President of Everything

Obama's executive grasp includes our entire lives

In December 2007, Sen. Barack Obama’s reassurances to the Boston Globe suggested that he understood constitutional limits on executive and government power. He knew that there were things the “president does not have power under the Constitution” to do, including unilaterally authorizing military action and surveilling citizens without warrants. He said he would “reject the Bush administration’s claim that the president has plenary authority under the Constitution to detain U.S. citizens without charges as unlawful enemy combatants.”

That thoughtful skeptic of executive power now sits in the Oval Office. Isolating random bits of his presidential rhetoric, you can almost believe that he understands how a society really thrives. Obama said in his pseudo-State of the Union Address, “The answers to our problems don’t lie beyond our reach. They exist in our laboratories and universities; in our fields and our factories; in the imaginations of our entrepreneurs and the pride of the hardest-working people on Earth.”

But in just three months, we have seen what Obama means when he talks about “reach.” He doesn’t mean “our reach” but his own. His sense of that reach, and the abrupt and scary speed with which he’s used it, marks him as an executive with a tentacled grip—multiple, crushing, inescapable. No longer the cautious critic of presidential power of the campaign trail, he now sees nothing as beyond his grasp.

Less than a hundred days in, the fully articulated ideological contours of his vision remain unclear—just as he wishes. It suits Obama’s self-image as a mere pragmatic problem solver to never explain, to float from power grab to usurpation as if nothing but thoughtful reaction to the exigencies of the moment guides him. But it’s already obvious that those actions veer strongly toward expansive government, limiting our options in every aspect of national life.

Budget: The government fiscal game works as well as it does politically because most people don’t think of government spending in terms of control over their lives. Most see it as a benefit, a graceful solution to a perceived lack. Healthcare? Obama’s approximated buy—in is $600 billion over a decade—a figure sure to come up grossly short if history is any guide. But most think, well, I’m not the one with $600 billion to toss, so why not?

That money, plus all the many other nonexistent trillions Obama is planning to spend, gets paid back either in debt service down the line—funneling a larger percentage of the lifeblood, time, and effort of our children to Washington and thence to whoever’s brave enough to hold U.S. debt by then—or in inflation that eats away at any attempt on our part to save or invest profitably.

When, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of Obama’s spending plans, the U.S. government deficit-spends $9.3 trillion over the next decade, that’s more than an absurd abstraction. It’s enslavement: the hours and days of our lives.

Business and the economy: Here Obama’s grip is far less subtle. He’s clear and decisive: The financial and industrial economy is his, and he’ll do with it as he pleases. What’s decided for the U.S. is what’s decided for General Motors, as presidential pressure pushes out GM chief Rick Wagoner. Obama and his man at Treasury, Timothy Geithner, want the power to confiscate any company whose failure they claim threatens the larger economy.

Now that he occupies the White House, the new president—who justly pilloried Bush for asserting that national security excused any executive ukase—seems to believe that his own vision of economic security empowers him to take whatever he wants and make any decision he deems necessary, from curtailing CEO compensation to renegotiating mortgage terms. What private sector? This is economic war!

And lest one think this is all about being faithful stewards of the public wealth, as Obama and Geithner like to play it, The Wall Street Journal reported that an unnamed bank was not allowed to return money the Feds had stuck it with in the first bailout wave. The strings attached to those bailout funds gave the federal government effective ownership over the bank; evidently the Obama administration values an excuse for control more than it values taxpayer money.

It also seems primed to use more traditional means of throwing weight around the national economy. The president’s pick for antitrust chief, Christine Varney, has already cast a stink eye at Google, expressing concern at a conference last year about the company’s “monopoly in Internet online advertising.” And Obama’s pick to head the Department of Agriculture, former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack, is an enthusiastic supporter of one of the most foolish and damaging federal economic manipulations around, endless ethanol subsidies. Any noises about damping down agricultural subsidies in general, supposedly part of the “fiscally responsible” Obama agenda, are dying in Congress.

