Obama's War on the Rule of Law

The Bush administration's worst policies live on in Obama's White House.

Evidence that the growth of government is a one-way ratchet continues to mount in Washington, where President Obama's pieties about abiding by the rule of law are eclipsing "one word: plastics" as a punch line.

The day after he was inaugurated, Obama promised that the rule of law would be a touchstone of his presidency. Apparently this was not a solemn vow but rather a sop to those liberals and progressives who had fumed over the Bush administration's traducing of the Constitution. For eight years the printing presses of the left had been smoking with the heat generated by articles such as "Bush's War on the Rule of Law" (Harper's), "Cheney's Law" (PBS) and others far too numerous to list.

The brief against Bush encompassed numerous charges: his use of signing statements to provide a pretext for disregarding parts of certain legislation; the indefinite detention without trial of suspected enemy combatants in Camp Delta at Guantanamo Bay; the use of military tribunals; the Patriot Act; his administration's use of warrantless wiretapping and extraordinary rendition; the use of national-security letters to comb through private information; and so on. Policies such as these "evoked the specter of tyranny," put America on the slippery slope to fascism, and were generally bad for children and other living things.

With Obama's election, the nation supposedly said goodbye to all that. The clouds broke, the fog lifted, and the sunlight of civil liberties once again bathed the nation in its golden hue. Except: Nothing like that happened. Instead, the Obama administration adopted every single one of the policies listed above. Some of the more principled progressives have voiced outrage and a sense of betrayal. The more partisan types have politely averted their gaze.
But Obama has not confined his disdain for the rule of law to the Bush inheritance. He has carved out new realms for it.

Take Libya. The president started a war—or "kinetic military action"—without bothering to give Congress formal notification. The War Powers Resolution says a president may do something like that in exigent circumstances, but the action must be limited to 60 days. The administration has blithely let the deadline pass.

Last week, Virginia Democratic Sen. James Webb gave a stirring call to accountability: "Was our country under attack, or under the threat of imminent attack? Was a clearly vital national interest at stake? Were we invoking the inherent right of self-defense as outlined in the United Nations charter? Were we called upon by treaty commitments to come to the aid of an ally? Were we responding in kind to an attack on our forces elsewhere? … Were we rescuing Americans in distress? … No, we were not." The administration ignored Webb, too. Say what you will about the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq, at least he got congressional assent before launching it.

But that is not all. Consider the many waivers the administration has granted—around 1,500, though it is hard to keep up when the precise number grows so fast—to ObamaCare. Many of them—unions and the AARP, which supported ObamaCare, now have waivers from it—bear a distinctly political tinge. None of them bears the color of legitimacy: The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act contains no statutory provision for the granting of waivers to itself. Neither has the administration offered any rationale for the approval or denial of waivers, despite its claims to transparency, and FOIA requests, and lawsuits.

But that is not all, either: Remember how the administration gave precedence to the United Auto Workers' claims upon Chrysler over the claims of the company's secured creditors—a direct contravention of U.S. bankruptcy law. Or how it mau-maued BP into creating a government-administered compensation fund in advance of any judgments against it. Or its Orwellian reinterpretation of labor law to stop Boeing from moving a plant from Washington state to South Carolina.

Critics on the right accuse the administration of socialism, but its economic approach more closely resembles fascism properly understood—in which the means of production are privately owned but business decisions are centrally made through a policy of dirigisme. Socialism and fascism are incendiary words, tossed about by people who are upset that they have not gotten their way. That does not render them entirely inapplicable.

Rulebooks, of course, are for losers. Nobody winning a big hand at poker demands that everyone stop to make sure they're playing according to Hoyle. Hence when Bush won the White House, Democrats rediscovered their constitutional scruples; with Obama in office, Republicans have rediscovered theirs. A pity that so many care about the rules only when they're in no position to enforce them.

A. Barton Hinkle is a columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch. This article originally appeared at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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 Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • DJF||

    Obama was against breaking the law when the evil team Red was in charge, now that the wonderful team Blue is in charge then breaking a few minor outdated laws in the name of peace, prosperity and overall goodness is a small price to pay.

  • Team Blue||

    It's okay when our guy does it!

  • Anonymous Coward||

    The idiots who thought Obama would respect the rule of law are the same idiots who thought he would end the war in Afghanistan.

  • ||

    On the campaign trail he actually didn't say he would end the war in Afghanistan. (If you have a link to when he did say it, I will find myself corrected.) However, he most certainly *did* say he would end the war in Iraq, which has yet to happen.

