Saturday, November 22, 2014

Alinsky Does Amnesty

By Andrew C. McCarthy
Saturday, November 22, 2014

President Obama is an Alinskyite.​

That assertion is not an epithet — well, not primarily. True, I would not describe someone I admired as an “Alinskyite.” Saul Alinsky was a loathsome figure — a radical statist who whose toxic brew of thoroughgoing deceit and brass-knuckles extortion (“direct action”) has become a part of mainstream politics. But in tying the president to the seminal community organizer whose theories and tactics so influenced him, my purpose is more to decode than to insult him.

Of course, calling Obama an “Alinskyite” draws cataracts of condemnation from the Democrat-media complex — for the same reason that Muslim Brotherhood shrieks of “Islamophobe!” inevitably follow any reasoned, scripturally based discussion of Islamic supremacism. People who advance their agendas in dishonesty and stealth can’t afford to have critics shine a light on them. The best diversion is to smear the critic as racist and phobic — or as Alinsky, a master of the game, put it, “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.”

Well, this week Alinsky did amnesty, so let’s not be diverted.

It was remarkable. We’ve endured six years of “If you like your health-care plan, you can keep your health-care plan,” “How dare you call Obamacare a tax,” “The video did it in Benghazi,” “Of course we’d never let guns walk to Mexican gangs,” “Workplace violence,” “Kinetic military action,” “The IRS harassment is outrageous and intolerable,” and “not a smidgeon of corruption” from “the most transparent administration in history.” Yet what so astonished the commentariat about Obama’s decree of amnesty for illegal aliens was the sheer audacity of hoax.

“I’m the president of the United States, not the emperor of the United States,” our would-be emperor repeatedly explained in the months and years before Thursday’s edict. Again and again, in more than two dozen recorded public statements, the president emphatically denied that he had the power to pronounce law unilaterally. “My job,” he huffed, “is to execute the laws that are passed.” His mere say-so could not suspend deportations or grant illegal aliens lawful status, he explained, because that would transgress “laws on the books that Congress has passed.”

In fact, nearly two years ago, Obama said he and his subordinates had already “stretched our administrative flexibility as much as we can” for the benefit of unlawful immigrants. Yet this week, he abruptly discovered enough elasticity to dictate a new legal regime — actually, an illegal regime — for conferring lawful status on illegal aliens, a power our quaint Constitution vests in Congress.

In Thursday’s speech, Obama was not just brazen but remorseless, not deigning to offer a word of explanation for his sudden 180. Another day, another story line in the soap opera, as if the prior episodes had never happened.

The pundits were aghast and, for once, seemed embarrassed at having covered the solipsist-in-chief’s original expressions of humility as if they were, you know, sincere. This, fittingly, stirred the Obama courtiers to an embarrassing defense of their man. We were told that the president — heretofore the brightest, most learned ever to grace the office — had previously been uninformed about the extent of his power, but thankfully his lawyers set him straight.

Laughable. Obama is not an expert in much, but he has a Ph.D. in power. By his own account, moreover, he is a constitutional scholar. Even if he weren’t, the doctrine of prosecutorial discretion — at the root of both Obama’s prior disavowals of sweeping power and his current usurpation of it — is for government lawyers what two-plus-two is for scientists. Everyone in the executive branch knows, as surely as they know their own names, that neither Congress nor the courts can compel the president to enforce the law. And in the not implausible event that Obama was on the golf course the day they covered that in president school, he would no doubt have learned it from the stacks of memos generated by his Department of Homeland Security since 2009. As I detail in Faithless Execution, those memos heavily rely on prosecutorial discretion as the administration’s rationale for refraining from enforcement of the immigration laws and for awarding favorable treatment to sundry categories of illegal aliens.

It is not that the president has been confused or misinformed about the extent of his authority as it regards the law. It is that the law has never mattered to him  – any more than it matters now on immigration, the “Affordable” Care Act, the federal narcotics statutes, and the remaining array of congressional enactments that Obama has twice sworn to execute faithfully.

Again, President Obama is an Alinskyite.

Alinskyites gauge the extent of their authority not by the limits of law but by the potential of raw power constrained only by political expediency. Once you grasp that, you have everything you need to know.