State secrets: Even Obama’s most ardent supporters are disillusioned by his close adherence to the Bush model when it comes to executive privilege. Obama’s DOJ has openly agreed that lawsuits challenging rendition and warrantless-wiretapping programs should be dismissed because trying them would expose state secrets. His legal team declares that the president—and only the president—has the right to make such classified decisions, with neither courts nor Congress, and of course no one as inconsequential as an aggrieved citizen, able to second guess.

That’s troubling enough, but it’s not all. While Attorney General Eric Holder has released some Bush-era documents relating to torture policy, the Obama administration as a whole is, as this article went to press, agonizing over whether to release a further set said to be even more heinous. (Even if they eventually release them, that this wasn’t a no-brainer shows executive secrecy is still far too robust in the administration.) Even an international intellectual-property treaty being actively considered by 27 countries had its contents declared a national-security secret in an Obama DOJ filing in March.

Healthcare: We don’t yet know what combination of mandates, subsidies, government-supplied insurance, and controls will arise. But we do know that the cornerstone of the cost containment Obama seeks will be decisions about what gets covered by the insurance that the government will be guaranteeing, regulating, and demanding. This means rationing and a potentially fatal blow to one of the last markets where expensive and experimental new treatments can be developed and, if found worthwhile, thrive.

Given how Obama has shown such a scrupulous sense of pipers and their right to call the tune in the financial and automotive markets, he is apt to be more explicit than past politicians in insisting that any behavior by companies or individuals that costs the public money must be stringently controlled. That means your health will no longer be your own business but Barack Obama’s.

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  • ||

    Cool pic. Any chance on offering a bigger version?

  • Randy:||

    [dressed in a drab green toga] There are different people castng all different kinds of blame from person to person. But the fault lies in all of you! [starts pointing at random eople] YOU, who bought that three hundred thousand house when you only had twenty thousand to put down? YOU, who bought that third car, even though only two people in your home drive! It is time to stop pointing fingers! [speeds up his rate of pointing] Fingerpointing gets us nowhere! Steve! We have mocked our Economy. And now the Economy has cast its vengeance on us all!

  • Xeones||

    I can't believe we're not even a quarter of the way through this douchebag's first (and only, pray) term. Shut the fuck up, Barack Obama.

  • PIRS||

    "I can't believe we're not even a quarter of the way through this douchebag's first (and only, pray) term. Shut the fuck up, Barack Obama."

    I never thought I would ever say this, I miss Clinton. Clinton was an asshole but at least he was a PRAGMATIC asshole.

  • Alan Vanneman||

    "As predictable as out-party opposition is in-party realization that, as Obama's right-hand man Rahm Emanuel openly put it, there's no sense in letting a crisis go to waste."

    "No sense in letting a crisis go to waste!"

    "No sense in letting a crisis go to waste!"

    Where have I heard that line before? Where, God, where?

    Oh, and if Wall Street hadn't driven itself off a cliff, there wouldn't be any crisis.

  • Anonymous||

    Oh, and if Wall Street hadn't driven itself off a cliff, there wouldn't be any crisis.

    Well, if the government hadn't built a safety net on the cliffside (rated for 75 pounds), they wouldn't have been so tempted!

  • ||

    as an executive with a tentacled grip-multiple, crushing, inescapable.

    I don't think anyone needs to read any further. That's the Doheny's perspective BEFORE he even started to write the piece.

    Two amusing things:

    1) Where's the recognition of Obama's slower-than-McCain process-oriented decision making? Hell, I have barely done 3 loads of laundry during Obama's term. Let alone addressed or solved the hundreds of various issues left over from the Bush administration.

    2) It will be a glorious day when the Libertarians finally win their way into office. Make no mistake: All of the issues addressed in this article would have been done with, put away and completely finished by now if only Ron Paul had been elected. And they would have been done exactly as he laid out on the campaign trail.