  • ||

    an important distinction. obama has not gone back on his word on afghanistan. he most definitely has otoh when it comes to rule of law/unitary executive shit

  • ||

    Obamas answer to everything, throw a speech at it lol.

    www.complete-privacy.no.tc

  • ||

    + 1 for anon-bot.

  • Realist||

    He has to get his money's worth out of that Teleprompter.

  • rather||

    Pre-POTUS and at the beginning, all of them make statements that in reality are not feasible, or practical.

    Most of the public already understand that reality

  • Barack Obama||

    I know! Like obeying the law and stuff. Sheesh!

  • ||

    I agree with your first sentence, but I think you're giving the public an awful lot of undeserved credit.

    Anyone who claimed that he would do only those things which he could probably do would never make it out of the primaries.

  • ||

    So, on what basis do you decide who to vote for, since you "understand" that the candidates promises are bullshit?

  • Average American Voter||

    Whoever Tom Hanks is voting for.

  • some guy||

    For ~50% of the population, you just don't vote. For ~35% of the population you vote the party line. For ~13% of the population you vote for the Democrat or Republican that seems to suck the least. The rest of us pick a reasonable third party candidate and cry ourselves to sleep on election night.

  • ||

    You're right, which is why I never pay attention to what a politician says, only what he/she does. Best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, and all that.

    Obama's shitty record on civil liberties and the rule of law should surprise no one. His voting record in the Senate was/is there for all to see. And anyone who makes their way up in politics in Chicago is by definition unfit to hold office.

  • Barack O'bama||

    I was always 'Present'

  • ||

    ""Most of the public already understand that reality"'

    They sure don't act like it. They fall for the same bullshit every friggin time. They love to be told what they want to hear, and they will make their decisions based on that.

  • rather||

    *understands*

  • ||

    So, if I understand rather, she is saying that it is not feasible to be President and adhere to the rule of law, and that we, the public, should understand and be cool with that.

  • Almanian||

    Promises Made, Promises Broken®

  • rts||

    Laws are for little people.

  • ||

    A government of men, not of laws?

  • John Hasnas||

  • ||

    Venezuela here we come, right back where we started from.

  • Liberal Proverb||

    You have to break some eggs to make an omelete.

  • ||

    I'm starving, where’s my omelet?

  • hazeeran||

    Currently frying on a sun-baking drone in Yemen?

  • Almanian||

    A. Barton Hinkle Heimerschmidt
    His name is my name, too!
    Whenever we go out
    People always shout,
    "There goes A. Barton Hinkle Heimerschmidt!"
    LALALALALALALA....

    I'm sorry, I can't stop myself. I JUST CAN'T STOP MYSELF!!!

  • Untermensch||

    So do you have a macro on your computer to expend this, or have you really used up all your vacation time for the year typing this out every chance you get?

  • Quichique||

    Still funnier than the Friday Funnies.

  • Untermensch||

    That's like saying that someone is smarter than a rock.

  • GSL||

    Don't worry, I'm sure the next guy we elect won't abuse the expanded powers Obama has claimed with Libya and Obamacare and become exponentially more awful in the process.

    /starts drinking at 8am

  • Hemlock||

    I can help...

  • ||

    The House is creaking its way towards stopping the Libya war through the power of the purse. Just voted to ban the DoD funds appropriated under military construction and Veterans Affairs from being used in Libya in contravention of the War Powers Act. Three weeks later, the same amendment will be offered on the main Defense Appropriations bill.

    Of course, the Senate isn't going to even introduce a budget any time soon, and the Administration will claim that, no matter what the House says, it's not really violating the War Powers Act.

  • db||

    This is how a Constitutional crisis gets resolved these days...wait until everyone forgets about it.

  • ||

    The TLA people use for one solution is OBE-- Overtaken/Overcome By Events. As long as the war gets over before the situation crisis gets resolved, no problem.

  • Rich||

    Let's just forget about the Debt crisis, too.

  • ||

    I don't know why they don't drop that "in contravention" language and just ban the fucking funding already.

    Oh wait, I do know why. This way, they can claim to have done something, but since what they've done won't make any difference, they won't have to take any blame for anything.

  • ||

    That's most of it, but it also gives them an out in case Congress does actually take a War Powers Resolution vote afterwards, say when the book report is due.

