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Saturday, August 17, 2013


"That's caudillo talk. That's banana republic stuff." (Charles Krauthammer)

Dictators are often portrayed in movies as unpopular villains despised by the people and opposed by the brave freedom fighters who topple the tyrant to the cheers of the crowd.  I wish it were that way, but the reality is different.  Ever notice how despots manage to attract large crowds of cheering supporters?  And those cheering supporters are fanatically attracted to their leader?

In Korea, where people eat grass and leaves to survive,  Kim Jong Un attracts adoring crowds.
Hugo Chavez was hugely popular with a large segment of the Venezuelan people despite the fact that the economy tanked so badly there was a shortage of toilet paper.
And who has not seen these pictures of adoration and support from He Who Must Not Be Named from the last century?


The point of Dr. Krauthammer's essay On drug sentencing, Obama again shows the law is not the law is how easy it is to become a dictator while retaining the adoration your supporters and  even while keeping up a pretense of democracy via elections. All countries hold elections, even kingdoms hold them.  Germany held elections under the Nazis.  The USSR held elections under Stalin.   Zimbabwe, which has been so badly governed that it no longer has a currency, holds elections and always elects Robert Mugabe.  Even though Kim Jong Un in reality inherited the dictatorship from his father, the North Koreans hold elections, turnout is 100%, he always wins and always will.
Elections do not a democracy make, and even if the elections are not rigged they don't necessarily result in good, or even competent government.  America has been unusually blessed among nations in that, with the exception of the Civil War, we have had reasonably free and almost fair elections which yielded competent government that paid obeisance to the Constitution.  What we're seeing now is how much that Constitutional system depends of the willingness of government officials to voluntarily abide by the rules.   They have internalized the Constitutional limits.  Richard Nixon is an example of a man who knew he had broken the rules and resigned before being impeached, I think, because he respected the rules.  The Obama regime is an object lesson in what happens when the President no longer feels bound by the rules and customs; when the Constitution is no longer a guide to executive action but is viewed as deeply flawed.  When congress is dispensed with and we are ruled by decree. 

What's disheartening is that in the U.S. the rule of law is disappearing without much opposition, and with the raucous approval of so many people. 

As a reaction to the crack epidemic of the 1980s, many federal drug laws carry strict mandatory sentences. This has stirred unease in Congress and sparked a bipartisan effort to revise and relax some of the more draconian laws.

Traditionally -- meaning before Barack Obama -- that's how laws were changed: We have a problem, we hold hearings, we find some new arrangement, ratified by Congress and signed by the president.

That was then. On Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder, a liberal in a hurry, ordered all U.S. attorneys to simply stop charging nonviolent, non-gang-related drug defendants with crimes that, while fitting the offense, carry mandatory sentences. Find some lesser, non-triggering charge. How might you do that? Withhold evidence -- e.g., about the amount of dope involved.

In other words, evade the law, by deceiving the court if necessary. "If the companies that I represent in federal criminal cases" did that, said former Deputy Attorney General George Terwilliger, "they could be charged with a felony."
The point is whether a president, charged with faithfully executing the laws that Congress enacts, may create, ignore, suspend and/or amend the law at will. Presidents are arguably permitted to refuse to enforce laws they consider unconstitutional (the basis for so many of George W. Bush's so-called signing statements). But presidents are forbidden from doing so for reason of mere policy -- the reason for every Obama violation listed above.
Yet this president is not only untroubled by what he's doing, but open and rather proud. As he tells cheering crowds on his never-ending campaign-style tours: I am going to do X -- and I'm not going to wait for Congress.

That's caudillo talk. That's banana republic stuff. In this country, the president is required to win the consent of Congress first.

At stake is not some constitutional curlicue. At stake is whether the laws are the law. And whether presidents get to write their own.

Just who is going to really oppose Obama if he simply says he won't obey a law passed by congress, or a court order?  Because that's what he has said on a number of occasions.  What are the real, as opposed to the assumed checks and balances?  These are questions that brought down the Morsi government in Egypt.   I don't want to make too much of the comparison since Egypt does not have a people who have a custom or a culture of democracy.   But that habit of assuming that the president will follow the rules is also a weak spot in the U.S because there are no institutions that will actually insure that he does. 

Think the unimaginable.  The usurpation of law gets so bad that someone in the House of Representatives actually has the political courage to prepare articles of impeachment.   How far will that get in today's political climate?  And the Senate will stand solidly behind the President so impeachment is a political impossibility.   Thus emboldened, Obama drops the last fig leaf of listening to congress.  There are enough laws and regulations today that a legal argument can be made for any rule, regulation or edict he cares to make.  When you can work out a way to ship thousands of weapons to Mexican drug cartels and have everyone parrot the blatant lie that this was a "botched operation"  you start to believe you're bullet-proof.  When you can blame the murder of four Americans - including the ambassador - on a demonstration caused by a video, and get away with it you feel invulnerable.   So you promote the person who went on TV to broadcast the lie as a reward and challenge your opponents to do something about it.   Hearings are held, the press gives you a pass, you call all your lies "phony scandals" and in the end, nobody even loses a day's pay, not even the IRS executive at the core of harassing your enemies who takes the Fifth.  These are not the actions of someone who wants to create an image of someone who takes limitations on his power seriously.  Rather they are the actions of someone who has some experience with bending the rules and who now sees that there are really no checks to his exercise of raw power.  I don't think that this has occurred to may people yet, because to think it is too horrible to contemplate. 
My sister, who was a teen ager when the Germans marched into Holland, saw in Obama the same kind of impulse as Germany's leader. I thought she was being overwrought. No longer. 

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