    Yuh. Sher.

  • Shorter Tony||

    Nothing to see here people, move along. If there was something to see, I would tell you, because liberals are honest and principled.

  • Shorter Alan Vanneman||

    Government involvement had nothing to do with the crisis. Nope. It was all the absolutely unfettered market. So we should trust Barack Obama unconditionally.

  • ||

    Where's the recognition of Obama's slower-than-McCain process-oriented decision making?

    Where's the evidence of Obama's slower-than-McCain process-oriented decision making?

  • Shorter James Butler||

    I wanna get down on my knees and start pleasding The Chosen One, wanna feel his salvation all over my face.

  • engineer||

    "I never thought I would ever say this, I miss Clinton."
    I miss Coolidge. Any president who's not known for loving the sound of his own voice is good in my book.

  • Paul||

    What's decided for the U.S. is what's decided for General Motors, as presidential pressure pushes out GM chief Rick Wagoner.




    But... I was told in another H&R thread that Wagoner decided to leave after a jovial lunch-meeting with Obama officials. No pressure, no force. It was all larks.

  • ||

    Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and shoot Hegel.

  • ||

    Who would win a fight between the Octobama and the Kochtopus? Discuss.

  • ||

    Sigh, The continued rise of Obama Derangement Syndrome with Reason magazine. I think I need to go away for a while.

  • ||

    "The continued rise of Obama Derangement Syndrome with Reason magazine."

    Long delayed, and just getting started.

  • Jim Treacher||

    The problem with this new syndrome is that the derangement is all on the part of the President of the United States.

  • ||

    A little late, isn't it REASON? You were so soft on this guy in the campaign, I could hardly believe it. All the signs were there, and you had little to say. Well, welcome to the funeral party!

  • Octobama||

    Obama, what a fascist... oh wait, that was Bush. Oh, wait, they're pretty much the same person. Impeach Obushma.

  • ||

    to see the obamatards on TV, acting like this man is god, makes me just want to move to a tiny island in the pacific and watch america implode under the weight of its own stupidity. I'm sorry, but we deserve a shitty country for allowing this clown to be our leader.

  • Ebeneezer Scrooge||

    we deserve a shitty country for allowing this clown to be our leader

    Yessiree. We had dozens, no make that tens of thousands, of other choices. And we all choose this furry little octopus. Because he's sooooo cute on camera.

    The idea that we never had any real choice except this creature and McCain, only existed in an alternate universe.

    Meanwhile in this universe, libertarians will be the very last to discover that democracy is no friend of anybody's liberty.

  • Richard Stands||

    The man knows how to work a crowd. He sounds reasonable, and that's enough for many who were starving for a better occupant of the White House. Sound and fury combined with bread and circuses are a time-tested combination (apologies for mixing my centuries).

    He's paving his road with the best of intentions, and that's all that matters for most. Even that ugly business no one likes to mention seems unlikely to slow his course.

  • ||

    When will everyone learn, today's Republicans and today's Democrats are one in the same. We never have a viable choice.

  • Wicks Cherrycoke||

    Appropos of Brian's article: Obama responds to the "pandemic" of swine flu (which has skyrocked to 50 cases! 50!!!) by promising to spend more on research, promising more programs, promising greater government involvement, etc., all while implying that the absence of such spending, programss and involvement was the cause of the flu in the first place. Similar to his claim that the financial crisis was the result of regulations the Bush administration did not pass. Any excuse to expand the scope, size and authority of government.

  • Mr. Blather||

    Ebeneezer Scrooge:
    "Meanwhile in this universe, libertarians will be the very last to discover that democracy is no friend of anybody's liberty."

    Actually, those of us who believe libertarianism involves more than legalizing drugs and supporting gay marriage realized that point a long time ago, which is why we didn't vote in the general election.

    As for reason mag's Obama Derangment Syndrome, I still say that their motive for sabotaging Ron Paul's campaign as best they could was so that they could have McCain, Obama or Clinton to bitch about thus keep themselves in business for at least four more years.