  • cynical||

    I don't know why they can't simply accuse the president of high crimes against the nation and impeach him -- oh wait, because they expect their guy will probably do the same.

  • ||

    If the President does it, it's not illegal!

    Gee whiz, how many times do you have to be told?

    When your full time job is saving the country from immediate total annihilation, you don't have time to indulge in a lot of superfluous legal flimflammery.

  • Kant feel Pietzsche||

    "If the President does it, it's not illegal!"

    Kind of ironic that Nixon, of all people, turned out to be the only president who had a completely honest public moment. Even if it WAS just a Col. Nathan R. Jessup moment.

  • Jen||

    "I'll just have to keep taking cold showers until they elect some gal president"?

  • ||

    Promises Made, Promises Broken®

    Me likee.

  • hazeeran||

    "The War Powers Resolution says a president may do something like that in exigent circumstances, but the action must be limited to 60 days."

    Just because it was exigent for the citizens of Benghazi doesn't mean it was exigent for us!

  • AlmightyJB||

    Why does Reason hate our president. It's because he's black, isn't it?

  • ||

    Naw. Its because he's half-white.

  • ||

    Oh, so you're fine with black people, you just don't believe in miscegenation? Even more racist.

  • Almanian||

    No, it's HALF as racist

  • Otto||

    No! It's because he's white on the right side!

  • Realist||

    "The Bush administration's worst policies live on in Obama's White House."
    Assholes love power.

  • ||

    I'm still waiting for a clear explanation from the "responsibility to protect" crowd of why we went into Libya, but are ignoring Syria.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Because the French buy their oil from Libya and because Libya has no allies.

  • ||

    Because human rights has not a horse in the race and because at least we can do a pony.

  • IceTrey||

    Boeing wasn't moving a plant, they built an entirely new plant in S.C. and no one in Washington was going to be fired.

  • ­­||

    Oh really? Because we thought they put it on a great big trailer.

  • some guy||

    In fact, Boeing claims 2000 jobs have been added to the Washington plant in the last 18 months. The NLRB doesn't have a leg to stand on and Boeing certainly has the resources to prove it.

  • I hate the Troll named Chad||

    Where the hell is that troll? Oh, wait a minute he is far to partisan to say anything bad about Chairman Maobama.

  • Deputy Van Halen||

    Hasn't this same article appeared on this website at least a half a dozen times? We get it, you're not too keen on the bombing of Lybia.

  • db||

    You must be from the sucky version of Van Halen. Did you have anything of substance to say?

  • ||

    Despoitc rule is absoloute. All hail ruler Obama!

    The Constitution was designed by wiser persons than most of today's policital class can imagine.

  • Tolly||

    The only problem with this excellent article was that it left out about 50 other categories of flagrant presidential disregard.

    Federal drug enforcement, FOIA denials, whistleblowers, public review before law signings... It just goes on and on and on. Yet no one on the left seems to be too worried.

    Oh man, they're too busy laughing at that wacky Sarah Palin!

  • David||

    "Obama's shitty record on civil liberties and the rule of law should surprise no one. His voting record in the Senate was/is there for all to see. And anyone who makes their way up in politics in Chicago is by definition unfit to hold office." Very true my friend, I know first hand because I live in shitty southern Illinois...

  • Jim||

    Harrisburg, IN THE HOUSE!!!

  • David||

    "The Constitution was designed by wiser persons than most of today's policital class can imagine." You take that back ! they were all old, white, slaveowning, atheists!

  • ||

    In fact, Boeing claims 2000 jobs have been added to the Washington plant in the last 18 months. The NLRB doesn't have a leg to stand on and Boeing certainly has the resources to prove it.

    As if any of that matters at the NLRB. Boeing is pretty much DOA at the NLRB.

    Not sure what judicial review there is of NLRB matters.

  • G. Meany||

    yes, NLRB decisions can be and are overturned in court.

    The real question is, how much is Boeing getting from S. Carolina government to build a plant there? And how many of its parts suppliers for products which are branded "made in the USA" will be located in Mexico?

  • ||

    Any consideration of the current president should begin with an understanding of the fact that he has always concealed virtually the entire paper trail of his existence.

    American voters of all political persuasions can recall the Obama 2008 campaign repeatedly promising that their administration would place a special emphasis on the practice of transparency.

    A vast majority of these voters believe that the process of running for President of the United States should be the toughest public job interview in the world.

    The sad fact remains that the current president, according to longstanding government clearance protocols, could not be hired as a janitor in a federal building with the amount of personal background information that he has provided.