Alinsky’s theory of power involves co-opting the language and mores of the bourgeois society that community organizers seek to transform. The idea is that the radical in sheep’s clothing becomes politically viable. Upon acquiring power, he quietly but steadily ratchets the system in the direction of his goals. The key is never to get too far ahead of where the public is ready to go — at least while public opinion matters.

For the first six years between Obama’s assumption of office and the 2014 midterms, he was saddled with an immigration dilemma. His restive open-borders base wanted immediate, blanket amnesty, but the president knew that amnesty by executive fiat — particularly without assurances about border security — was (and remains) intensely unpopular. For all the Beltway chatter about the virtues of amnesty (under the guise of “comprehensive immigration reform”), the president knows that the House conservatives he derides for thwarting Washington’s schemes get elected because their opposition is popular with the voters back home.

For those six years, Obama played the Alinsky game of trying to appease his radical supporters while maintaining his mainstream credibility. He had three elections to worry about — his own reelection sandwiched between midterms. If, prior to 2012, he had taken the monarchical action he took Thursday night, he’d have been a one-term president. If he’d taken it before the election two weeks ago, a GOP landslide would have been assured, and even steeper than it turned out to be.

So Obama repeatedly told his base he could not simply declare an amnesty, not because he really believed he was hemmed in by law — after all, during that time he was rewriting Obamacare once a week. He did it because he needed to frame his politically expedient inaction in some story that his base might grudgingly accept, the public might find noble, and his opposition might be disarmed by.

The “rule of law” — that’s the ticket!

“I’m not a king,” said our notoriously modest king. But by Thursday night, Obama not only had no more elections to fret over; Mary Landrieu’s long-shot reelection bid — the chance to hold on to a Democratic seat in the Senate — had unofficially tanked. With no more reasons to delay or pretend, the president threw caution and the Constitution to the wind, proclaiming the amnesty he’d been insisting he was powerless to proclaim.

You may have been surprised if all you read are news reports. But not if you’ve read Saul Alinsky.

Congress Seems Happy to Have Its Powers Usurped

By Charles C. W. Cooke
Friday, November 21, 2014

To adapt a line from Thomas Frank, we might today ask ourselves, “What’s the matter with Congress?” Last night, in Las Vegas, the head of the executive branch announced what amounts to a remarkable usurpation of legislative authority — and a significant portion of the legislature applauded. Before his speech, a raft of House Democrats had urged Obama to go as far as he pleased, comparing his impending behavior to that of Abraham Lincoln and Harry Truman and recording for posterity that they had his back. “What we want the president to do,” Luis Gutierrez confirmed, “is act big, act bold, act broadly, and act soon.” In the Senate, meanwhile, Elizabeth Warren expressed her approval, as did power-players Harry Reid, Dick Durbin, Chuck Schumer, Patty Murray, Bob Menendez, and Michael Bennet. With a few virtuous exceptions, those that did not champion the action elected at best to remain silent. Qui tacet consentire videtur, ubi loqui debuit ac potuit.

This acquiescence is of great consequence. For all the hand-wringing and the righteous indignation that will presumably now be forthcoming, the root cause of the Republican party’s present dilemma is that the body that it leads has largely elected to abdicate its constitutional role — not, as President Obama likes to imply, because it has failed to do what the White House wishes it to do, but because it is proving so shamefully unwilling to defend its authority. On Twitter this morning, a user going by the name of “Thomas H. Crown” asked a pertinent and perspicacious question: “If at least forty percent of the country and/or forty percent of Congress is behind him,” Crown inquired, “why would any President enforce laws?” Alas, there is no obvious answer to the query, for in such a circumstance the president is not only immune from impeachment but he is largely protected against all other major attempts to retaliate against his usurpations, too. When, as now seems to be the case, there is a significant bloc within the legislature that is more interested in outcomes than in process, the stage is set for an emperor.

The abuses have been particularly egregious in the age of Obama. Nevertheless, our present predicament has been a long time in the making. During George W. Bush’s presidency, Republicans routinely took a back seat, a majority of self-described conservatives happily permitting the executive branch to treat them as if they were members of a parliament rather than representatives of a separate and equal branch. In both the 1970s and the 1990s, regulations intended to ensure that Americans enjoyed clean air granted so much authority to the White House that the aims of the enabling legislation became almost impossible to achieve. And, in the 1960s, Congress ceded its role in the war-making process almost entirely, the overly broad Gulf of Tonkin Resolution having accorded to the Johnson administration the opportunity to “take all necessary measures” in pursuit of victory in Vietnam.

