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Excessive Presidential Power Not to Our Advantage

Posted in Government

This was originally posted May 20, 2013 under a different title in response to the worshipful attitude many citizens seemed to have toward President Obama. Now we face the same situation with a different president and a different set of worshippers. We need to keep the egos of our presidents in control and remember the balance of power on which government of our REPUBLIC is based.


Many were surprised in May, 2009, when President Obama joked about asking the IRS to audit the president and members of the board of regents of Arizona State University over some issue about a football game and a missing honorary doctorate. Of course it was just a joke, but an inappropriate one. The president sets the tone, and, as it turns out, we should have been both surprised and disappointed.

Now with the quadruple scandals, IRS, AP, Benghazi, and the less well-known solicitation of donations, by Ms. Sibelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, from companies she regulates, a clear majority are disappointed, the hopes of many are dashed, and it is obvious to most that, if America has been fundamentally transformed as promised, it has not been in a positive direction. But don’t worry about that because there hasn’t been any fundamental transformation. The same old problems have just gotten bigger.

This is not intended to pile on the president. He has done the best he could given his qualifications and experience and has done far better than I could even dream of. I don’t like politics and compromise either, and, like him, I would have trouble concealing my biases and providing non-partisan national leadership to bring people together on difficult issues. I can’t even deliver a good speech, with or without a Teleprompter.

The point is that, if we stake our hopes on bigger and stronger centralized government, we are doomed to serious disappointment. And that is without even mentioning the well-known link between power and corruption.

President Obama makes no apology about being a big government advocate. Big government, relatively speaking, can work fairly well for small nations with cultural homogeneity, a strong work ethic, and lots of peer pressure, countries such as Norway, Finland, Austria, and Switzerland, but there is no way that, for a country as large and as diverse as the United States of America, the best strategy is centralization of power and control and decision making for all significant commercial and social issues in a tiny community of wealthy and well-educated folks living and working, surrounded by lobbyists with suitcases of money, in one of the most prosperous and expensive cities in the world (albeit one with some of the worst poverty), to ask people in North Dakota and Florida and Tennessee and New Mexico, not to even mention Alaska and Hawaii, to follow the same Washington DC rules as and behave just like folks in Brooklyn and Manhattan and San Francisco.

I write this while visiting Brooklyn and, once again, being struck by how population density and lifestyle tend to drive political preferences and blind people to what others in different circumstances are experiencing.

It is no wonder, for example, that (lawful) Brooklynites would see little reason at all for anyone to have a gun and would have limited understanding of why a citizen of Montana or Texas would treasure and enjoy his or her collection of firearms, perhaps even including an “assault rifle” or two. And so we have illogical arguments such as that if young men in Detroit and Chicago are shooting each other because of drug and gang activity, firearms should be severely restricted in Arkansas.

After 75 years of ever expanding intrusion of the federal government into personal and private matters, some have come to believe that continuation of that trend is both desirable and inevitable, that it is reasonable for the IRS to monitor our health care policy compliance and penalize us for failures, for our physicians to ask about our guns, and even that “universal” is a desired modifier for all the fundamentals of life, universal health care, universal housing, universal food stamps,  universal clothing, universal cars, universal toilet paper, etc. Yes, that is an exaggeration, but the “Equal Outcomes” ideology is alive and well.

Some will continue to look to Washington for answers and dream of a presidential savior, a king, someone who will be wise enough and smart enough and maybe even loving enough to resolve all our issues on a national level in ways that will be best for each and for all, a benevolent dictator who will never die and will have no children. But each new candidate will only disappoint and frustrate. Hopefully it will be a long time before such a person chosen by the people is given too much power and turns out to be a Hitler or a Stalin or a Mao or a Chavez.

The secret to 250 years of success and progress of the United States is the balance of power among the three major branches of government and two major political parties. It is a system that has protected and improved the lives of majority and minority, rich, poor, and middle class alike. There are some who argue that we are a democracy and that the majority should rule, that a popularly elected president should be given freedom to govern and should not have to struggle with a stubborn Congress or an adversarial opposition party or a judgmental Supreme Court. Such arguments show a lack of understanding that the job of elected government in a representative democracy is to protect the rights and freedoms of all, both majority and minority, to maintain a system that does not always succeed and is sometimes late but has the clear objective of guaranteeing, not equal outcomes, but equal opportunity under the law.

“Equal Outcome” goals imply that we believe that we are what we have, but we know that is not true. We are what we do. And, we may be unable to control what we have, but we can control what we do in any given circumstance.

The pendulum swings, and it is time for a little swing back in the directions of freedom, personal responsibility, and smaller and less expensive and less intrusive government. Probably more would agree with that now than even three months ago. Maybe it is time again to talk about Hope and Change.

This could be a good place for a joke about expecting an audit from the IRS, but it would be inappropriate. If that were to happen, I would be surprised and disappointed…and upset.

Whatever happens, maintenance of a healthy and informed skepticism about Big Government is highly recommended.