The Growing Cult of the Imperial Presidency

His Highness the President

Yesterday, President Obama used executive orders to further burden the fundamental right of self-defense. On the same day, in an effort to defend his Senate absenteeism, GOP candidate Marco Rubio gave his implicit endorsement to the concept of the imperial presidency.

Let us consider Obama’s action on gun control first. His executive orders grow the size of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), commit taxpayers to additional spending on programs he likes, and purport to expand the scope of existing background check requirements.

This did not constitute circumventing Congress, according to Senior White House advisor Valerie Jarett, because Congress “made it very clear they are not going to act.”

It is unclear what practical effect will be achieved by the expanded background checks. The existence of a loophole seems to have been exaggerated in the first place. Any change likely would not have made a difference in the high profile shootings supposedly motivating the President. As Jacob Sullum at Reason’s Hit & Run noted:

[The President] recited a litany of horrific, headline-grabbing mass shootings while proposing policies that would have done nothing to prevent them. Anticipating that his non sequitur would draw criticism, he boldly proclaimed that good intentions matter more than actual results…

The Obama faction of the cult-of-the-president does not care. They conceive of rights as things we get from parent-like leaders. Like well-behaved children, we ought to be grateful for the privileges we are permitted—not whining over the prerogatives of adults.

But if they are upheld (by the very courts GOP candidates like Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee insist should defer to the political branches) Obama’s orders will have at least one meaningful impact, even if it is not on the homicide rate. The impact will be on the structure and scope of government power—and its increasing centralization in a single individual: an imperial president with the power and mandate to act where the people’s elected representatives have refrained from doing so.

As Bonnie Kristian, a communications consultant for Young Americans for Liberty, writes at Rare:

In most matters, contrary George W. Bush’s infamous assertion, the president is constitutionally not “the decider.”

He’s the doer.

Congress is supposed to be the decider—even (or sometimes especially) when it doesn’t do what the president wants.

Even this misses the target.

We are the deciders.

Rights are not things we are given, not privileges handed out to children by benevolent parent-kings. Rights are ours for the having unless and until we yield them. The only way to do that is via elected representatives. Even then our ability to give away rights is limited by the Constitutional framework our founders had the foresight to put in place.

It is not meant to be easy to give rights away.

Jarett and Obama are therefore wrong to lay blame on Congress’s “failure to act.” It is not that Congress has failed to act. It is that we, the people, have not in sufficient numbers directed our elected representatives to infringe further upon our fundamental rights of self-defense.

Use of executive orders to circumvent the collective will of the people’s representatives fundamentally alters our constitutional structure. The left might embrace this trend now, while their man is at the helm, and his target is guns. But how will they feel when it is a Ted Cruz or a Donald Trump circumventing Congress? When the executive power is used again to send troops to fight undeclared wars?

Incidentally, last year, Obama was the biggest seller of arms in the world, servicing buyers like Saudi Arabia and Syrian rebels (even though Congress has not declared war).

I wonder if he does background checks…

It is disappointing that on the same day Obama issued his executive orders, Marco Rubio gave his implicit endorsement to the idea that Congress is of secondary import to the will of the President.

His comments came in the context of his chronic Senate absenteeism, including for the end-of-year spending and tax bill vote, which has provoked criticism from other GOP candidates, including Rand Paul.

Well, you know, the difference between Marco Rubio and I is, I show up for work. And we had the biggest vote of the whole year, voting on a trillion dollars worth of spending, and he didn’t show up. So, yes, I think he ought to resign or give his pay back to the taxpayer.

When asked yet another question on the issue, Rubio’s attempt to defend himself was a big, depressing fail implicitly endorsing the growing cult of the imperial presidency.

I have missed votes this year. You know why? Because … only a president can set the agenda. We’re not going to fix America with senators and congressmen.

Perhaps Rubio could point us to where in the Constitution the power to “set the agenda” is granted exclusively to the President.

I checked Article II and didn’t see it.

You know how everyone has that thing? The thing drives them crazy? Like the sound of nails on a chalkboard? Maybe it is baristas misspelling names. Or your when it should be you’re. People who use literally to mean figuratively.

That song from Frozen.

