Today (Monday) President Obama will launch what The New York Times reports is “a series of executive-branch actions to confront housing, education and other economic problems over the coming months, heralded by a new mantra: ‘We can’t wait’ for lawmakers to act.”
This apparently in your face bypassing of Congress and the constitutional system is the most recent of a weird series of non-, maybe even anti-democratic pronouncements coming out of Democratic Party figures of late.
There was North Carolina governor Beverly Perdue’s statement that, “If those of us who hold office could be given a break from having to face voters, we could more freely consider what would be best for this country.” Widely interpreted as a call to postpone the 2012 election, it came around the same time as former Obama budget director Peter Orszag’s similar suggestion that we should “stretch out” the time to the next election.
It is tempting to brush aside Perdue’s and Orszag’s grumblings – and even the president’s. They all sound like the fading gasps of a political class whose misrule has most the American people feeling the next election can’t come soon enough. Has any economic downturn in the last half-century been handled more ineptly – with more ideological myopia – than the one we’re in? But something more is involved here than mere forebodings of Election Day doom.
Remember Massachusetts Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren’s recent and now infamous diatribe against the “self-made man”?
“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there — good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for.”
On one hand Warren is being little more than dumb. Yes, of course, if I build a factory, I will move my goods to market via the public roads, as does everyone else, whether shipping goods or going to work. And my tax dollars helped build those roads, as did everyone else’s. This is not a matter of agreement or disagreement but of fact.
But Warren was saying something more. She was saying that, whatever our station in life, the government somehow owns a piece of each of us. The government is not a creature of us all. We are each a creature of it.
Like the president, Perdue, and Orszag, Warren is challenging a presumption – the most basic presumption – of the American experiment. No, that challenge is not about class warfare or gridlock in Washington. All their statements, as different as Warren’s is from the others, fly in the face of the way almost all Americans understand the national order and political legitimacy.
The first three words of the Constitution are shorthand for the way most of us conceive of government in America. The phrase “We the People” suggests individuals coming together to form a government. It says the government is a creature of freely associating men and women and their communities. The people gave powers and privileges to the government, not the other way around.
It seems to me that the president, Warren, Perdue and Orszag are saying something very similar to one another and very different from the presumption the rest of us hold. As Perdue put it: “Most of us in government know what needs to be done. The apparent disagreement between Republicans and Democrats is just jockeying for political advantage.” In other words, government is made up of experts who would manage better if only the people would stay out of the way –- which again suggests that government is preeminent, the people subordinate.
There is a lot of loose talk about the administration and the Democratic Party more generally having a socialist bent. Maybe they want comprehensive public ownership of the means of production, though I suspect most of them would recoil at the idea. But this presumption about a government of experts to which the people should defer and from which the people derive their just powers and privileges runs through everything they say and do.
Marx said he stood Hegel on his head. Our present day Democrats seem to have stood Jefferson on his head – and Lincoln, too, with their cozying up to a concept of a people of and by the government.
As I say, it’s all a little weird — and creepy.