Obama wants to enact wholesale changes in the fabric of American society, vastly expand the power of the federal government, and run all of this out of the White House. And if employment contracts, bankruptcy and immigration laws, and property rights get run over in the process, well that is the price one pays for “change.” For those who see the law as a bulwark against government abuse and a check against an imperial executive now is a moment of truth. Once the rule of law is lost it is hard to recover — and the implications for Americans’ prosperity, freedom, and security will be serious and long lasting….The Lawless President, Jennifer Rubin, Pajamas Media, 5/4/2009
We’ve had a few like this. The urge to play Julius Caesar instead of an elected official is enormous. But, in our system, it rarely comes to much beyond what the public mood will accept. What enables the Caesar in any White House resident is a more general atmosphere of lawlessness. This can come from a number of conditions. In the Civil War, it was the breakup of the republic into two contesting states. In the Depression, it was the real terror that a quarter of the population would go without food or shelter, not to mention jobs. In World War Two, it was an attack on the United States, and a world atmosphere poisoned by imperial wars in Asia, Europe and the South Pacific. In the 1960’s, Kennedy and Johnson vaulted into some spectacularly dangerous actions, enabled by a general collapse of social mores, a quiet Civil War over rights for African-Americans, and a booming economy. What people described as Caesar-like in Nixon was actually, for the most part, an administration trying to force the fighting off the streets back into the courts and the legislatures, where jurisprudence and legislation would stand in for guns and baseball bats. In the 1990s, for all the furor about the somewhat pathetic dalliances of Bill Clinton, if anything the urge to Caesarism faded almost to incompetence and passivity. And Clinton’s successor, for all of the rage about him, delegated so much responsibility for acts at home and overseas that at times it was possible to imagine that the President saw the White House as an eight-year vacation from responsibility.
Today, the anxieties of a financial system battered by wildly irresponsible cowboys and cowgirls in the derivatives markets, as well as by calmly irresponsible advocates of risk-free mortgages for everybody, have been fanned by the present administration into the greatest financial crisis in American history. As long as people believe that, they may look to an imperial Presidency. One suspects the swine flu shrieking serves similar ends as the bad PR about the economy, to further encourage the people to turn over their cares and troubles to the man in the White House. The same is true of the extravagant fictions about global warming, which is, as it has been for millions of years, tied to the sunspot cycle and to periodic cooling and warming of the sun.
Public relations campaigns can turn against you, though. If what you advocate becomes transparently based on fraudulent interpretation of data, hysteria may turn to cynicism, and ultimately to someone else’s contrary message of hope.