In 1961, Ronald Reagan warned that embracing government-mandated health care would be a big step toward losing our freedoms. This week we saw how big a step that could be.
Leave it to the Obama Administration. If they have a choice between restraint and respecting national norms on one hand and maximization of government power on the other, these people go full guns for complete control. Exhibit One: the decision to force feed coverage for contraception and abortions into health insurance policies that the Catholic Church offers its employees.
When Obamacare passed, the Church had every right to expect that the government would honor its views on life and sex. And in fact any normal administration would not have used its new power to compel the Church to offer health coverage in these areas, in effect making it complicit in activities it considers anathema.
But as the Reagan Rule suggests, give government an inch and sooner or later it will take a mile, or a thousand miles. And as the Church has found, forget about later. Even forget about sooner. On issue after issue, the president has said, “we can’t wait,” which means now.
This is what is so unsettling about the current White House crowd to so many Americans – including many who began by wishing them well: the constant, almost compulsive trampling of all understood lines of limit. In so many areas they have barreled ahead, ignoring custom, law and constitutional niceties.
A case in point is the illegal gun operation called Fast and Furious, the attorney general’s covering up of it and his role in it. Yes, yes, I know, Mr. Holder didn’t read the memos. But it turns out he got the briefings – and on both sides of the border people, lots of people, are dead as a result. Would this mess have happened if he had bothered to consult Congress or local authorities or anyone who might have said “wait, think, don’t do it.”
Fast and Furious was about the border. Back home in Washington, this attitude of “we can’t wait and we won’t be held back” has become the rule in making appointments. We all know the story of the recess appointment without a recess of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The appointments at the same time to the National Labor Relations Board were even more brazen. The names had been submitted to the Senate only one day before the scheduled end of year adjournment. In the norms of constitutional government, recess or no recess, these nominations would have waited for hearings and debate in the new year.
But why should we be surprised? Consider packing the entire overhaul of healthcare – with its vast regulations restructuring of massive portions of our economy — into a budget bill (in order to avoid a filibuster). Wasn’t that merely a ploy to circumvent all the checks inherent in congressional procedure?
The administration’s expansive imposition of “we can’t wait and we won’t be held back” regulations at EPA in particular but also in rules such as those now imposed on the Catholic Church has reached the stage of pushing aside Congress entirely. How many times has Congress turned down laws to reduce national green house gas emissions? So EPA reinterprets existing law and that’s that.
Political commentator Michael Barone has called it all “gangster government.” Nice phrase, but this weekend we may see it come dramatically to life. The “Occupy” crowd is reportedly threatening to march into CPAC, the annual conservative gathering, and trash it. The president and his allies warmly embraced “Occupy” when it first pitched tents around that nation – and very handsome, expensive and identical tents they were, in whatever city they were set up (so who paid for them). Now these ideological allies may begin to brown shirt the opposition. Isn’t this where trampling norms of restraint leads?
But it is not where it stops.
In an interview the other day, Mr. Obama appeared to lament the restraints on presidential power inherent in the Constitution. In this he was reflecting attitudes about that document that have become standard fare in the left-wing corners of America’s law faculties, where he spent a good portion of his career.
Which leaves you wondering: Is this campaign just about spending, deficits, restoring economic growth, coping with challenges from Iran and other foreign adversaries? Or more fundamentally, is it about whether we remain a free nation, as freedom has been understood these last 223 year, thanks to the insight of our Founders when they did “ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”