The Obama Doctrine: Govern by Decree

As you exhale while reading this article, you are contributing to the coming world catastrophe caused by global warming. So says the Environmental Protection Agency in its recent decree that carbon dioxide is an air pollutant among those gases that "endanger" public health.

In response to this sense of crisis stirred orchestrated by the likes of Al Gore, President Obama pushes for mandates that significantly reduce carbon usage -- and which, by all accounts, will cripple the U.S. economy. Common sense dictates that the U.S. cannot compete effectively in world markets while hamstrung by regulations and tax burdens that do not seriously affect our competitors. Whether through contact with their congressional representatives or through the polls, Americans have voiced their opposition to this sort of hyper-regulation and taxation. By most accounts, the administration's efforts to enact a cap-and-trade scheme will not get through Congress. 

There is much in the Left's agenda that is unpopular. It cannot survive the democratic process or honest discussion. When that agenda is stalled by the messiness of the legislative process, better to dissemble, and then use those institutions of power beyond the reach of any practical popular reaction. Better to use those institutions largely immune to public opinion and the consent of the governed. As the president and his political allies well understand, it is quicker and more efficient to implement an agenda through the federal courts and by bureaucratic fiat.

This most recent decree of the EPA began as a lawsuit in federal court. The environmentalists and their political allies in state and local governments sued the EPA, demanding that it regulate (i.e., limit) carbon usage in the United States. When the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the EPA's interpretation of the Clean Air Act and determined that such regulation is not mandated, the plaintiffs appealed to the U. S. Supreme Court.

In a five-to-four decision rendered in 2007, the Supreme Court overruled the D.C. Circuit Court. Usurping the legislative function through its use of questionable evidence and flimsy statutory analysis, the Supreme Court determined that the EPA must regulate carbon emissions.

Thus, we have a Supreme Court with no accountability to citizens issuing an order to a federal bureaucracy with little accountability to citizens. President Obama's EPA will now issue decrees that the environmentalists and state and local governments could not get passed by the most democratic of our three branches of government. We now have a bureaucracy staffed with President Obama's zealots who are only too happy to impose this unpopular environmental agenda despite its long-term detrimental effects on the country.

When a supposedly democratic government rules by decree with little or no direct accountability to its citizens, the effects are much broader than those generated by any particular decree. This process of issuing decrees enhances that lust for power among the political class while creating a corresponding attitude of subservience in the citizenry.

Hannah Arendt, in her magisterial The Origins of Totalitarianism, analyzes the nature of rule by decree and its effects. She points out that decrees are an exercise of power unfettered by any real limiting principles. Decrees have a way of simply appearing, and they are made to seem both necessary and inevitable.  A façade of law attached to these decrees supports the illusion of due process.

Like the one that labels what we naturally exhale an air pollutant, governmental decrees are wrapped in an aura of complication rather than reasonable principle. Such complication requires experts to guide us, and in this case, we are assured that the experts concur about this crisis and its causes. As Arendt points out, it is those experts who help keep the people in "carefully organized ignorance of specific circumstances and practical significance." 

Thus, data that could be unfavorable to the global warming agenda can be destroyed, and dissenting opinions can be suppressed because the citizens do not have the requisite sophistication and knowledge to evaluate them properly. We can find evidence of doctored data as in East Anglia, and for those pushing the Obama agenda, this data merely becomes a variation of the Dan Rather Rule that evidence can be "fake but true." Experts tell us to ignore the fact that there is little evidence of warming in the last ten years, less evidence of its anthropomorphic origins, and no evidence of impending catastrophe. We are assured by those so eager to exercise this power that the facts are in and the debate is over.

Most Americans do not want the inevitable consequences of the regulations that the Obama administration will promulgate. They have voiced their opinions, but such opinions do not really matter. They are simply told by the Obama administration that the EPA regulations will be forthcoming, supposedly both necessary and inevitable as they are. Decrees demand obedience, and citizens sink incrementally into Hillaire Belloc's servile state.

Margaret Thatcher once described the "ratchet effect" of bureaucratic power. The ratchet can be turned in one direction only--the way that enhances that power. This decree of the EPA is a manifestation of that power, first imposed by five unelected Justices in the name of the law. However, the rule of law requires wisdom, while rule by decree requires cleverness. The environmentalists and their political allies have cleverly created a crisis where there is none. The Obama Administration cleverly uses this crisis for its purposes, and it issues decrees that only enhance its power. Reversing that ratchet will be far more difficult, if not impossible.

Had Abraham Lincoln spent Barack Obama's time in today's Ivy League, and had he been nurtured politically by the likes of Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers, he would have concluded his Gettysburg Address "...and that government of the State, by the State, for the State shall not perish from the earth."  As with President Obama, any references to the people would be just window dressing.

Henry P. Wickham, Jr, welcomes comments at