The Corner

How the Obama Administration’s Lawlessness Will Challenge the Next Conservative President

As we’re entering the twilight years of the Obama administration, it’s time to begin thinking about the long-term effects of his “pen and phone” presidency, effects that will linger well after the next conservative president is sworn in. 

During the Obama administration, we’ve learned two troubling facts about our government and the mainstream media that covers it.

First, the federal bureaucracy — with its career employees enjoying near-bulletproof job security — is far more partisan than many Americans realized. From the IRS to the National Park Service to the EPA to the DOJ to the FCC, it’s difficult to find a federal agency that hasn’t abused its power to accomplish leftist political goals, whether those goals are near-term (like the IRS suppressing the Tea Party in the 2012 election or the National Park Service inflicting maximum pain during the government shutdown) or more long-term and structural (like the EPA and DOJ’s “sue and settle” strategy for implementing new regulations through contrived lawsuits or the IRS’s attempt to limit the First Amendment through the regulatory process). To the extent that many leading federal employees walled off their political beliefs from their professional lives, that wall has now been breached.

Second, so long as the mainstream media agree with the bureaucracy’s preferred policy outcomes, it will give a free pass to the bureaucracy’s chosen political or legal methods. If the IRS had turned both barrels on the Occupy movement and leftist donors the same way it did the Tea Party and conservatives, there would be nothing “phony” about that scandal. The New York Times would be braying for impeachment after the first destroyed hard drive. But by its relative silence, the media have proven to us that it believes the ends justify the means. 

These two facts taken together mean that the next conservative president should prepare to confront an executive branch that will likely engage in large-scale resistance to his or her preferred policies. Republican presidents have faced such challenges before, but with a bureaucracy empowered by the knowledge that it can — so far, at least — get away with large-scale conspiracies to deprive Americans of their civil rights with the tacit approval of the mainstream media and enthusiastic support of the far Left, expect many career employees of the executive branch to undermine a conservative president on an unprecedented scale.

Further, as this new president confronts an increasingly lawless executive branch, expect that any effort to seize or maintain control will be cast by the mainstream media as a brutal conservative power play, the crushing of dissent to suppress “marginalized voices” — think of “war on women” rhetoric with the volume set to eleven.

President Obama feels empowered by his pen and phone because he knows — beyond a shadow of a doubt — that he enjoys the enthusiastic support of legions of federal workers. It’s the result — as Kevin Williamson has noted many times — of the merger between the party of government and the government itself. And even if the party of government (temporarily) vacates the White House, the government itself — the product of the Left’s “long march” through our key cultural institutions — will remain, possessing more true power than the president himself. 

If conservatives believe we can halt the “fundamental transformation” of this country merely by electing a president, we are sadly mistaken. Much more work is required.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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