    Run for President? No problem.

    Get any other federal job? No way.

    Quite apart from the issue of any sort of birth certificates, real or imagined, genuine or forged, is the easily verifiable fact that Barack Obama's school records, SAT and LSAT scores, college and law school admission records and scholarship paperwork and grade transcripts and thesis papers, medical records, passport history, Illinois state senate tenure records and schedules, presidential campaign foreign donor lists, complete White House visitor logs and many other relevant records and documents have all never been released or allowed to be subjected to any sort of scrutiny, despite several years of repeated requests for disclosure by numerous individuals and non-traditional media organizations.

    The Obama 2008 campaign and subsequent administration have to date spent a substantial sum on legal fees, estimated in the millions of dollars, to fight Freedom of Information Act filings and other motions and requests to examine this material. The powerful international law firm Perkins Coie, the counsel of record to the Democratic National Committee, has been their primary provider of these services and continues in that role.

    It had become customary in postwar modern times for presidential candidates to allow for the release and scrutiny of the substantive body of their personal records and credentials, up until 2008 largely because of a strong interest from the mainstream media.

    The appearance of Barack Obama upon the national political stage changed that tradition, and he was given an astonishing special exception from this important unofficial practice that American voters had come to expect.

    In their eagerness to "make history" by helping to elect the first black president, the mainstream media failed in their essential national responsibility to report with thorough impartial objectivity. They ignored their duty to search for the truth and should be regarded with disdain by all people who value information in a free society.

    Democratic incumbents at all levels of government, as well as rank and file voters, might well demand to know exactly how Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and the rest of their party leadership allowed a person who was clearly given only the most cursory sort of vetting to become their presidential nominee.

    The past associations, ideological convictions, behavioral influences and ongoing relationships of the man of mystery known as Barack Hussein Obama are matters of concern to a large and growing number of people who just want to be able to understand the truth.

    This is the sort of information about their presidential candidates that American voters believe they have the need, and the right, to know.

    The sort of information that Obama and his handlers are quite determined to continue to keep from them.

  • ||

    Barack Obama was presented in 2008 as a brilliant intellectual with stellar Ivy League credentials whose cool low key style would transform the culture of Washington, leading America into a new harmonious postracial era with an administration of great transparency, all while achieving miracles of bipartisan cooperation.

    Hope and Change, remember?

    It has become quite apparent to rational people of all political persuasions how that ridiculously naive wishful fantasy has really played out.

    There exists a widespread and growing international speculation that an objective examination of Barack Obama's extensive hidden paper trail would clearly reveal that his meteoric rise up the educational and career ladders was largely the result of multiple affirmative action preferences and an adoring uncritical mainstream media, and that his vaunted intellect was greatly exaggerated.

    In short, Barack Obama is just another left-posing big city machine politician, one with more than a touch of narcissism and a proven record of ruthless self-serving dealmaking and deception, who has amply demonstrated his allegiance to powerful corporate and financial interests.

    Obama and his handlers were able to hide his past and explain away and minimize his relationships with highly controversial individuals and groups during their 2008 campaign.

    Will they be able to effectively repeat this deception between now and 6 November 2012?

    Only if you let them.

  • Barack O'bama||

    Hey, Flash, you don't like a good ol' Irish boy? I got Bin Laden and visited Puerto Rico, and started Cash for Clunkers, and saved the economy, and saved the banks, and saved the auto industry, and saved Libyans (and Yemenis), and improved the USA's image in the ME, and played lots of golf and hoops, and took hundreds of folks to London with me for govt paid junkets, and closed Guantanamo - OK, I'm working on that one, and stopped the Iraq war (well, I will soon, I promise), and got rid of DADT, and gave everyone health insurance.. So there!! Everyone loves me! Don't they?

  • John Hasnas||

  • Neil||

    You need to be careful not to be taken in by the words used by the main stream media. Boeing did not "move" anything from Washington to South Carolina. They added a production line there because the line in Washington is at capacity. If the production line is not allowed to open, Boeing will not be able to meet their delivery schedule will have to pay compensation to airelines for being late, and will lose orders to Airbus. lost orders will mean fewer jobs in Washington as well.

  • ||

    i really enjoy obama's latest lie as emphasized at volokh.com etc. according to obama, the war powers act does not apply to the current situation in libya, because we are NOT engaged in "hostilities".

  • air max||

    is good

  • قبلة الوداع||

    thank u

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