Roger’s Rules

A tale of two headlines, and a return to my new favorite section of the Constitution

Part of the genius of Matt Drudge is his instinct for incongruity — or perhaps it is the higher congruity, as in this pair of contiguous headlines at The Drudge Report today: screaming across the screen in large red letters is the banner:


Oh dear, right? The White House, as the linked story explains, grudgingly raised the deficit estimate by nearly $2 trillion dollars after many outside sources criticized its more modest figure of $7.1 trillion (how’s that for modesty: $7 trillion!). But the effect is subtly enhanced by the quiet headline right above it: “President leaves Washington for summer vacation …”

The effect, at least on me, is to reenforce the sense of vertiginous incompetence at the top. Early on in Obama’s administration, I pondered the question of whether it was incompetence, malevolence, or both that fired the strange policies of this administration.

Every day, more people are acknowledging the gargantuan incompetence of the Obama administration: the stumbling, bumbling foreign policy that specializes in apologizing for the supposed sins of America while coddling sundry dictators and enemies of the West; the failed or failing programs like “cash-for-clunkers”; a legislative agenda that is in shambles; political bloomers like the “acted-stupidly” remark when Sgt. Crowley arrested his pal Henry Louis Gates; the even more ill-considered effort to freight the debate over health care with a sense of religious guilt and the assertion that “We are God’s partners in matters of life and death.”; myriad broken promises — remember the tax cuts for 95 percent of taxpayers?; the sense of drift, edged occasionally into panic, as the awful significance of those trillions — trillions! — of dollars of debt sinks in. Remember: only 50-odd percent of those who file tax returns actually pay any income tax. But you can bet your bottom food-stamp, welfare check, housing subsidy, and school-lunch program that those of us who pay taxes will be paying more, a lot more.

In short, unless you’ve drunk the kool-aid, the incompetence of the Obama administration is like Falstaff’s dishonesty: “gross as a mountain, open, palpable.”

But what about the malevolence? It all depends on what you mean by “malevolence.” When you calculate a quantum of evil, do you look only at intentions? Or do you also take into account the effects of certain actions, regardless of the intentions of those who brought them about? (Hint: we have here a road paved with good intentions: where do you suppose it leads?) I think the commentator Jim Cramer was onto something when he lamented that “We’ve elected elected a Leninist” whose “agenda is destroying the life savings of millions of Americans.” Was Lenin malevolent? He didn’t think so. He thought he was laboring on behalf of the poor and disenfranchised. Many Western intellectuals believed him. True, his policies — like socialist policies wherever they’re imposed — led to vast immiseration, loss of freedom, and the growth of an unaccountable ruling nomenklatura. But he didn’t mean to precipitate misery: he meant to bring about paradise on earth.

Like Obama, Lenin wanted to “spread the wealth around.” And like the President, Lenin saw that to do that you need to go beyond the “merely formal” rights. If you wanted to bring about the sort of “redistributive change” that Obama, in an unguarded moment [UPDATE:  so unguarded that the audio has been taken down; a transcript is available here]  spoke about, you needed to be bold, move swiftly, and not let yourself be impeded by such petty things as the rule of law. Stimulus package. The Chrylser bondholders. Cap-‘n-trade. Government-run health care. We’ve got a utopia to build here: get out of the way!

Many observers assure us that the President’s cap-and-trade initiative is “in trouble.” Maybe. But cap-and-trade (or, to use the more accurate moniker, cap-and-tax) was only a means to an end: the end of a “greener,” more environmentally friendly world.

The fact that Obama’s environmental policies would be astronomically expensive is often held up as a reason not to worry about their being enacted. But that is very shortsighted and unimaginative. For some of us, it is true, the fact that a policy or program is hideously expensive would be a drawback. But for a visionary, the more expensive a program is, the more virtue attaches to it.

This is something that critics of left-wing environmentalism (as distinguished from the less ambitious, conservationist environmentalism of the Right) do not fully appreciate. Many commentators do some calculations, show that an certain policy would be impracticably expensive, and conclude that they have articulated a reason not to pursue the policy. For true believers, though, the expense and impracticality of a policy are advantages. As I noted last March, Obama’s environmental policies are only incidentally “green,” i.e., environmentally friendly. At bottom, they are pink, i.e., they are political weapons in a socialist battle against “greedy” business interests:

Who, I wonder, was the political genius who saw the advantages of exploiting people’s sentimental gullibility about the environment for partisan profit? We’ve long known that environmentalism, as the philosopher Harvey Mansfield put it, is “school prayer for liberals.” But I wonder whether even Professor Mansfield could have foreseen what a tool pseudo-environmentalism would be for the radical wing of the Democratic party? The inestimable value of a green, that is, a pink, philosophy is that you can never be green enough. And in pursuit of zero-carbon-emissions purity a government can impose crippling sanctions in order to force compliance. And don’t say Obama didn’t warn you: as I and many others pointed out during the campaign, he promised that, if elected, he would do all he could to “bankrupt” the coal industry.

So where does that leave us? Well, in March, I cited my new favorite section of the Constitution of the United States: Article II, Section 4, “Disqualification”:

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Let me end by repeating my call for legal ingenuity: “What we need now,” I said “is some clever legal talent to show how deliberately sabotaging the United States economy counts as Treason, a high Crime, or at least a Misdemeanor. Any takers?”