Of the countless lessons we've learned from liberals over the past few years, none is more critical than this: If Democrats find an issue important enough and if doing something feels like the "right thing," Barack Obama has the power to act without any regard for separation of powers. So what makes anyone believe that war would be any different?
This week, the president OK'd airstrikes against Islamic State targets—allying us with Bashar Assad, possibly Iran, and definitely Qatar—using an unrelated 13-year-old authorization for use of military force as his legal mandate. Seems like a big deal. It may even be a good idea. Yet even though Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, informed the Senate that ground troops could be needed to finish the job—whatever that job may be —the president didn't bother to ask for permission.
And really, why should he? With the midterms approaching, most elected Democrats have remained vigilantly quiet or tepidly supportive, and the once-vibrant anti-war movement has all but withered away. (We look forward to its miraculous rebirth if and when a GOP administration comes back to power.) It should be noted, of course, that there are voices on the left expressing apprehension about the legality and aims of the mission. The problem is that most often, these are the same voices—from The New York Times' editorial board to Joan Walsh—that have been justifying every unilateral executive action this administration takes or threatens to take. Their sudden reverence for process and constitutionality is about as credible as John Boehner's lawsuit to stop executive abuse.
And that's because the Boehner who supports airstrikes, with the "understanding that this is just one step in what must be a larger effort to destroy and defeat this terrorist organization," is the same Boehner who brought a Republican suit against Obama for exceeding his constitutional authority by making unilateral changes to Obamacare. Whereas Boehner's lawsuit once seemed like a somewhat worthy political stunt that might help highlight some of the lawlessness of the administration, now it seems completely hollow and pointless.
Obama must feel more emboldened than ever in following through on his happy authoritarian talk. If war isn't worth a vote, what is? This week, the Treasury Department went ahead and offered new "guidance" on inversions, putting American companies on notice. Any deals corporations enter into after this week will be subject to a bunch of new tax rules in the future. "For some companies considering deals, today's action will mean that inversions no longer make economic sense," lectured Treasury Secretary Jack Lew (a guy who received a $940,000 bonus from Citigroup in early 2009 as the bank was getting $45 billion in bailout funds from taxpayers).
Well, yeah. But let's think about this for a moment.
The executive branch will be "cracking down"—that's how most media outlets correctly put it—on tax maneuvers that are legal. Democrats tend to be annoyed by the fact that corporations shield their profits, and because the issue has political potency, the White House will retroactively and unilaterally issue legislation masquerading as rules. This would be the equivalent of a Republican administration's "cracking down" on solar panel companies for using subsidies because conservatives don't like the practice.
Though it's unfortunate that a modern administration peddles archaic protectionism for political gain—one of the new rules will make it nearly impossible for a smaller foreign company to take over a larger U.S. company—the issue is hardly a pressing matter. Certainly, when it comes to more serious matters, such as immigration, Obama has no compunction threatening executive action. Here's what Vice President Joe Biden had to say Tuesday at a National Hispanic Heritage Month reception:
"I'm not offering any false hope about what they'll do between now and the election, but … I can tell you, when this election (is) over in the lame-duck session, they may see the Lord. It is possible. But if they don't, they will see some lightning."
Do what we say, or we'll do what we want.
It's the same on climate change. As a way of creating leverage for this week's U.N. climate summit, Obama signed an executive order that will require all government agencies to waste millions factoring "climate-resilience considerations systematically into the U.S. government's international development work and to promote a similar approach with multilateral entities." Though counterproductive, the order is certainly within the purview of a president's power. What Obama is attempting to set up, if anyone's forgotten, is not. As The New York Times reported:
The Obama administration is working to forge a sweeping international climate change agreement to compel nations to cut their planet-warming fossil fuel emissions, but without ratification from Congress. In preparation for this agreement, to be signed at a United Nations summit meeting in 2015 in Paris, the negotiators are meeting with diplomats from other countries to broker a deal to commit some of the world's largest economies to enact laws to reduce their carbon pollution.
Hey, why not? The prospect of Obama's entering into international agreements without Senate ratification has already been widely defended by left-wing pundits. It's the right thing to do, after all. And other than in one instance, that's reason enough.