Commentary

Celebrating Independence and Separation of Powers

King ObamaAs Americans gather to celebrate Independence Day, it is a good time to take a moment and reflect on the importance of what that independence bought us – that being the freedom to create a government structure that separates power.

No matter what your side of the political divide, the fact is that the fortunes of politics will ebb and flow, but in the end it is in everyone’s best interests that political power be divided. More to the point, the very reason that our Constitution separates power is to prevent its arbitrary use. Specifically, executive power, since it resides in one individual.

It’s a pretty important thing. We fought a war over it.

But lately the news is regularly filled with the latest blustery statements from Obama about how “if Congress doesn’t act”, he will, along with edicts that fail to show any clear constitutional or congressional authority.

Obama repeatedly says that he only takes unilateral executive action because “Congress chooses to do nothing”. But choosing to “do nothing” is itself a choice. It means that a large enough group of people wanting to do “something” does not yet exist. In other words, the real problem is that they don’t want to do what Obama wants to do. Therein lies the problem.

If a president can re-interpret laws or apply them as he chooses, then what’s the purpose of having laws? What’s the purpose of a pretense of the separation of powers and having a legislative branch to make law? The reality is that lawmaking in a representative republic involves compromise and trade-offs among various factions of society to get a majority to eventually agree on a final product. Otherwise, people see the laws as lacking legitimacy because society has no “buy-in”.

Of course the boundaries between executive and legislative power are always in tension, but Obama has come to find the boundaries inconvenient, so he simply ignores them. He wants to take shortcuts. Someone should remind him that he resigned his “law-making” gig several years ago in order to run for his current “faithfully executing the laws” job.

The Supreme Court has sent him a few hints, thirteen unanimous ones since 2012 to be exact, the most recent regarding his abuse of presidential recess appointments and his claim that he gets to decide when the US Senate is actually in session. By the way, “unanimous” includes both of the Justices that were appointed by Obama.

But there are actually people among us not named Obama who believe that the presidency should be stronger.

Believe it or not, the New York Times’ ersatz conservative David Brooks actually suggested that we needed to “make the executive branch more powerful” in order to make the federal government more effective. He claimed that, because our political leaders can’t reach conclusions, we should give more power to the executive branch, since bureaucrats “are more sheltered from the interest groups than congressional officials”; have “more specialized knowledge”; are “removed from excessive partisanship” and would have more latitude to “respond to their own screw-ups”.

Oh, really? Anyone even remotely familiar with any news related to the IRS, Obamacare, Solyndra, the Veterans Administration, or any number of other executive branch scandals would know that this is just so much piffle.

The problem is not that the President doesn’t have enough power, but that Washington has far too much power – and covets even more.

Among the key elements of our political system are stability and predictability. People can have relative certainty about tomorrow being free from capricious radical changes because some bureaucrat woke up on the wrong side of the bed, or decided that he needed to do a favor for a political patron, or create some new political advantage for his president via-a-vi the opposition.

But that level of confidence is eroding. The more powerful the presidency becomes – no matter who is president – the higher the stakes will be in every election, along with matching levels of vitriol and odds of radical change and instability.

There’s a name for such places. They’re called “banana republics”.

Those who want to strengthen the presidency are really just people who are tired of not getting their way through the regular political process. But the fact is that, in order to protect liberty, our political system was intentionally designed to move slow and require broad support to get anything done. It’s a feature, not a bug.

Don’t like it? There are plenty of countries with an autocratic El Presidente who will be happy to accommodate.

We don’t need to become one of them.

Lessons from Single Payer Health Care Nirvana

VAThe last thing that people who want more government control of healthcare need is for people to see the bad things that can happen when the government controls healthcare. But that is precisely the problem that Democrats have now that the skeletons have tumbled out of the VA closet.

The scandal suggests that the “death panels” that Democrats said would never happen under Obamacare in fact already exist in government-run VA healthcare. They come in the form of the secret waiting lists that caused the deaths of dozens of veterans, and the bureaucrats who decide who goes on the lists and how long you have to wait.

Multiple reports have shown that Obama’s administration knew about the growing problem as far back as 2008, and a recent Washington Post report even documented that one VA Deputy Undersecretary went so far as to send a memo up the chain of command detailing seventeen different methods being used in the VA to cover up long wait times.

It will come as no surprise to learn that not one single person has been fired as a result.

For a president who finds time to pick up the phone to congratulate the 249th pick of the NFL draft, you would think that he would have found the time in over five years to make a few calls about this. Instead we get the usual rhetoric that Obama “just found out”, that he’s “mad as Hell” and that they are “investigating the problem”. This pattern is usually followed months later by “we’re still investigating”, then even later by, “that’s old news, what are you, a Fox News reporter?”.

They are turning on the fog machine because they have a fundamental political problem, given that this is exactly what they want the American health care system to look like, (that being big, government-run, and inescapable for the people who have to use it). Obama himself was quoted telling the labor unions that, “I happen to be a proponent of a single-payer, universal health care program”. For those who don’t know better, “single payer” means government-run. You know, like the VA.

It is somewhat ironic that the liberals who have spent years pushing abortion “rights”, professing that “nothing should come between a woman and her doctor” are the same folks who dream of a health care system where nothing comes between you and your government, (i.e. your government hospital, your government nurse, your government doctor, your government bureaucracy and your government waiting list).

