Developing Government Into a Cult of Personalities

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Did the most recent revelations that unelected officials ordered Bank of America's CEO to violate securities disclosure laws to assure the shotgun merger with Merrill Lynch leave you wondering what new lines will be drawn that define the limits of government power?

Not by putsch but in response to the will of the people, as temporary expedient or permanent change, we are taking yet another step away from the rule of law and toward the rule of men.

Bernanke. Pelosi. Geithner. Reid. Rattner. Frank. Waxman. Obama, Obama, Obama!

This bank is too big to fail. That bank must go. This industry must pay to save the world from global warming. That industry gets a free ride. This credit card rate is too high. That company must fire its CEO. Does this sound like the operation of a constitutional republic of enumerated powers or a cabal of fractious nobles jostling with the King?

As blue tribe elders and their chosen apparatchiks press the limits of power, red tribe legislators have shrunk to such invisibility that The New York Times can’t even finger a credible bogeyman. The media elite have been reduced to railing against Limbaugh, Cheney, Gingrich, and Rove. Last time I checked, these bloviating has-beens were neither government officials nor party leaders. They are straw men selected for their ability to frighten little children.

Does that make us the little children?

Perhaps it’s the fawning of the partisan press that creates the worry that this last election marked not just a normal changing of the guard to rebuke a party that overreached but a permanent shift in the relationship between government and citizen. Maybe, unreported in the background, thoughtful deliberations are taking place among elected legislators mindful of the separation of powers defined in the constitution, respectful of the nondelegation doctrine designed to constrain the executive, and infused with humility knowing that the complex problems we face can easily be made worse by the application of hasty fiat.

Maybe. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

Are you satisfied by the argument that the economic crisis – the most severe since the Great Depression! - is so profound that our dear leaders must do “whatever it takes" acting “right now” to save us from calamity? Didn’t we just go through that when the last administration was faced with a security crisis - the most severe since Pearl Harbor! – and responded by trampling the constitution? So, how’d that work out for the country?

Regardless of what tribe you swear fealty to, what happens when these "emergencies" become a persistent state of affairs? When does the permanent campaign of our hyper-politicized culture metastasize from a technique to win office into a tool for aggrandizing power once elected? Whether you’re inclined to attend a tea party or a celebration of the first 100 days, aren’t you at least a little disturbed by the ends-justifies-the-means ideology that has taken hold of our so-called public servants?

As dangerous as this is in arenas like foreign policy, consider the damage that can be done by command-and-control diktats seeking to fine tune the millions of economic outcomes required to deliver happiness to vocal constituents whose approval is the mother’s milk of power. What is the right level of home ownership? How much credit card debt should a household in the fourth quintile shoulder, and at what rate of interest? How many car brands and dealers should a publicly subsidized car company have? Who gets an MRI and who doesn’t? What’s the right amount of carbon dioxide the aluminum industry can emit? If you think its hard to figure out the best product mix for a small company, imagine trying to “optimize” a fifteen trillion dollar economy.

This can’t be what the founding fathers had in mind. As well meaning as he may be, what makes Barack Obama different than Hugo Chavez if either can take over entire industries with the stroke of a pen as rubber stamp legislatures sing hosanna and media enablers plaster el Magnifico’s smiling face on posters across the land?

Democracy is not about the outcome, it’s about the process. What makes the United States exceptional is the unique method of government we were bequeathed, which elected officials take an oath to preserve, protect, and defend. The rule of law is the common interest that trumps all special interests. Sacrifice that common interest, surrender the rule of law to feed pressure groups with benefices, and that uniqueness evaporates along with the freedoms we once held dear.

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