We are learning today, perhaps, that our immigration laws are no exception to this deleterious trend. Indeed, that we are even debating whether an American executive enjoys the power to rewrite the country’s immigration regulations should tell us something of paramount and immediate importance: namely, that the laws under which we live today are too broad, too numerous, and far too ripe for exploitation. In my view, President Obama’s latest actions represent a flagrant violation of his responsibility to “faithfully execute” the laws, and a repudiation of the political and constitutional norms that undergird the republic. Wherever lies the point at which legitimate and statutory “discretion” becomes unjustified amendment or cynical nullification of the law, the executive branch sailed past it last night at warp speed. Still, if the specific action that he is taking can be held by loose construction to be permitted per se . . . well, then our laws need rewriting from the ground up.

That there will likely be little enthusiasm for such an endeavor suggests that the republic is headed, gradually, toward a crisis. The Madisonian settlement that has done the country so proud rests heavily on two presumptions: The first, that the fragmentation of political authority will invariably set the various branches off against one another; the second that, motivated by ambition as they tend to be, almost every representative within the firmament will remain sufficiently jealous of his prerogatives to willingly check the rise of his foes. “The accumulation of all powers legislative, executive and judiciary in the same hands,” Madison writes in Federalist 47, “whether of one, a few or many, and whether hereditary, self appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.” “Powers properly belonging to one of the departments,” he wrote a few weeks later, “ought not to be directly and completely administered by either of the other departments.” Supposing that each person involved in government would place the interests of his branch before his own political proclivities, Madison concluded that to fracture power was to forestall dictatorship and to ensure the rule of law and not of men.

Madison’s insight is no less relevant today than it was in the late 18th century. And yet, as we have learned to our detriment, parchment is not enough to guarantee liberty. As the Founders understood well, the continuing integrity of a free republic is heavily reliant upon the goodwill of its political actors. We are being reminded today that the mere fact of one’s being a legislator is not sufficient to guarantee that one will defend one’s branch against usurpation. Indeed, in some cases, the opposite may be true. In the West, people like to remember the English Civil War as a clean fight between a despotic King and a besieged Parliament — a glorious and influential brawl in an ongoing struggle between absolutism and republicanism. And yet we often fail to acknowledge that not everybody within that parliament took his own side. On the contrary: A significant number of the “Tories” who backed Charles I were themselves legislators, who, for political or personal reasons, threw their lot in with the monarchy against their own prerogatives. To old Whigs and classical liberals, it is axiomatic that absolute monarchy is a sincere ill. For us, the very fact that Charles I ruled without parliament earns him the title of “tyrant.” But not all people see the world this way, and we might take a moment to remember that not only was Charles’s “personal rule” extremely popular among many in the countryside, but that it has been refurbished by some historians as an era of “creative reform.” Policy uber alles and all that.

Outlining his position in both 1629 and 1640, Charles proposed that “Kings are not bound to give an account of their actions but to God alone.” One should expect to hear such declarations from monarchs and from potentates, but one would not anticipate seeing so many of the victims of his self-aggrandizement nodding happily along. The challenge of the Madisonians, now as then, is to outnumber the enablers and to reassert our legislature as the lead arbiter of our domestic government. As long as there is politics, the brazen and the obsequious will always be among us. But that Harry Reid and his craven coterie have chosen to be cavaliers does not mean that we all have to be. Up with the roundheads, and down with the king.

The de Blasio Democrats

By Matthew Continetti
Saturday, November 22, 2014

Bill de Blasio, the New York mayor, says he knows why Democrats lost the 2014 election. Income inequality defines our times, he said during a visit to Washington this week, and his party did not talk about the issue enough. De Blasio needs a hearing aid: Democrats speak of little else.

Dodging questions about Hillary Clinton, de Blasio praised Elizabeth Warren. He called the liberal heroine “one of the indispensable voices” among Democrats, and appeared with her at a Center for American Progress event later that day. The policy conference featured other darlings of the Left: Julian Castro, Tammy Baldwin, Kamala Harris, Bishop Gene Robinson, Gina McCarthy, and John Podesta. Listening to the speakers, you would not have known that two weeks earlier liberalism had encountered its worst setback in decades.

