Liberals Shocked to Discover Virtues of Limited Government

It’s always cute when liberals re-discover the virtue of constitutionally limited government. Strange, though, that it only seems to happen when there’s a Republican president. The correlation here comes in at the statistically significant .95 level, though anyone versed in situational ethics needn’t consult a statistician to recognize the phenomenon or understand its cause.

The latest case in point is an article in the current issue of the lefty journal of thought Dissent, in which the author, N. Turkuler Isiksel of Columbia University, argues that policy change under Trump is the least of things to worry about:

Don’t count on the elaborate system of checks and balances instituted by the founders. James Madison’s ingenious machine was designed to withstand the mundane incompetence, greed, and short-sightedness of politicians, but it cannot weather the onslaught of an aspiring tyrant hell-bent on destroying it. Consider that the separation of powers, the primary mechanism Madison envisaged for holding tyranny at bay, is all but irrelevant while Republicans control the House, the Senate, and the presidency—particularly once they get their hands on key federal judicial appointments. All autocrats set about dismantling countervailing power structures, but with the inauspicious ideological alignment of all three branches of government, Trump won’t even have to try.

Now just stop right there! Who was it, for a century now, who has worked to undermine the separation of powers and aggrandize executive policy-making power? Yes­­—it was so-called “Progressives.” Breaking down the “obsolete” separation of powers was an explicit goal of Woodrow Wilson’s political science. Roscoe Pound, one of the leading legal theorists of the Progressive Era, wrote: “No one will assert at present that the separation of powers is a part of legal order of nature or that it is essential to liberty.” And if Progressive-taught judges hadn’t gone along with this weakening of the separation of powers, then there would be less to worry about from three-branch control by one party.

But that’s not the best part of the article. Better is the rehabilitation of Ted Cruz:

Progressives err in assuming that the worst danger of a Trump presidency is the reversal of Obama legacy, including the Affordable Care Act, the vindication of the constitutional rights of LGBTQ people, the Iran deal, and progress on climate change. There will surely be an all-out assault on these achievements. But it would a grave mistake to see the obliteration of the progressive policy agenda as the chief danger of a Trump presidency. What we confront is not the usual dogfight between liberals and conservatives. It is a struggle between those who believe in preserving the imperfect but serviceable constitutional system of the republic, and those who will try to undermine it. For all his abhorrent policy positions, a President Cruz could have been counted on to observe the strictures of constitutional democracy, such as the peaceful alternation of power through free and fair elections.

Funny, but I recall during primary season lefties were saying Trump was preferable to Cruz because of Trump’s indistinct and therefore more pliable ideology. I guess liberals do mean it when they talk about “change.”




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