His Royal Imperial Highness, Barack Obama II
America's constitutional structure is built on checks and balances. The idea behind these checks and balances is simple: We want interest counteracting interest, ego counteracting ego. We don't want any one person to gain too much power — or any one faction or any one way of thought.
Gridlock, for lack of a better word, is good.
President Barack Obama, however, has a different idea. He believes that America must be fundamentally transformed. That fundamental transformation cannot be effectuated without a fundamental transformation of the system of American government.
The most important part of that transformation is the elevation of the presidency from a coequal branch of government to a pre-eminent branch of government. The president shouldn't be seen as just a player in the larger government struggle for power and policymaking; he should be seen as a larger-than-life figure, an almost godlike personage, the sort of fellow who can enact policy single-handedly.
No wonder, then, that President Obama declared war on the Supreme Court this week.
Now, there's a case to be made that the Supreme Court should not have the power of judicial review. That case is basic: If the Supreme Court can strike down anything at any time in the name of the Constitution, that power elevates it above the other branches. The checks and balances break down. The argument against judicial review is an argument in favor of checks and balances, not against them.
But that's not the argument Obama made. Instead, he argued that the Supreme Court should not strike down Obamacare, because that would be "unprecedented" and "extraordinary." What's so new about the Supreme Court's doing what it's been doing since 1803? Nothing, exactly, except that it would cut against Obama. In other words, judicial review is only bad when it rules against Obama.
The same holds true of Congress.
Congress is great when it does what Obama wants. When it doesn't, Obama wants the power to simply ignore it. He has repeatedly stated on various issues, "If Congress won't act, I will." He's used his executive branch powers to appoint dozens of czars with Cabinet-level power but without Cabinet positions so that he doesn't have to have them approved by Congress. He's appointed officers in violation of the Constitution, wrongly maintaining that he has the right to do so.
In essence, Obama detests the checks and balances. He doesn't like gridlock. It stops him from implementing his vision.
Though Obama's power grab is unprecedented, his philosophy is not. It has roots in the progressivism of the early 20th century, when Woodrow Wilson ripped the Constitution as an archaic document that prevented him from crafting social change. He said the president should be a visionary rather than a mere vessel of the people. The president, he said, has to lead.
The "great leader" model of the presidency is extraordinarily dangerous. President Obama proves it each and every day; it's what gives him the power to tell our enemies that he'll have more "flexibility" after his "last election." He's our leader; we're his followers. It's that easy to him.
Fortunately, the Constitution doesn't allow for such egotism acted out in policy. The Constitution requires checks and balances. It requires that we battle out each and every policy change, that we compromise, deadlock and stall. Getting things done is not so important as getting the right things done. And nobody has a monopoly on what the "right thing" is — no person and certainly no one branch of government.