Considering that this scandal comes at a time when polls show that Americans are nearly split on which party they trust more on health care, it presents what is usually referred to as a “teachable moment”.

People who haven’t been paying attention to the health care debates in recent years need to see the VA held up as the bright, shining example of everything that liberals want health care to be: total government control, no consumer choice, all government employees, (and the unions and union dues that come with them), a secure, generous budget and no incentive to be efficient and please the customer.

Since the media is not going to do that job, it’s up to Republicans.

Here are a few tips for conservatives and candidates running for office this year:

  1. Hold every failure of the VA up as an example of what Democrats want health care to be
  2. Draw a parallel between the VA’s failures and every vote any Democrat has ever cast in favor of greater government control of health care
  3. Wrap it around their necks in everything you spend money on

Conservatives should make the most out of the opportunity to put Democrats and Obama on the spot to support (or oppose) real reforms that would actually help veterans get access to better care, and create a wedge that would make it easier to reform the rest of the system in the future.

Why not move to privatize the VA’s facilities and transform it into a veterans’ healthcare reimbursement agency? Or better yet, let it buy full private insurance coverage for veterans as a group and then let them shop for the best care? Win or lose, it’s an idea that offers something for the victims, and puts Democrats in a bad spot.

It’s messaging 101: find the victim, point them out, then tailor your proposals and rhetoric around helping the victim.

The ongoing messaging problem for Democrats is that, not only are they selling government, but they are selling the most unpopular kind of government, (i.e., the big, inefficient, one-size-fits-all variety), and the VA scandal reinforces the notions that Americans already have about the inadequacies of big government.

Republicans need to help voters get a really good look.

Free Speech Hypocrisy

free speech hypocrisyWhen it comes to free speech and the liberal hypocrisy that surrounds it, last week added two towering examples to an already impressive list.

In Washington, DC the Supreme Court held that the current cap on the aggregate amount that any one American can give to political candidates in an election cycle is unconstitutional, (but left in place the $2,600 per candidate limit).

The Court continued where it left off in the Citizens United case several years ago in loosening the restrictions on giving and expanding the doctrine that money is indeed “speech”, especially for political purposes. Of course everyone who paid attention in history class (if your school still has that) knows that freedom of political speech was what most concerned the men who wrote and ratified the First Amendment.

Liberals and naïve campaign “reform” advocates proceeded to have the requisite conniption fits, claiming that money is not speech, but if that is the case then why do they ask for money to fund their own campaigns? Precisely to get their “speech” heard by more people.

If a citizen speaks in the forest without a microphone, a video camera or an ad budget, does he make a noise? The simple fact is that “speaking” can cost money, especially if you want to be heard by a lot of people, or very often. And since the First Amendment doesn’t place any restrictions on how loudly you can speak, or how often, they paying to do so is a Constitutional right.

If you can’t spend your own money to say what you want to say, or support someone else who’s saying it for you, then freedom of political speech is a myth.

Money may “speak”, but it doesn’t vote. People do that. And the speech that money pays for only works if the message resonates with people and what’s important to them. And since conservatism tends to resonate with a public that is more conservative than liberal, liberals try to limit access to paid media. It’s the primary reason that we have such a complex series of campaign finance laws.

This agonizing over “big money” comes at an awkward time in history, as we now have this wonderful invention called the Internet that enables average citizens to better organize, and raise and spend money to have an impact on the political system. Further, it has enabled candidates to be less reliant on the wealthy donors liberals stress about.

Just ask Barak Obama. Most of the big money was with Hillary when he first began to run in 2007, but he went on to use the Internet to organize and raise money so well that he became the first presidential candidate to refuse public financing for a general election, since it would have limited how much more he could raise or spend. He knew that he could leverage the Internet to engage hundreds of thousands of small donors, and he did – to the tune of almost eight-hundred million dollars.

But I guess that was “good” speech?

Also this past week, Brendon Eich, the newly installed CEO of Mozilla, maker of the Firefox web browser, was forced to resign after the company was besieged by hypocritical progressives demanding his scalp to intimidate CEOs everywhere into keeping their sympathies (and their money) away from conservative causes. His sin? He contributed $1,000 to the 2008 California Proposition 8 campaign to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

Of course this was the very same position held by Barack Obama (and Hillary Clinton) in 2008, without which he probably would not have been nominated or elected President. But what’s a little hypocrisy between friends.

It’s another example of liberals trying to infiltrate and then purge one of the typical strongholds of conservatism. They are sending corporations the message that CEOs can’t be conservatives (openly) and must publicly genuflect to liberal orthodoxy, or else have their money making enterprises interrupted by liberals who don’t care about money, but power.

The hypocrisy is everywhere. On the one hand they have gone to court (as in the Holly Lobby case) claiming corporations “can’t have beliefs”, therefore they can’t have religious rights and policies based on those beliefs like individuals (still) do. Then they claim Mozilla has progressive “beliefs” that their new CEO violated. So which is it? Notice the answer always seems to be whatever stifles conservative opinion.

They are all about “tolerance” until they manage to get in charge or get their laws passed, and then they want mandatory compliance, endorsement and punishment of wrong thinking.

As Newt Gingrich recently said, it’s the “new fascism”.

Free speech be damned.