If we learned anything about Barack Obama in his first term it is that when he starts repeating the same idea over and over, what’s on his mind is something else.
The first term’s over-and-over subject was “the wealthiest 1%.” Past some point, people wondered why he kept beating these half-dead horses. After the election, we knew. It was to propagandize the targeted voting base that would provide his 4% popular-vote margin of victory — very young voters and minorities. They believed. He won.
The second-term over-and-over, elevated in his summer speech tour, is the shafting of the middle class. But the real purpose here isn’t the speeches’ parboiled proposals. It is what he says the shafting of the middle class is forcing him to do. It is forcing him to “act”—to undertake an unprecedented exercise of presidential power in domestic policy-making. ObamaCare was legislated. In the second term, new law will come from him.
Please don’t complain later that you didn’t see it coming. As always, Mr. Obama states publicly what his intentions are. He is doing that now. Toward the end of his speech last week in Jacksonville, Fla., he said: “So where I can act on my own, I’m going to act on my own. I won’t wait for Congress.” (Applause.)
The July 24 speech at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., has at least four references to his intent to act on his own authority, as he interprets it: “That means whatever executive authority I have to help the middle class, I’ll use it.” (Applause.) And: “We’re going to do everything we can, wherever we can, with or without Congress.”
Every president since George Washington has felt frustration with the American system’s impediments to change. This president is done with Congress.
The political left, historically inclined by ideological belief to public policy that is imposed rather than legislated, will support Mr. Obama’s expansion of authority. The rest of us should not.
The U.S. has a system of checks and balances. Mr. Obama is rebalancing the system toward a national-leader model that is alien to the American tradition.
To create public support for so much unilateral authority, Mr. Obama needs to lessen support for the other two branches of government—Congress and the judiciary. He is doing that.
Mr. Obama and his supporters in the punditocracy are defending this escalation by arguing that Congress is “gridlocked.” But don’t overstate that low congressional approval rating. This is the one branch that represents the views of all Americans. It’s gridlocked because voters are.
Take a closer look at the Galesburg and Jacksonville speeches. Mr. Obama doesn’t merely criticize Congress. He mocks it repeatedly. Washington “ignored” problems. It “made things worse.” It “manufactures” crises and “phony scandals.” He is persuading his audiences to set Congress aside and let him act.
So too the judiciary. During his 2010 State of the Union speech, Mr. Obama denounced the Supreme Court Justices in front of him. The National Labor Relations Board has continued to issue orders despite two federal court rulings forbidding it to do so. Attorney General Eric Holder says he will use a different section of the Voting Rights Act to impose requirements on Southern states that the Supreme Court ruled illegal. Mr. Obama’s repeated flouting of the judiciary and its decisions are undermining its institutional authority, as intended.
The three administration nominees enabled by the Senate’s filibuster deal—Richard Cordray at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Thomas Perez at the Labor Department and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy—open a vast swath of American life to executive authority on steroids. There won’t be enough hours in the day for Mr. Obama to “act on my own.”
In a recent Journal op-ed, “Obama Suspends the Law,” former federal judge Michael McConnell noted there are few means to stop a president who decides he is not obligated to execute laws as passed by Congress. So there’s little reason to doubt we’ll see more Obamaesque dismissals of established law, as with ObamaCare’s employer mandate. Mr. Obama is pushing in a direction that has the potential for a political crisis.
A principled opposition would speak out. Barack Obama is right that he isn’t running again. But the Democratic Party is. Their Republican opponents should force the party’s incumbents to defend the president’s creeping authoritarianism.
If Democratic Senate incumbents or candidates from Louisiana, Alaska, Missouri, Arkansas, North Carolina, Montana and Iowa think voters should accede to a new American system in which a president forces laws into place as his prerogative rather than first passing them through Congress, they should be made to say so.
And to be sure, the other purpose of the shafted middle-class tour is to demolish the GOP’s standing with independent voters and take back the House in 2014. If that happens—and absent a more public, aggressive Republican voice it may—an unchecked, unbalanced presidential system will finally arrive.
A final quotation on America’s system of government: “To ensure that no person or group would amass too much power, the founders established a government in which the powers to create, implement, and adjudicate laws were separated. Each branch of government is balanced by powers in the other two coequal branches.” Source: The White House website of President Barack Obama.
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Daniel Henninger is Deputy Editorial Page Director of the Wall Street Journal.