless, in a land where every mewling babe in the American nursery is born with a debt burden of just under $200,000, the president brags that only his party is “compassionate” to have no plan whatsoever even to attempt to do anything about this, no way, no how, not now, not ever.
Last week, the head of the General Services Administration, the federal agency that picks out the office furniture for the other federal agencies, had to resign after a bureaucrats’ junket to Vegas that included a lavish party with clowns and a $3,200 mind reader. The clowns seem surplus to requirements, but I’d love to know what that mind reader found. Obama-sized government ends nowhere good, and in his Chicago-style contempt for checks and balances he’s telling us that, if you enjoyed the first term, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.