Our founders were wise men. They looked at the problems of Europe very carefully and tried to design a government that did not share them. We have discussed here often how governmental power was destructive with regards to religion in Europe – that our much-misunderstood separation is to help the church be the church. We have also discussed how religious diversity in the nation forced the issue. But there was another very wise reason for the separation. That reason is the character of man.
European monarchs, when they held the power of both church and state in their hands, tended to become a bit full of themselves. Not all of them mind you – monarchy worked quite well with a monarch of sufficient character and wisdom. But such people are very hard to find and as the cliche goes, “absolute power….” Monarchs that were both head of state and head of the church often began to confuse themselves with God. Whatever their theological leanings may have been, our founders acted on a practical level as if the doctrine of original sin was operative. The checks and balances of the constitution and the separation of church and state are both part of helping our executive leader to understand that his/her role is limited, and most assuredly not divine.
Daniel Henninger in this morning’s WSJ sounds a warning that should be apparent to any watching this president closely.
If we learned anything about Barack Obama in his first term it is that when he starts repeating the same idea over and over, what’s on his mind is something else.
The first term’s over-and-over subject was “the wealthiest 1%.” Past some point, people wondered why he kept beating these half-dead horses. After the election, we knew. It was to propagandize the targeted voting base that would provide his 4% popular-vote margin of victory—very young voters and minorities. They believed. He won.
The second-term over-and-over, elevated in his summer speech tour, is the shafting of the middle class. But the real purpose here isn’t the speeches’ parboiled proposals. It is what he says the shafting of the middle class is forcing him to do. It is forcing him to “act”—to undertake an unprecedented exercise of presidential power in domestic policy-making. ObamaCare was legislated. In the second term, new law will come from him.
didn’t see it coming. As always, Mr. Obama states publicly what his intentions are. He is doing that now. Toward the end of his speech last week in Jacksonville, Fla., he said: “So where I can act on my own, I’m going to act on my own. I won’t wait for Congress.” (Applause.)
The July 24 speech at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., has at least four references to his intent to act on his own authority, as he interprets it: “That means whatever executive authority I have to help the middle class, I’ll use it.” (Applause.) And: “We’re going to do everything we can, wherever we can, with or without Congress.”
Henninger is absolutely right and if you stop and think about it for just a minute – it is a terrible to contemplate. It is not even necessarily what he will do, but how he will do it. Bad policy creates much pain, can be undone. It is very difficult to undo power shifts of this sort.
A principled opposition would speak out. Barack Obama is right that he isn’t running again. But the Democratic Party is. Their Republican opponents should force the party’s incumbents to defend the president’s creeping authoritarianism.
If Democratic Senate incumbents or candidates from Louisiana, Alaska, Missouri, Arkansas, North Carolina, Montana and Iowa think voters should accede to a new American system in which a president forces laws into place as his prerogative rather than first passing them through Congress, they should be made to say so.
And to be sure, the other purpose of the shafted middle-class tour is to demolish the GOP’s standing with independent voters and take back the House in 2014. If that happens—and absent a more public, aggressive Republican voice it may—an unchecked, unbalanced presidential system will finally arrive.
To this I would add another. We need a loud and active voice of religion in the public square. They are trying to cow us and we cannot let it happen. We have to be smart about it; we cannot simply declare “God’s desire” and demand action. We have to start by being better people and better citizens. We have to demand character in our officials not merely effectiveness, and certainly not theological solidarity. We have to teach our children about the checks and balances of the constitution and about all aspects of the separation of church and state.
Henninger notes that there are few checks on a president that simply refuses to execute the laws passed by Congress. (If California is to be believed, laws passed by the people either.) But the people – that’s us – remain the ultimate check. We check with our votes, but we also check with our voices and our character. It is one of those times in history where we have to step up.
The nation as we have understood it is at risk.