Ed Driscoll

The Front Man

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“The essence of tyranny is not iron law; it is capricious law,” Kevin D. Williamson writes at National Review, quoting the late Christopher Hitchens, and the administration that Mr. Obama fronts is the very definition of the term:

The law also prohibits the president and his allies from using the instruments of government to persecute their rivals, but that is precisely what the IRS has been up to for several years, as it turns out. And not just the IRS: Tea-party activist Catherine Engelbrecht was subject to an IRS audit, two FBI visits, an OSHA investigation, and an ATF inspection of her business (which does not deal in A, T, or F). And although the IRS has no statutory power to collect Affordable Care Act–related fines in states that have not voluntarily set up health-care exchanges, Obama’s managers there have announced that they will do so anyway.

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Congress’s supine ceding of its powers, and the Obama administration’s usurpation of both legal and extralegal powers, is worrisome. But what is particularly disturbing is the quiet, polite, workaday manner with which the administration goes about its business — and with which the American public accepts it. As Christopher Hitchens once put it, “The essence of tyranny is not iron law; it is capricious law.” Barack Obama makes a virtue out of that caprice, having articulated for his judicial nominees not a legal standard but a political standard requiring sympathy for politically favored groups: African-American, gay, disabled, old, in his words.

We have to some extent been here before. It is a testament to the success of free-market ideas that it is impossible to imagine President Obama making the announcement that President Richard Nixon did on August 15, 1971: “I am today ordering a freeze on all prices and wages throughout the United States.” President Nixon created not one but two IPABs, the Pay Board and the Price Commission, which were to be entrusted with managing the day-to-day operations of the U.S. economy. President Nixon, too, was empowered by a Congress that invested him with that remarkable authority, through the Economic Stabilization Act of 1970, whose provisions were to be invoked during times of economic emergency. There was no economic emergency in 1971, but it is a nearly iron-clad rule of the presidency that powers vested will be powers used. That President Obama has adopted President Nixon’s approach but limited himself to health care might be considered progress if he had not adopted as a general principle one of Nixon’s unfortunate maxims: When the president does it, it isn’t illegal. President Nixon’s lawlessness was sneaky, and he had the decency to be ashamed of it. President Obama’s lawlessness is as bland and bloodless as the man himself, and practiced openly, as though it were a virtue. President Nixon privately kept an enemies list; President Obama publicly promises that “we’re gonna punish our enemies, and we’re gonna reward our friends.”

Read the whole thing, and be on the lookout for Kevin’s new Broadside pamphlet — bigger than a magazine article, but not quite book length — on What Doomed Detroit, which is due out tomorrow from Encounter Books, and concludes with perhaps the single best sentence written on that once prosperous city’s collapse: “Detroit is a case of the parasite having outgrown the host,” a result of a punitive big government leftwing worldview for which Mr. Obama is very much the ultimate front man.