  • Joel||

    ...I still say that their motive for sabotaging Ron Paul's campaign as best they could was so that they could have McCain, Obama or Clinton to bitch about thus keep themselves in business for at least four more years.

    As conspiracy theories go, I suppose this one's about par. It'd be just a little easier to swallow if Paul had had as much as a one-in-a-million chance of getting elected - or even of being the nominee. So...yeah, not so much.

  • Ebeneezer Scrooge||

    Mr Blather,

    Good to hear that at least a few people are actually awake. And that somebody realizes liberty doesn't begin and end with legalizing drugs and gay marriage.

  • ||

    Meanwhile in this universe, libertarians will be the very last to discover that democracy is no friend of anybody's liberty.

    Err, no. Thoughtful libertarians believe in limited government, not democracy. Personally, I think democratic accountability is a necessary, but far from sufficient, requirement for limited government.

  • ||

    Democracy can quite easily yield to socialist policies if the education system is as fucked as ours is. Churning out morons for decades is finally affecting us at the polls.

    I think democracy is a necessary check on power, but this universal suffrage makes no sense to me. There should be a most basic test on government knowledge to keep the extreme idiots (which now amount to maybe 40%) out of the process. If I were king for a day....

  • Ebeneezer Scrooge||

    RC Dean,

    My beef with democracy is that competing politicians will always face the same motives that newspapers do. Good news is no news, and no news is no way to build a career for yourself.

    The press will invent "Oh my god the sky is falling and I have to buy the next paper and read all about it" stories. The politicians will play into it, and both will build themselves upon this edifice. See Machiavelli _The Prince_ for example.

    Intelligent, ambitious people will create opportunities for themselves. It's human nature.

    Democracy is only kinda-sorta a check on power. What do you do if you elect somebody who abuses that power? "Vote him out next time around" is really too little, too late. There's no money back garuntee.

    Of course we could do like Athens did and banish or lynch the SOBs. But you also know about tyranny of the majority.

    But why should everybody get an equal vote, whether they paid lots of taxes, or only a few, or none at all?

    Somehow I just don't ever see the system we've got working over the long haul.

  • Peter Jensen||

    I am always amazed that a magazine called "Reason" publishes paranoid pieces such as these.

    It deserves its fair share of nutty commentators all sure they have a better system to propose than democracy (without ever proposing something that makes sense).

    FYI, Libertarianism is just as much an Utopian ideology as Liberalism, Socialism or Communism.

  • The New Guy||

    "FYI, Libertarianism is just as much an Utopian ideology as Liberalism, Socialism or Communism."

    I'm nominating this as the non sequitur of the year: anyone gonna second?

  • Raymond252||

    I could not agree more about BHO. He is the king of overstepping his bounds. But the thing that really gets me about him is his love affair with himself. If it wasn't for the anticipation that the teleprompter will screw up (thus leaving him helpless) like the other day when he got ahead of the prompter (priceless). But I tire of his babble, and simply reach for the remote (my new best friend).

  • Jeff Perren||

    Obama is a Progressive. Progressivism, aka Fascism-lite. The next in line will remove the Swedish style gentility and appear as a naked Mussolini.

    What else would you expect from an adherent of that philosophy? Wannabe dictators all.

  • ||

    Mr. Doherty,

    How many of your colleagues at Reason supported Obama for President? I would really like Reason to come clean with the figures. Please -- disclosure.

    Any regrets? Please extend my thanks to the Libertarians for Obama and the "obamacons."

    Sincerely yours,
    No regrets for my anti-Obama vote in Virginia

  • Raymond252||

    I'm with you Bill!!

    I saw right through BHO. Not at first though. After the 2004 Democrat Convention, I thought he was really something. Then I saw how he handled Wright, Ayres, Rezko (his racist grandmother) and company. It was so easy to see through him. Now, the rest of the country is beginning to see the same thing. Too little, too late I'm afraid...

