Postmodern Conservative

“Presidents Don’t Write Laws!”

Oh, but they do, Speaker Ryan, they do. Obama has done it, several times. Hillary has promised to do it, even more than Obama has. Prominent Democratic Party leaders, when asked if there is any part of a major law that the current president can’t rewrite, dodge the question. And their counterparts in the MSM scrupulously refuse to ask such questions to any candidate.

It was momentarily moving, and upon second thought at least winningly quaint, when you said this Sunday in the context of promising not to make an immigration deal with Obama, that “Presidents don’t write laws. Congress writes laws.” I gladly put aside the fact that your own untrustworthiness on the policy aspects, not the constitutional ones, of the amnesty issue is what made such a promise so necessary from you, as well as the fact that that same previous willingness to cut an amnesty deal makes you less than an ideal spokesperson for Republicans against the Obama amnesty. I guess I just let your words take me back to a time, not so long ago, when they might still have been true, and reflective of truths unquestioningly accepted by nearly all Americans.

So my cynical side had a moment of pause: maybe, I thought, maybe if we just keep doggedly repeating our maxims of faith in the American political tradition, and like Speaker Ryan keep passionately insisting that what is plainly unconstitutional cannot and will not be accepted, then the day of renewal will come. Maybe it would thus be too negative to tug at Ryan’s coat in the midst of his repeating the old-time wisdom, and to whisper in his ear that it’s no longer true in the descriptive sense—that one prominent scholar tells us that we now have a post-Madisonian system of the Executive Unbound, and another that the best (an unreformed) Congress can hope for these days is to be “an adjunct to the executive.” We should give Ryan his chance to prove himself different from Boehner, I was thinking—maybe he can really use his winning words to reset the nation’s attitude.

And then came Monday’s news:

A newly leaked internal DHS memorandum produced for an off-the-record agency conclave reveals that the Obama administration is actively planning to circumvent a federal court injunction that suspended part of last November’s deferral-based amnesty initiative.

And that is far from all:

The internal memo reveals four options of varying expansiveness…As mentioned, the first plan the memo discusses basically entails giving EADs [Employment Authorization Documents] to anyone physically present in the country who until now has been prohibited from getting one. A major positive to this option, the memo reads, is that it would “address the needs of some of the intended deferred action population.” Although DHS doesn’t say it expressly, included here would be those 4.3 million people covered by the president’s DAPA and Expanded DACA programs whose benefits were supposed to have been halted in the Hanen decision. On top of working around the Hanen injunction, this DHS plan would also dole out unrestricted EADs to those on temporary non-immigrant visas…and another 5 to 6 million illegal aliens thus far not covered by any of the President’s deferred action amnesty programs.

Plenty of devils in these details, but it seems the real take-away, above and beyond the likely intention to circumvent the Hanen injunction, is that Obama may not stop at “Big Amnesty.” Maybe with Hillary promising to do even more amnesty-ing than he has by way of unilateral executive action, he’s getting itchy.

Yes, Speaker Ryan, we now live under a system in which our presidents write laws. We have probably passed the point where anything is gained by saying otherwise. Maybe this wasn’t so clear nearly two years ago, in January, 2014, when you said—what else?–that “Presidents don’t write laws.”

I daresay you need to update your lines, Speaker Ryan. Maybe this one would serve: “We do have a Constitution. If the president ignores it, he’ll run into a brick wall.” 

Now who was it who said that, also in January 2014? Why, it was our former Speaker John Boehner! And needless to say, President Obama has run into no such wall. The Democratic Party has run into no such wall. Hillary Clinton sees no need to promise she won’t run over the line into regularized executive legislating. That wall is down. Obama committed the most overt sacrilege against the Constitution in our lifetimes, and he paid no price. And there is no reason to expect that he won’t commit more such outrages between now and January 2017, and not merely in the immigration policy arena.

Has anyone prominent simply talked of organizing the Republican members of the House to even consider merely a collective threat to impeach if Obama undertakes more such violations, which everyone knows would at the most result in an impeachment in the House alone, nonetheless delivering a real reprimand and a lasting testament to his violations? Has anyone done such with similar threats to impeach members of his administration beneath him, an administration which the early accountings are dubbing the most lawless on record? How about with collective promises of what I have called retaliation? No, no, and no; and disgustingly, with respect to any of these measures, not even with the initial step of the talk. That’s been left to private conversations, as far as I can tell; in public, such talk has been left to obscure bloggers like yours truly. It’s been left to those who will stick their necks out to become dubbed the “extremists,” while the connected and supposedly wise ones stay obscenely mum.

It is this sort of collective cowardice—on a number of issues in addition to this one, to be sure–that has now exposed the Republican establishment, and to a large degree the conservative punditry establishment also, to a wave of revulsion from the conservative base, a wave that looks likely to put Hillary in the White House. It is the same brilliant strategy cowardice that will paint every conservative who succumbed to it a base hypocrite who dares to call for her impeachment if she does similarly unconstitutional executive legislating. That is, since nearly every prominent Republican and conservative, including Paul Ryan, did succumb to it, it’s the cowardice that could well wind up handing her, and every president after her, a license to make law at will.

So Speaker Ryan, please, see it: our president writes laws, and if things continue as they have been, our future presidents will do so also. Please, do keep on reaching out to the ordinary conservatives who in their despair, as they watch key structures within our Constitution and government collapsing, heap all kinds of abuse upon you. You can yet win enough of their trust, if you really listen and really lead. Among the most important messages they are sending you, to tinker a bit with Reagan’s words, and without any necessary reference to construction projects on the Mexican border, is this:

“Mr. Speaker, build up this wall!”

In other words, let those trying to smuggle-march us all into a post-Madisonian system finally run into something solid.

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