President of Everything

Obama's executive grasp includes our entire lives

(Page 2 of 2)

Environment: The president did not immediately get the cap-and-trade carbon program he wanted. But he is using the powers of the stimulus package and bailout legislation to establish that he can push out corporate execs and take over any company he wants in other fields, so why not in this one, too? His executive branch seems to believe that it can legitimately claim whatever power it says it needs to achieve a goal it can halfway connect to a legitimate congressional mandate.

It is quite possible that Obama’s EPA will claim authority for sweeping action under the Clean Air Act. The president of Clean Air Watch, Frank O’Donnell, told Rolling Stone that an EPA ruling that global warming is a public health danger “gives Obama added leverage in going to Congress. … He can say, ‘I’ve got this authority in my back pocket. If you torpedo cap-and-trade, I’ll have no choice but to deal with this administratively.’”

Foreign policy: Obama claims to be on schedule to wind down our involvement in Iraq. His rosy projections of declining deficits in the out-years—the ones he doesn’t have to worry about now as he tries to keep the plates of an overextended economy spinning for one more month—depend on it. But if a rising insurgency ramps up the killings of U.S. troops or other Iraqis in the last months before the supposed pullout at the end of 2011, who believes that Obama will make good on his pledge?

He has no intention of ending the Bush-era policy of imperial overreach. He’s just shifting the theater in which we act out this timeless drama of collapse, with 21,000 more troops promised to Afghanistan for the potentially eternal mission of ending the Taliban insurgency there.

This survey only scratches the surface of bad actions and ominous portents for President Obama’s exercise of power. His administration is as cynical about federalism as Bush’s, if not more so.

Indeed, he has such a yen for creating independent centers of executive power in the form of policy “czars” that even Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd, no advocate of restrained government, recently complained that Obama is threatening “the constitutional system of checks and balances” by giving too much independent authority to the White House outside of Senate-approved department heads. But many other Democrats in Congress are looking to extend presidential reach still further, plumping to give Obama power over the entire food production and distribution system (the proposed “Food Safety Modernization Act”) and to shut down the Internet in a “cybersecurity emergency” (the proposed “Cybersecurity Act of 2009”).

Given the realities of Obama’s practice of presidential power, his official vision seems less important. His team hasn’t yet spelled out anything as sinister as the loopholes John Yoo devised for Bush from his Office of Legal Counsel, if only because Obama’s pick for OLC, Dawn Johnsen, has had her appointment held up in the Senate, largely over her abortion views. From her record, it’s unlikely that she’ll give her boss a formalized framework of power. That’s not how Obama likes to sell himself. But just because Johnson doesn’t deliver some tortuous explanation for why the president can do whatever he wants doesn’t mean that her boss will be any more constrained than his predecessor.

For example, the Obama Justice Department’s filings in the habeas hearings before U.S. District Court Judge John Bates in the legal challenge by four Bagram detainees no longer relies, as Bush did, on bald declarations of inherent presidential power. But Obama’s DOJ does not therefore conclude that the president does not have the power to keep “enemy combatants” locked up indefinitely without habeas rights, even as Obama moves to shut down the public-relations nightmare of Guantanamo and abandon the term “enemy combatants.”

The power Obama’s Justice Department claims might not be “inherent” any longer. But as explained by Duke Law School’s Christopher Schroeder on the website Executive Watch, Obama’s team still “argues there is ample authority to detain in the combination of the AUMF [Authorization for Use of Military Force] itself, the president’s conceded central role in executing the country’s war powers, and international law.” Those poor bastards languishing at Bagram and other mystery detention centers aren’t likely to be cheered by this supposed change in theories of executive power.

U.S. presidents have been acting outside the explicit bounds of their constitutional mandates from the Adams and Jefferson eras—Alien and Sedition Acts, Louisiana Purchase—through Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt, and Johnson to Bush and now Obama. The story of the decay and destruction of constitutional limits on power is as old as the Republic itself. And expansions of executive power—see Richard Nixon with his plethora of new regulatory agencies and wage and price controls—need not be combined with an explicitly developed theory that supports and encourages government metastasis.

Executive overstretch has dominated American government for so long that we usually only hear effective complaints from those fighting to oust the incumbents steamrolling our liberties at any given moment. That’s why candidate Obama was so sharp about criticizing Bush’s extraconstitutional power claims and was able to find the one war he could be unequivocally against: the one he could blame on his political opponents. Now he perpetuates the same policies, albeit under different names and with different excuses (secrecy and “enemy combatants”) or with promises to stop them eventually (Iraq).

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. After all, the costs of classic, FDR-style “bold, persistent experimentation” are low in such crises. American presidential powerhouses have had various rationales for their abuses—from war for Lincoln, Wilson, and Bush to economic crisis for Roosevelt to playing on a wealthy society’s sense of fairness and guilt for Johnson.

Obama’s specialty is shaping up to be particularly dangerous because it’s hard to dispute given the average American’s sensibilities. No call for liberty and constitutional principle seems convincing when Obama is arguing that those relying on government giveaways should have to follow government-set rules. That is, once you’ve allowed them to go ahead with the handouts, the political game is almost over. Under the guise of “managing the taxpayers’ money,” Obama and his crew are rewriting mortgages, deciding executive compensation, tossing out CEO’s. And note carefully that his plans for where taxpayers’ money should go continue to swell, from healthcare to the environment to energy policy to expanded “national service” programs. When taxpayers’ money is everywhere—and Obama is doing his best to make sure it is—then Obama’s control is everywhere.

The Octo-potus is claiming his space and flexing his grip. As far as he’s concerned, it’s Barack Obama’s country. We’re just living in it.

Senior Editor Brian Doherty is author of This is Burning Man (BenBella), Radicals for Capitalism (PublicAffairs) and Gun Control on Trial (Cato Institute). This article originally appeared in the American Conservative.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ||

    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||

    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?


  • ||

    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


Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Progressive Puritans: From e-cigs to sex classifieds, the once transgressive left wants to criminalize fun.
  • Port Authoritarians: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal
  • The Menace of Secret Government: Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms don’t safeguard civil liberties