  • ||

    Obama was plucked from obscurity here in Chicago by one of the wealthiest families in the world with close ties to Axelrod and Emmanual. He was never a leader here and he never demonstrated integrity, preferring instead to support the corrupt Illinois political establishment, so he would not derail his political career.

    His approval ratings will decline as he continues to exacerbate our long decline into a recession that will soon become more like a depression. The two parties are inept and corrupt and Obama is not the exception to the rule.

  • ||

    If you want to know what the GOP's problem is just read some of these postings. Anger, hate, childishness, silliness, self delusion, they are all there. Today we just lost a Republcan senator of 29 years. And most Republican bloggers as far as I can tell are saying good riddance. This is a party headed for 25 years of irrelevance as a far right southern rump.

  • ||

    Reason used a lot of space during the election selling Matt Welch's anti-McCain ideas, and gave Obama a very easy time, including against Hillary.

    A clear failure of common sense and first principles has gripped Reason.
    It goes to show, progressivism infects libertarians easily enough.

  • engineer||

    Could we please stop with the "REASON WAS IN THE TANK FOR OBAMA" trope please. Apart from Dave Weigel and Steve Chapman, the reason staff generally took the "pox on both houses" approach. While I personally thought McCain the less bad of the two major-party candidates, Reason was hardly in the tank for Obama.

  • engineer||

    John,
    Is that you? I see no reason to mourn the loss of Arlen Spector. He was the 60th Democrat before, he's just made it official.

  • engineer||

    "FYI, Libertarianism is just as much an Utopian ideology as Liberalism, Socialism or Communism."

    Except that we don't argue that all problems would magically disappear if it was adopted, merely that it's the best system (ie, the one that is least intrusive on personal liberty and which promotes the greatest prosperity).

  • engineer||

    "Meanwhile in this universe, libertarians will be the very last to discover that democracy is no friend of anybody's liberty."

    A lot of us already knew that. Eight years of the Bush presidency followed by the election of Barack Obama removed any doubt in my mind that democracy is, at best, tangential to liberty.

  • ||

    I see absolutely nothing wrong with..

    "Obama and his crew are rewriting mortgages, deciding executive compensation, tossing out CEO's. "

    This sounds BAD to you?

    M

  • ||

    Yes, libertarianism is an ideology like all the others, but it is the only one that historically, when governments move policies in its direction, there becomes more and more prosperity and freedom, less corruption and social problems.

  • ||

    The author has an interesting perspective. He passes scathing judgement with every sentence and sees nefarious plots in every direction (ones that seem to me simply not to be there). It is a very sad and inadequate representation of the Republican position because it fails utterly to represent Republican ideals and only creates, virtually out of thin air, innuendo filled "talking points". Not a single word about the positive actions taken, some of which would have been the same actions taken by a Republican president, and would have been loudly applauded by the same author. Your sir, sadly, are a political hack.

  • ||

    Barack Obama - The reluctant tyrant.

  • Dan Mage||

    Business has had nothing against a large interventionist state and has demanded it at times. This has been noted by a wide range of observers, ranging from Ayn Rand to Noam Chomsky. That business as usual is finally biting business in the ass should be no surprise either. I'm no admirer of the policies described in the above article, but the corporatist victims do not have my sympathy. When he starts mucking around with the internet (probably inevitable too) is when I'll be worried.

  • ||

    Dan Mage - Bingo, brother. Read The Big Ripoff by Tim Carney. Big business is not just comfortable with heavy regulation, it well nigh demands it from its purchased politicians. Government regulations create higher cost barriers to entry into the entrenched firm's marketplace and thereby block competition. Big Business loves Big Government and vice versa. Of course, it serves as a nice little diversionary distraction for the sheeple to believe the exact opposite is true and this is the myth that gets perpetuatued.

  • nike shox||

    is good

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