September 16, 2009
Obama Is Redefining the American Presidency
"The fact of the matter here is that President Obama believes a huge federal government can bring relief and prosperity to the American people. But many Americans do not believe that."
- Bill O'Reilly, September 14, 2009 "Talking Points" commentary on the September 12th March in Washington, D.C. and President Obama's healthcare plan.
It's time we question the popular assumption that the power of the Presidency should "bring relief and prosperity" to the American people, as well as the belief that that goal ranks high on Obama's agenda.
FOX's Bill O'Reilly recently touched on a common misunderstanding of the role of the American Presidency. It's not about bringing relief and prosperity to the American people. It's about preserving, protecting, and defending the Constitution that enables the people to build their own prosperity.
The assumption is wrong on two counts.
First, the freedoms delineated in the Constitution enable Americans to strive for, and often achieve, prosperity. The role of the Presidency is to preserve, protect, and defend those freedoms, for all Americans. That's not to say that the federal government has no role in enhancing opportunities to pursue life, liberty and happiness. The G.I. Bill, for example, has given millions of veterans the means to further their education and, thereby, enhance their chance for prosperity. But the bill never guaranteed that outcome.
Second, evidence mounts daily that bringing relief and prosperity to Americans does not describe Obama's core understanding of the federal government's role. An alternative understanding of his agenda is coming into focus. One based on this: He is, first, a citizen of the globe -- a globalist -- and he is, second, an American. Evidence supporting that notion surfaced before the election.
His long affiliation with a self-defined "Afrocentric" congregation based on black liberation theology, his pastor's angry sermons, his wife's statements about her lack of pride in a "mean" America, his touted background of international residency, his book with a title that refers to the dreams of the Kenyan father who abandoned him, his association with some who are hyper-critical of the nation, his apology to the world from Berlin -- all these things taken together, with others, highlighted a basic stance toward the nation that continues to be substantiated since he took the oath of office.
Once elected, his apology tour was his self-introduction to the world. In visiting foreign capitals, he took upon himself the expiation for the sins of America and did penance before international friends and enemies alike. Soon thereafter, he began to fulfill his campaign promise to "fundamentally transform" America. Only those who paid little or no attention to his campaign speeches and documents should be surprised at the speed and aggressiveness with which that transformation has unfolded.
It began with jettisoning key campaign language. Transparent became opaque. The once evil lobbyists were welcomed into the White House. Fiscal responsibility transformed into spending other peoples' money with reckless abandon. The criteria of entering government officialdom excluded the stigma of tax evasion. Economic recovery meant stimulating most those who helped him win election. Bipartisan was unaccompanied by genuine inclusiveness. His mantra, "Not red state, not blue state, but the United States," was discarded into the barrel of depleted rhetoric. "Share the wealth" meant increasing the reach and revenues of the federal government.
In short, old Beltway politics gave way to a new version that differs only in scope and intensity.
So it's time to define what Obama's "transformation" really means. Try this one on:
The President's messianic self-understanding is not that of the compassionate, non-confrontational peacemaker made popular by post-WWII, 20th Century preachers who forged their theologies in the classrooms of liberal protestant seminaries. It's more compatible with the words in Matthew 10:34: "I come not to bring peace, but a sword." Not the sword of international warfare, but armed political assault on American capitalism. He comes to bring retribution upon those institutions that have, by his reading of history, oppressed the poor in America and exploited the Third World -- hence his sponsorship of the Global Poverty Act of 2007 while a Senator.
His chosen instrument to execute national transformation, with global implications, is the power of the federal government.
The economic chaos that unfolded at the end of the Bush era gave Obama a convenient opportunity to rush through changes to the DNA of American capitalism. Relief and prosperity are not the required outcome of his intended transformation. But, grief and distress are an acceptable consequence, at least for the foreseeable future. It's a case of tear down to build up. Planned chaos.
There's another older definition of planned chaos. In his book entitled Planned Chaos (1947), the Austrian School economist Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) defined the same transformation that Obama is pursuing and the dilemma it poses.
"The dilemma...is between the democratic process of the market in which every individual has his share and the exclusive rule of a dictatorial body. Whatever people do in the market economy is the execution of their own plans. In this sense every human action means planning. What those calling themselves planners advocate is not the substitution of planned action for letting things go. It is the substitution of the planner's own plan for the plans of his fellowmen. The planner is a potential dictator who wants to deprive all other people of the power to plan and act according to their own plans. He aims at one thing only: the exclusive absolute preeminence of his own plan." (p. 29)
To date, there's little evidence that members of the Republican political class are able or willing to openly question the proposition that national relief and prosperity don't rank high on Obama's agenda. Most seem to assume that both parties want both results, and it's only a matter of debating the means to that shared end. So they're content to let the O'Reilly assumption stand unchallenged. Perhaps they fear that even discussing it would align them with the most controversial talk show personalities.
Meanwhile, the citizen crowds that gathered in Washington and across the nation on 9/12 have no high profile political leader who speaks for them. That's good. They don't need one. They're speaking for themselves. They likely won't have a political leader until the next presidential campaign begins in earnest. Consequently, when a relatively obscure Republican Congressman yells "You lie," he becomes an instant hero to those of us who believe he spoke the truth.
So today it's from the American citizenry that the most authentic language confronts the professional preachers of bureaucratization and socialization -- in government, in the media, in academia, even in business.
"What is needed is to make the civic leaders fit for such encounters with professional preachers of bureaucratization and socialization. It is hopeless to stop the trend toward bureaucratization by the mere expression of indignation and by a nostalgic glorification of the good old times. These old days were not so good as they appear to some of our contemporaries. What was great in them was their reliance on the tendency toward improvement inherent in the system of unhampered market economy. They did not believe in the government's godlikeness. This was their glory." (Bureaucracy, Ludwig von Mises, 1944, p. 117)
Always the glory of the nation, today it's the people's voice that speaks.