Obama: Lost in Translation

During his campaign, President Obama, touted his experience as a professor of constitutional law.  Although this description of that resume enhancer was a stretch, one would think that the President's legal education and background would have caused him to appreciate that presidential power has its limits, and that those limits are not to be trifled with.  It appears the President needs a refresher course. 

On February 2, 2011, his administration was found to be in contempt of court, for knowingly and intentionally defying the court's injunction of its enforcement of a ban on oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.  And just weeks before the issuance of that contempt citation, a Federal court judge in Florida ruled ObamaCare is unconstitutional in its entirety.  In his order the judge held that his ruling was tantamount to an injunction, and he was proceeding on the well-established presumption that government officials will conform their conduct to rulings.  The President, whose oath of office requires him to "preserve, protect and defend" the Constitution, nevertheless appears to have accorded the Florida judge's ruling the same level of respect and compliance as he did the order enjoining his "moratorium" on oil and gas drilling in the Gulf.

This administration's indifference to what the Constitution proscribes for whoever holds the office of the presidency should come as no surprise to objective observers.  Early in his administration, President Obama appointed Carol Browner to head the EPA.  She had headed that agency during the Clinton administration and so was thought to be well qualified for that position.  But during her tenure in the Clinton administration, the EPA defied a Federal court order to preserve the content of computer hard drives, including the hard drive on Browner's office computer, which the plaintiff in the case was seeking in discovery in a lawsuit brought under the Freedom of Information Act. 

Because of this blatant defiance of a Federal court order, the EPA was found to be in contempt of court and to pay the attorneys fees the plaintiff incurred as a result of the EPA's contempt. 

Given the foregoing history, the administration's recent announcement that it will no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act out of concern for the constitutionality of one of its provisions should come as no surprise.  After all, the President has, through his past actions, consistently telegraphed that he can pick and choose which provisions of the Constitution he will adhere to. 

Fortunately, the Founding Fathers were keen observers of human nature, and well aware of where the abuse of power can lead.  To stymie such abuse, the delegates at the Constitutional Convention made a central focus of their efforts both process and due process, the latter to insure that the "unalienable" rights of the individual would not be trampled upon by the newly-established government.  They did not undertake to craft a document to move the new nation toward an ultimate outcome, e.g., an earthly "utopia."  To the Founders and the other delegates, the establishment of an ideal state was the stuff of dreams, because human beings, by their nature, did not have, and they knew never would have, a common conception of the ideal.

The delegates had only to look back in the seventeenth century and the English Civil War which led, first, to the execution of a king, Charlie I, and thereafter to a dictatorship under a "Lord Protector," Oliver Cromwell.  Among his "achievements" was the suppression of individual liberty through the massacre of innocent Irish villagers.  And, of course, Cromwell was not even a king.  He had been a member of Parliament, i.e. of the body that arose as a consequence of earlier monarchial excesses. 

The tendency of centralized power toward the suppression of individual liberty and the elimination of those who might stand in its way, was informed by ancient history as well.  Before Julius Caesar attempted to make himself the first Roman emperor, he engaged in what was, in essence, genocide.  He killed through war, starvation and outright murder, between one and two million Gauls.  To incorporate Gaul into the empire Caesar hoped to create and head required the elimination of a huge number of its inhabitants.  Only then could Roman culture take hold and flourish in what might be deemed the ancient equivalent of "lebensraum".  The Western Europe of today is, in fact, the product of Caesar's genocide.  Today's Democrats, with President Obama as their titular leader, are intent on emulating the European welfare state, in large part because of what they view as historical "sins" that gave rise to modern-day America.  Yet they are clueless about Europe's murderous past, and how that past ultimately gave rise to our founding document. 

The Constitution, of course, does more than guarantee personal liberty.  It also prescribes the relationship among the states, and between the states and the Federal government.  By laying out the federal system as it does, it places a huge, though not insurmountable, obstacle in the way of any person or faction of the likes of Cromwell, Caesar, Robespierre, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, inclined toward wholesale slaughter to bring about a "peoples paradise". 

In addition to its institutional impediments to the concentration of power in one person or group of persons, the Constitution institutionalizes the concept of due process i.e. that the Federal government may not deprive the citizenry of life, liberty and property without recourse to processes designed to reign in the arbitrariness and viciousness that so often infuses a centralized power.  Whatever sins may taint America's past, the mass murder of millions of people by someone in search of absolute power is not one of them.  The Constitution, and the peoples' willingness to keep it by adhering to, its central tenets, and demanding that their elected officials do the same, explain why for tens of millions around the world, the United States is as close to a utopia as people are ever likely to achieve. 

In a 2001 interview, then state Senator Obama described the Constitution's limitations on Federal power as a hindrance to the achievement of what today's liberals describe as "redistributive justice".  This statement, sadly, evidences that the Constitution's wisdom, for him and like minded Democrats, is lost in translation.