For me, it is people talking about “our leaders.”

U.S. citizens don’t have leaders. We have representatives. They don’t tell us what to do—we tell them how to voteSee Article I, The Constitution.

We also have a chief executive. His job is to execute the laws passed by Congress, deal with foreign countries, and provide information to Congress. He also serves as Commander-in-Chief of the military.

But not of us.

To the contrary, we pay him for his “Services.” See Article II, The Constitution.

No one commands us. No one leads us. And no one rules us. That is what it means to be free.

The number of people who react with hostility and defensiveness to this notion is bizarre to me. It is as if they want to be led, like when I first left home and missed having my parents tell me what I should do. Being leaderless means being responsible.

So maybe deep down, those who would rather not shoulder such burdens harbor an unconscious longing for the days of monarchs. When the best-born among us led the way atop magnificent horses, swords and armor flashing in the sunlight, obliterating responsibility by demanding complete allegiance—leaving we lesser souls to imagine ourselves as scullery-maid-turned-princess from the safe distance of our own servitude.

Easier to daydream of being transported to the prince’s ball in an enchanted pumpkin wearing a gown made of magic than to actually climb up on a horse of one’s own.

But the willing subjects are as dangerous as the would-be kings.

How Anarchists Should Confront the Enemy Within

The Challenge

In the aftermath of the most recent terrorist attacks in Paris, a commenter calling herself Mrs. Lemuel Struthers on Reason’s Hit and Run threw down the gauntlet:

What I’d really like to hear is a libertarian/classical liberal approach to approaching this problem of a minority of anti-liberals within a society engaging in war-like behavior (murder) while using the values of the society they live in to promote their ideology. The enemy within – if you will. While at the same time demographic and immigration trends tend to support the likely enlargement of populations who will tolerate and even encourage that ideology.

And, just to be clear, I was really asking how France should address its issues from a an-cap perspective, not the USA.

I take up her challenge with this post.  The post actually contains two mini essays. One about France like she asked. But first, I will start with an essay about Ancapistan… the one she said she wasn’t interested in (because the essay about France would be incomprehensible without it)! ;) » Read more

Quote of the Day: ‘Constitutionalist’ Inconsistency Edition

The poster child for faux Constitutionalism

From Mike Maharrey’s post: The Constitutional Inconsistency of Many “Constitutionalists”

This short statement sums up many people’s views on “constitutionalism” and “limited government” in a nutshell. It goes like this. If the government tries to do something ‘limited government guy’ disapproves of – regulating light bulbs or soda consumption – he will scream “limited government” and point at the Constitution. But when the federal government does something ‘limited government guy’ deems necessary, he makes excuses for it, and supports it, whether authorized by the Constitution or not.

The federal government lacks the constitutional authority to do any of these things. But ‘limited government guy’ wants the feds to enforce airline security because he finds it “a good idea.” Here’s the thing: a lot of people think telling ‘limited government guy’ how many ounces of soda he can drink is a good idea. A lot of people think telling ‘limited government guy’ what kind of light bulb he can screw into his fixture is a good idea.

So, why exactly should the federal government implement the things ‘limited government guy’ likes (airport security) and not those others things he dislikes? He really doesn’t have any basis to object, other than his conception of “good ideas.” He’s already tacitly admitted the federal government can do pretty much anything. Now it only comes down to whether it should.

[…]

Of course, this is all pretty much moot in 2015 because Americans don’t really give a crap about what the Constitution says or means any more – unless it relates to abortion, porn, gay marriage or keeping somebody from slapping the 10 Commandments up in a public space.

By the way, I bet ‘limited government guy’ thinks it’s a great idea for the feds to meddle in some of those things too.

I’ve encountered quite a bit of these “constitutionalists” and “limited government guys” recently. For example, there are actually “limited government” people in my social media feeds who think anything related to Islam should be banned (burkas, mosques, “Sharia Law” in private family matters, the very practice of Islam itself etc.). “Islam isn’t a religion, it’s an ideology (or cult, or philosophy, or…). Even if I were to concede that point (which I don’t), banning Islam or any other expression of conscience which does not violate the rights of others would still be a flagrant violation of the First Amendment. A true “limited government” person supports the rights of people with whom s/he disagrees.

