The celebrations of the Selma voting rights march 50 years ago noted how unthinkable it was that a Black President would be addressing them. Actually, it may have been no less unthinkable that a White Southern President seized the moment, a half century ago, to deliver the most stirring civil rights speech ever delivered to Congress.
In the debate over the proposed new Authorization for the Use of Military Force, some have suggested that the President is asking to have his arms tied. In fact the move is cleverer. He is asking Congress to authorize what he has already done and therefore apparently thinks he can do anyway, and asking with enough modifiers—what is an “enduring” ground operation? who will decide how long it “endures”?—to vitiate any congressional limitations on his power.
In The Once and Future King: The Rise of Crown Government in America, I argued that the United States was drifting towards the one-man rule of an all-powerful President. It’s not something people, especially American conservatives, wanted to hear, but then I had a secret ally in Barack Obama. He’s the gift that would never stop giving—but for term limits.
It was inevitable that some supporter of President Obama’s would come along and compare his executive action on immigration to the most famous executive order of them all, President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Yale law professor Bruce Ackerman has done the honors, and his comparison is, not to put too fine a point on it, weak.
President Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” speech is about to turn 50 years old. The speech, which the President gave as the commencement address at the University of Michigan on May 22, 1964, is a milestone in American history and instantly lodged that phrase in our political vocabulary. The most grandiose political slogan in a roster that includes the New Deal and the New Frontier, the Great Society was more than a set of policy objectives. Rather, Johnson described it as the commitment to undertake an eternal quest, one that would elevate American civilization by expanding the federal government’s responsibilities and capabilities.…
William Voegeli’s Liberty Forum essay reminds us of the absurdity of so much American political discourse of the past 60 years. The call for greater state-mandated redistribution and entitlements in order to “oppose the drift into the homogenized society” and “fight spiritual unemployment,” to combat “loneliness and boredom” and “build a richer life of mind…
With the 50th anniversary of President Johnson’s “Great Society” speech fast approaching, we are seeing a flood of historical remembrance and analysis, and there will be more in the weeks and months ahead. The television historians and talking heads will be swooning over how much was accomplished by an 89th Congress that was, in the…
The 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” speech offers us an opportunity to reflect not just on the speech itself but also on the half century of consequences that have followed in the wake of the grand project it announced. As William Voegeli notes in his Liberty Forum essay, he commencement address Johnson delivered to the…
I’ve always thought that the brouhaha over signing statements was much ado about nothing. During the presidency of George W. Bush, liberals discovered signing statements and decided they were bad and connected to a “lawless” executive enthralled by an idiosyncratic and dangerous theory of a unitary presidency. Except that signing statements as such had nothing to do with theories of the unitary executive, signing statements had long been issued by presidents across the ideological spectrum, and it was less that evident why signing statements in and of themselves were supposed to be dangerous. Unsurprisingly, the Obama administration has gone back to business as usual on many facets of executive power that were denounced by liberals just a few years ago, signing statements included.
But my esteemed colleague Mike Rappaport raises a more interesting question about signing statements.
Redistribution that is not actually felt by the losers at the time of its enactment is one of the most insidious features of the political order. Such legislation gives the illusion of a free lunch and disarms potential opponents who fail to recognize the costs that are coming. At least taxing Peter to pay Paul causes Paul immediate harm and prompts others to fear they may someday take Paul’s place. In contrast, silent redistributive legislation and regulation wreak havoc on democracy by undermining deliberation.
In this respect Bill Clinton was a much more dangerous politician than Barack Obama. To be sure, the current President never acknowledged that redistribution was one of the main purposes of Obamacare. Nor was he forthright about the policy’s redistributive effects. Misleading prospective losers, he promised, “If you like your plan, you can keep it.” But Obamacare’s costs have become clear relatively quickly, and the President’s party will pay a political price for them. Furthermore, Obamacare institutes new taxes to pay for some of its costs, even if these taxes were not transparent increases in the IRS tax rate schedules.
By contrast, one of Bill Clinton’s biggest redistributive scheme was almost completely hidden from the public eye.
In 2004 leftwing filmmaker Michael Moore released his film Fahrenheit 9/11, a searing attack on the legitimacy of George Bush’s election to the presidency in 2000, and his handling of events before, during, and after the terrorist attack of September 11, 2011 on the World Trade Center. Moore was unequivocal in his stated hope that the movie would “help unseat a president.”
Fahrenheit 9/11 was produced by Moore’s production company Dog Eat Dog Films, a corporation. At the time – before the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission—it was illegal for corporations to spend money “in connection with any election to any political office,” and illegal for an officer of a corporation to consent to such an expenditure.
Imagine if fourteen months after the election, Moore had been indicted by a Bush-appointed federal prosecutor for violating the prohibition on corporate spending. Imagine if Moore was arrested, cuffed, criminally charged for his activities, had his passport confiscated, and bail set at $500,000–what would have been the reaction from the America’s liberals? Of the press? Of Senator Barack Obama?
The report presented to the President on surveillance and privacy yesterday makes two things clear: First, while many of the most important recommendations are legislative, the Administration could implement a broad array of them without waiting for Congress. Second, no Administration should be trusted to. President Obama now has an opportunity to do what no modern Chief Executive has done: shrink the powers of his office, lashing himself and future occupants of the Oval Office to a statutory mast. That would be a legacy.
Buried in President Obama’s Wednesday address on economic inequality lay this claim about the Affordable Care Act:
It’s the measurable outcomes in reduced bankruptcies and reduced hours that have been lost because somebody couldn’t make it to work, and healthier kids with better performance in schools, and young entrepreneurs who have the freedom to go out there and try a new idea—those are the things that will ultimately reduce a major source of inequality and help ensure more Americans get the start that they need to succeed in the future.
One assumes controversy ensues about the claims that Obamacare will lead to better performance in school and more entrepreneurship. Fair enough. The non-controversial pivot is supposed to be the assumption that these outcomes, if achieved, would reduce inequality.
But this is, strictly speaking, absurd. Such outcomes would likely increase inequality. What they would reduce is poverty. Opportunity has a way of doing both. The distinction is vital, and rhetorical imprecision—assailing inequality when what means to target is poverty—confounds the search for useful solutions to the latter.