Watching President Obama's inaugural, I was confused. It looked like a new king was being crowned. Thousands cheered, like subjects worshipping nobility. At a time when America faces unsustainable debt and terrible economic troubles, why such pomp?
Maybe it's because so many people tell themselves presidents can solve any problem, like fairy-tale kings—or gods.
Before America's first inauguration, John Adams suggested George Washington be called "His Most Benign Highness." Fortunately, Congress insisted on the more modest title, "President."
At his inaugural, President Obama himself said, "The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few."
But then Obama went on to say that his privileged few should force the rest of us to do a zillion things.
He said, "We must do these things, together." But what "together" means to big-government folks is that they have a vision—and all of us, together, must go deeper into debt to pay for their vision, even if we disagree.
We can afford this, as the president apparently told John Boehner, because America does not have a spending problem.
But, of course, we do have a spending problem, and a debt problem, and the president knows this.
Just a few years ago, when George W. Bush was president, the Congressional Record shows that Senator Obama said this: "I rise, today, to talk about America's debt problem. The fact that we are here to debate raising America's debt limit is a sign of leadership failure and our government's reckless fiscal policies."
Sen. Obama went on: "Over the past five years, our federal debt has increased from $3.5 trillion to $8.6 trillion—and yes, I said trillion with a 'T'!"
Again, he was right to worry about the debt and right to call it "a hidden domestic enemy … robbing our families and our children and seniors of the retirement and health security they've counted on. … It took 42 presidents 224 years to run up only $1 trillion of foreign-held debt. This administration did more than that in just five years."
It's hard to believe that Obama chose those words just seven years ago, because now his administration has racked up another $6 trillion in debt.
It's also a shock that Barack Obama believed this: "America has a debt problem. I therefore intend to oppose the effort to increase America's debt limit."
Yet this year, he demanded Congress raise the debt limit without conditions.
I want the old Barack Obama back. He made sense. The new guy, he scares the heck out of me. Like a king, he assumes that the realm will be better if he can spend as he pleases.
He also issues executive orders when Congress doesn't immediately do what he wants. To be fair, he isn't the first president to do that. Or the worst.
That was Teddy Roosevelt. He issued 1,000 executive orders, including one that demanded phonetic spelling. On all government documents, "kissed" should be K-I-S-T and "enough" E-N-U-F. At least Congress mustered the two-thirds vote needed to override that one.
I might not mind presidents behaving like kings—if they at least made the tough decisions that the government needs to make, like balancing the budget. But no president has tried to use an executive order to eliminate whole programs or cut spending. They almost always act only to increase their own power.
Yet they pretend they make bold choices—even when refusing to make choices. Obama said, "We reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the elderly and investing in the next generation."
That's Washington-speak for, "We will spend government money on young and old alike and refuse to think about when this will bankrupt America."
But it sounds exciting when he says it. He's not just a king—he's Santa Claus, too. Except that Santa spends his own money. The president spends yours.
Kings don't like to be constrained. But all government should be.