Obama and the Napoleon-Nixon Gene
Like something from the Human Genome project, one feels like announcing discovery of the long-lost Napoleon-Nixon gene. Obama apparently has the Napoleon-Nixon defensive, arrogant, and unaccountable gene -- albeit with none of Nixon's redeeming expertise in international power politics, and none of Napoleon's record for strategy and war. More worrisome is that Obama’s lack of stature is now paired with an embarrassing preoccupation for proving he has some.
What other president would ramrod an incompressible de facto nationalization of America’s healthcare system (embodied in legislation he himself never read or permitted others to read) down the nation's throat, then turn around and break every single promise he offered to compel its party-line passage?
What president would fail to admit he had boldly lied about the law's intended effects (insert cameo of Nixon: "I will never tell a lie.") even when millions of Americans were being summarily stripped of their doctors, dumped from home health care, or bounced into higher deductible, lower coverage policies, often at higher premiums? The travesty is only compounded by the president’s audacity.
What president in the history of this Republic would then turn on Americans as a whole, twisting down the screw by penalizing hardworking Americans who refuse to be shoehorned into a travesty, who refuse to put their families or their own healthcare in the hands of those who cannot even put up a website? The average American -- it seems -- must ‘say uncle’ or pay a sizable annual fine. What American president, admitting no fault and dissembling to cover up a fraud in the inducement -- let us be honest, that is what this was -- would then have the temerity to unilaterally suspend major and minor provisions of the noxious law a full 27 times (that experts have so far counted, and we are still counting)? Recall that a president must “faithfully execute the laws” which have been passed, even on a party-line vote that barred a reading by opponents. Or was that Oath of Office just another piecrust promise, easily made, easily broken?
What president would have the gall to suspend a law he had forced on the American people, lied about and then penalized them under, in what was a transparently political way? What president would intentionally delay business-crushing penalties until after the 2014 congressional elections?
While both Obama and Nixon abused the power inherent in the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), at least Nixon kept his ‘enemies list’ short, and prosecutors out of the mix. Obama has put the entire Nation at risk of prosecution and is swinging the sword of Justice at journalists, anti-Obama moviemakers, and two Republican governors, one for acts legal in his state and the other for staff who closed a bridge.
Add the overreach of groundless White House directives, executive orders, and coercive guidance, including usurpation of a million acres of the state of Wyoming and repeated unilateral decisions not to enforce laws. What we have is a concept -- the executive, legislative, and judicial authority all rolled into one -- at least in Obama’s mind.
And that is where the problem lies. When the U.S. Supreme Court, public opinion, and those in his own party complain that Obama has asserted authority to which he is not entitled, something is wrong. From illegal recess appointments to suspensions of law, one is reminded of the headlong pitch Nixon took in the "Saturday Night Massacre." You can only stiff-arm the American people so long. Even calm protestations, such as "I am not a crook" and “I never promised…” go only so far. There is an eerie resemblance even in Obama’s carriage and cadence to the tone deaf nature of the Nixon White House, until it cracked up.
Only this is worse. Articles of impeachment for abuse of power, although possible, would die in the Democrat-controlled Senate. The Independent Prosecutor Law died in 1999. The sitting attorney general, against whom contempt has twice been voted, is deaf, period. The nation seems stuck, like Paris as Napoleon marched northward and America as Nixon denied wrongdoing. At least Obama keeps his hand out of his waistcoat and curses the "establishment" in the residence. Has he misread Lord Acton's warning that "if power corrupts, then absolute power corrupts absolutely" as a prescription? Perhaps the civil lawsuit, now signed by more than 100 members of Congress, will moderate Obama’s Napoleonic march. Maybe a heart-to-heart discussion by leading Senate Democrats will restore proportion and respect for law (i.e. ala Congressman Rodino’s talks with Nixon).
We know this: defensive, arrogant, and unaccountable does not play well with Americans -- and never has. It is no way to win midterms, boost standing in polls, correct catastrophic damage to a healthcare system, or reassure Americans that you know when to stop asserting prerogatives you never had.
To ignore the curse of this nasty gene and carry on with impunity, as if the White House needs reminding, ended poorly for both Napoleon and Nixon. It surely would be a sad legacy, especially for someone so intent on finding one, to misread our Constitution for another three years. Like the best laid plans of mice and men, second terms and second empires, it may be noted, often go astray.
Robert B. Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell and former Counsel to Speaker Dennis Hastert. He taught Government Oversight at the Harvard Extension School, and is now head of The Charles Group LLC in Washington DC.