Indeed, President Obama and congressional Democrats have shown no signs of rethinking their political and policy strategies following the 2014 election. The president has veered left, calling for government regulation of the Internet, agreeing to a burdensome climate deal with China, and ordering an amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants. Harry Reid elevated Warren to a leadership position and voted to kill the Keystone pipeline — as well as Mary Landrieu’s Senate career. Nancy Pelosi, the most unpopular congressional leader in the country, is going nowhere.

The gap between Democratic performance and liberal behavior is stunning. President Obama is responsible for two of four postwar GOP landslides, polls show Americans dissatisfied with Washington and eager to have congressional Republicans set the agenda, and there is growing fear among Democratic consultants and journalists that the party is headed toward more defeats. How have liberals responded? By blowing a raspberry in all of our faces.

The case of Ben Ray Lujan is instructive. This week Pelosi chose the New Mexico Democrat to run the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Young and Hispanic, Lujan represents the “coalition of the ascendant” upon which Democrats have placed their hopes for a liberal future. But Lujan is a political novice — elected to Congress in 2008 — from a deep-blue majority-minority district. He boasts a 100 percent rating from the ACLU and a 97 percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters. A member of the Progressive Caucus, he voted for its far-left budget. This is the guy Democrats want recruiting candidates in Missouri, Iowa, North Carolina, and Virginia?

Obama, Reid, and Pelosi have forgotten how they won the majority. The liberal resurgence began in 2004 when Barack Obama denounced partisanship and ideology at the Democratic National Convention. The next year Howard Dean unveiled the “Fifty State Strategy” to expand the Democrats’ appeal. The goal was to be competitive everywhere. Rahm Emanuel and Chuck Schumer recruited candidates that appealed to suburbanites and the white working class. Obama in 2008 sold himself as a redemptive figure transcending the grievances and gridlock of the past. Strong candidates, an unpopular war, and economic downturn began a period of liberal ascendancy that is ending only now.

Either the Democrats do not recognize the connection between the tactics they employed once in power and their diminishing clout today, or they do not care. They went ahead with an unpopular health-care law despite the blazing “stop” signal that was Scott Brown’s election in 2010. They betrayed their pledges on campaign finance to run the most expensive negative campaign in history in 2012. They abolished the judicial filibuster to pack the D.C. court of appeals with liberals before Republicans won the Senate in 2014. The next step is to test the limits of Obama’s executive authority before he leaves office in 2017.

Jeffrey Bell and Frank Cannon described the Obama approach in a 2012 Weekly Standard essay. “The essence of the Obama strategy was an odd combination of moral lecturing and raw power — Harvard married to the Chicago Way,” they wrote. On Obamacare, “The administration focused on mobilizing the left power base (labor, the social left, AARP, and Hollywood) and moving through special interests (hospitals, insurance companies, Fortune 500) to assemble, piece by piece, an economic and lobbying juggernaut.” The process was polarizing, vindictive, corrupting. And it worked.

The Obama strategy does not make for a popular presidency or Democratic party. But it is remarkably successful in delivering goods to liberal interest groups. It has given the president what he wants: Obamacare, a second term, and an immigration weapon he believes he can wield against Republicans. But there have also been costs: a recasting of his public image, the loss of Congress, the failure to restore trust in government, and who knows what consequences to come.

The movement that launched a 50-state strategy has been reduced to a 50-enclaves strategy. Democrats are limited to the majority-minority districts, cities, and coastal bastions of the liberal coalition. This is a somewhat surprising outcome for a party that trumpets its populism and democratic heritage. What has surprised me most, however, is the brazenness with which the president and his allies declare their apathy toward public sentiment as expressed in elections that Democrats lose. Who cares about the Americans who bothered to vote on November 4? they say. They’re not our people.

“To the two-thirds of voters who chose not to participate in the process yesterday, I hear you, too,” Obama said at his post-election press conference. How can he hear these voters? Dental fillings? By what means does he divine their hopes, fears, and needs? A Ouija board?

I have a test to determine the lunacy of a Democratic talking point: If E. J. Dionne is the only reporter who parrots it, then it’s too crazy for most journalists. Sure enough, writes Dionne, by issuing his unconstitutional executive order, Obama “is paying close attention to the feelings of a very important group of voters — the tens of millions who supported him two years ago but were so dispirited that they stayed away from the polls on November 4.” It’s the silent majority — so silent it does not even vote.

