INDIANAPOLIS, December 3, 2014 – President Obama, like candidate Obama and Senator Obama before him, has often made the case that he is like President Abraham Lincoln. His minions share that opinion, as if it were flattering. Just after the big speech, The Los Angeles Times op-ed proclaimed, “Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation provides the foundational precedent for President Obama’s executive order on immigrants in the country illegally.”
It is a clever choice of words, using “foundational precedent” as a surrogate for “legal precedent,” which of course neither proclamation had.
The Emancipation Proclamation was a purely political instrument, with no legal force and no constitutional authority behind it. The Times piece correctly mentions that Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation actually freed no slaves, and it didn’t even apply in the four slave states loyal to the rump United States, but only to the Confederate States of America, which was a different country. (Lincoln’s proclamation had no effect on slaves held in the Union states.)
Obama might do as well to make his proclamation to cover citizens in France.
There are those, including Lincoln, who maintained that the South had not seceded, thereby making his Emancipation more than a political gimmick. That argument is false in many ways. If the southern states had not seceded, why then were they required to reapply for statehood? Lincoln maintained that states could not secede, yet West Virginia’s secession from Virginia was encouraged by him. And if the slaves had actually been freed by Lincoln’s proclamation, why was the Constitution’s 13th Amendment necessary?
Both Lincoln and Obama cited principle earlier in their careers. Obama, in July of 2011, said, as he apologized for our nation’s immigration laws, “With respect to the notion that I can just suspend deportations through executive order, that’s just not the case, because there are laws on the books that Congress has passed… The executive branch’s job is to enforce and implement those laws… There are enough laws on the books by Congress that are very clear in terms of how we have to enforce our immigration system that for me to simply, through Executive Order, ignore those congressional mandates would not conform with my appropriate role as President.” Unless, of course, ignoring those laws becomes useful in a political struggle.
Lincoln was no better. In 1838 (at the idealistic age of 29), he said,
“Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well-wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the Revolution, never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others. …let every man remember that to violate the law, is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the charter of his own, and his children’s liberty. Let reverence for the laws… become the political religion of the nation; and let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay, of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars.”
Except that, in becoming president and in maintaining his office, and especially in pursuit of his war, he changed course, and when the moment was politically strongest (right after the Union victory at Antietam), he broke entirely from those principle
There is a solution to unpopular law, but it isn’t in despotism, which is no law at all. George Washington offered a lawful and rational solution:
“If, in the opinion of the people [note: not the President], the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed. The precedent must always greatly overbalance in permanent evil any partial or transient benefit, which the use can at any time yield.”
The precedents Democrats proffer, to the degree they are valid, do nothing less than reinforce the proof of the illegality of President Obama’s actions.
But the Obama of March, 2011, still afloat (courtesy Harry Reid and Eric Holder) after his policies’ 2010 election “shellacking” and realizing he had to stand for re-election in 2012, knew he couldn’t yet move to take over completely.
In July of 2011, he said,
“I know some people want me to bypass Congress and change the laws on my own. Believe me, the idea of doing things on my own is very tempting, I promise you. Not just on immigration reform. But that’s not how our system works. That’s not how our democracy functions. That’s not how our Constitution is written.”
He soon started changing all sorts of important parts of his own Affordable Care Act, and was re-elected partly because of this cunning…
As usual, George Washington understood it best, as he warned against the avarice and hunger for power so often found among those who seek office:
“It is important…that the habits of thinking in a free country should inspire caution in those entrusted with its administration, to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department to encroach upon another. The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism.”
Washington knew well what had to be done about despotism; he spent years driving a despotic government from our shores and more years crafting the Republic he bequeathed us.
Washington died of natural causes, immersed in the warmth of the grateful nation he helped found. Lincoln, in contrast, was killed by a rebel jihadist. What will happen to Obama?
Will the American people be heard in D.C., and return the nation to limited, constitutional government? If not, I repeat: what will happen to Obama?