The Tyrant and the Statesman

Remember when Obama remarked that “it turns out our Founders designed a system that makes it more difficult to bring about change than I would like sometimes.” It turns out? He just figured that out when he got to the White House? What closet did Valerie Jarrett stuff the hapless fellow who broke the news?

Obama’s impatience with the Constitution—a document that went unmentioned in last night’s State of the Union address—was on full display. Ken Masugi notes over at the LibertyLawSite:

Evidently no one heard Obama declare,  “My only agenda for the next two years is the same as the one I’ve had since the day I swore an oath on the steps of this Capitol — to do what I believe is best for America.” No, he swore an oath to “faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” What he feels “is best for America” may well differ from faithful execution of his office and guardianship of the Constitution. So Obama admits he is a law unto himself.

One suspects that he described his “agenda” in this way in order to encourage a vote on impeachment or, better, to further humiliate those who wish to impeach him but decline that duty. But what a bizarre conception of the presidency: calculating how one might draw impeachment charges.

By contrast, take in these two paragraphs from the 1987 SOTU of Ronaldus Magnus:

Over the years—I won’t count if you don’t—nothing has been so heartwarming to me as speaking to America’s young, and the little ones especially, so fresh-faced and so eager to know. Well, from time to time I’ve been with them—they will ask about our Constitution. And I hope you Members of Congress will not deem this a breach of protocol if you’ll permit me to share these thoughts again with the young people who might be listening or watching this evening. I’ve read the constitutions of a number of countries, including the Soviet Union’s. Now, some people are surprised to hear that they have a constitution, and it even supposedly grants a number of freedoms to its people. Many countries have written into their constitution provisions for freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. Well, if this is true, why is the Constitution of the United States so exceptional?

Well, the difference is so small that it almost escapes you, but it’s so great it tells you the whole story in just three words: We the people. In those other constitutions, the Government tells the people of those countries what they’re allowed to do. In our Constitution, we the people tell the Government what it can do, and it can do only those things listed in that document and no others. Virtually every other revolution in history has just exchanged one set of rulers for another set of rulers. Our revolution is the first to say the people are the masters and government is their servant. And you young people out there, don’t ever forget that. Someday you could be in this room, but wherever you are, America is depending on you to reach your highest and be your best—because here in America, we the people are in charge.

Notice several striking wholesale differences from Obama, starting with the polite deference to Congress before he offers his instruction on the Constitution. But above all there is the reminder that the “We” in constitutional government should always be followed by “the people,” whereas when Obama says “we” (or “I”), he means our betters in Washington, who are our masters rather than our servants as Reagan made them out.

There was also the astounding churlish note Obama struck when some Republicans chortled their approval of his remark that “I have run my last campaign,” and Obama couldn’t help himself. Instead of ad-libbing with a mischievous grin, as Reagan or even Clinton would have, “And I know that makes the other side of the aisle very happy,” he snarled, “I know because I won all of them,” signaling once again that he views the beat downs of 2010 and 2014 as almost random anomalies, or as not holding much democratic value because he wasn’t on the ballot. The ego and arrogance of the man was seen in full in that ugly moment.

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