This is too much for the press corps but not for liberal politicians. Asked during his trip to D.C. about a recent poll showing a stark racial divide in his approval rating, Bill de Blasio said, “I question whether they are getting the totality of the citizens of the city.” He must have forgotten that he too won an election with record low turnout. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the de Blasio Democrats: extremists who gratify special interests while disregarding public opinion. It is a vanishing breed. At this rate, soon only E. J. will be left.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Gruber and Obama’s Big Lie

By Jonah Goldberg
Friday, November 21, 2014

I understand we’ve turned the page to the next controversy — Obama’s unconstitutional immigration pander — but I’d like to dwell a little longer on the previous travesty.

Obama administration health-care consultant Jonathan Gruber was discovered to have boasted that Obamacare was designed to exploit the “stupidity” of American voters and elude honest accounting by hiding both its cost and the taxes necessary to pay for it.

When asked about this in Brisbane, Australia, the president rolled his eyes at the controversy.

“I just heard about this,” Obama said. “The fact that some adviser who never worked on our staff expressed an opinion that I completely disagree with . . . is no reflection on the actual process that was run.”

“We had a year-long debate,” Obama exasperatedly continued. “Go look back at your stories. One thing we can’t say is that we didn’t have a lengthy debate over health care in the United States. . . . It’s fair to say there is not a provision in the health-care law that was not extensively debated and was not fully transparent.”

This statement is a falsehood, punctuated by deceits, supported by half-truths, in defense of a scam.

Let’s give Obama the benefit of the doubt that he had “just heard about this.” After all, he doesn’t hear about a lot of terrible things he’s ultimately responsible for — the IRS scandal, mismanagement at the VA, etc. — until they appear, often tardily, in the newspapers.

The fact that Gruber was not a staffer is a small truth in service of a bigger lie. Gruber was far more indispensible than any staffer. Nearly every news outlet referred to the man as an “architect” of Obamacare. (Many of those outlets are now scrambling to unsay what they said.)

Mere White House staffers were like the bricklayers and plumbers; Gruber was the guy drawing the blueprints. Who gets more credit for a new skyscraper, the guy who installed the toilets or the guy who helped design it?

It’s true that there was a big national argument about the Affordable Care Act. It’s also true that the press covered it extensively. But an argument is not the same thing as a debate, never mind a transparent one. If Obamacare was so transparent, why did Nancy Pelosi, a general contractor for the ACA, insist that the only way to know what’s in it is to pass it?

Real debates require honesty. If I say, “Two plus two equals four,” and you say, “No, it equals a duck,” and then refuse to accept any contrary facts or evidence, that’s not a debate, it’s performance art.

In 2009, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos confronted Obama about the fact that the individual mandate is a tax. Obama scoffed and filibustered. Stephanopoulos responded by citing the dictionary definition of a tax.

“George,” Obama responded, “the fact that you looked up . . . the definition of tax increase indicates to me that you’re stretching a little bit right now. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have gone to the dictionary to check on the definition.”

Huh? In what open and transparent debate is the dictionary definition of a word irrelevant? By the way, if the Supreme Court had agreed with Obama, the law would be unconstitutional.

President Obama lied — relentlessly — during that so-called “debate.” Most famously, he repeatedly said, “You can keep your doctor” (and your insurance) if you want. He often ended such lies by saying, “Period. End of story,” as if his emphatic assertion were irrefutable fact. Either he knew he was lying, or the law is so un-transparent that even the man who signed it into law couldn’t understand its most basic functions.

Speaking of transparency, the Washington Examiner’s Timothy Carney notes that Obama frequently attacked the “special interests” opposed to the bill even though the very same interests supported the bill thanks to the generous bribes — er, “subsidies” — included therein. From the Rose Garden in 2009, Obama attacked drug companies for opposing the bill, even though he knew the drug lobby helped craft it. (Carney notes, “Behind closed doors, the White House apologized to drugmakers for that line, blaming a ‘young speechwriter.’”)

Still, the biggest lie is the one Obama left unsaid in Brisbane. He implied that he won the debate. He didn’t. He won the fight in Congress — by brute partisan force. But the majority of the American people watching this farcical debate were never convinced by Obama’s claims. There was a time when such things mattered. But when it comes to the progressives’ desire to impose their will — on health care and, now, immigration — what the stupid voters want counts for little.