Mike Maharrey is definitely onto something here. Most people aren’t really in favor of liberty for “others” but only for themselves.

Happy 10 Year Anniversary To Us! Here Are Our Ten Best Posts

10 year

We’ve been around for 10 years now. We’ve gone through quite a few changes since that time period. It was hard to grade which of the many posts that have been published as the ten best posts.

The contributors were asked to rate what they thought were the ten best posts published on the site. Some kind of approval voting method was used. I didn’t conduct the election, so I don’t have a clue how the votes were counted.

It wound up breaking down to 9 second place posts and 1 clear winner. We’ll start with the nine runners up in no particular order.

T-2Humans Are Pack Animals Who Pretend To Reason” by Brad Warbany. Published on April 22, 2015.

We think we’re soooo smart.

Humans. We think we come up with our political positions through reasoned analysis, and then join the political party that’s aligned to our beliefs. We’re ideologically honest and consistent. We’re dispassionate referees looking at evidence and argument and making informed choices.

And we’ve always been at war with Eastasia, right?

The truth is that this is all a bunch of bull. We’re pack animals. Human reason has done amazing things for us as a species, but we’re still pack animals imbued with an “us vs them” mentality, and that continually trumps the weak “reason” we rely upon.

T-2The Politics Of Liberty” by Chris Byrne. Published on December 2, 2005.

I want to talk about what I believe in.

I’m a small “l” libertarian, but a lot of people don’t know what that means. I used to describe myself as a “disgruntled constructive anarchist”. I thought it might be an opportune time to explain what I mean by that.

T-2Sorry To Disappoint, But Getting Government Out Of Marriage Is A Fantasy” by Kevin Boyd. Published on June 30, 2015.

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision making gay marriage legal in all 50 states, the rally cry of many libertarians and conservatives is to get government out of marriage. Presidential candidate and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul wrote an op-ed suggesting just that. While that’s a tempting proposition, it’s probably not possible without a major overhaul of everything from government benefits to nearly the entire civil and family legal code.

T-2Sympathy For Paranoia” by Stephen Littau. Published February 23, 2015.

The moon landing was faked by the U.S. government for propaganda purposes to win the Cold War. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 was actually an inside job as a pretext to go to war. Space aliens landed in Roswell, NM but the government has been covering it up. The Sandy Hook massacre was faked to increase support for new gun control laws; the “victims” were actually actors who are all alive and well today. The Illuminati is the secret entity which actually governs the whole world…

T-2The Case Against An Article V Convention” by Doug Mataconis. Published on April 1, 2010.

We were also lucky in 1787 because of the men who gathered to write the Constitution. The values they shared were values of individual liberty and small government. Does anyone truly believe that we’d be lucky enough to have delegates to a 2013 Convention, say, that were anywhere near the intellectual and moral calibre of Madison, or Mason, or Franklin ? Yea, I didn’t think so.

T-2The Sovereign Individual” by Eric. Published on November 25, 2005.

As usual, I appear to find myself in the smallest minority, the one that understands that rights and responsibility are inherent. They aren’t things that one can, or cannot, “take”. They are part of the state of being. And they are not affected by what sort of community one lives within, or government that one is subject to. Indeed, the core understanding of my principles is that the individual is sovereign. Ayn Rand once said “The smallest minority on earth is the individual.

T-2The Minimum Wage Lie” by Chris Byrne. Published on January 3, 2015.

When “progressives” say “the minimum wage hasn’t kept up with inflation”, they’re lying.

Not shading, the truth, exaggerating, or interpreting things differently… they are flat out lying.

… And what’s more, the ones who made up the lie in the first place, know they’re lying (the rest mostly just parrot what they’ve been told).

T-2The Problem With Today’s ‘Conservatives’: They’re Not Really Conservative” by Kevin Boyd. Published on January 7, 2015.

The biggest problem however, is that the Tea Party, and many of the self identified “conservatives” aren’t really conservatives at all. They’re really populists, ideologues, and radicals, that have abandoned traditional conservatism.

Ultimately, this is bad for the entirety of what could be called the “center-right”, because these people frankly make us look insane. When you try to build a movement purely on rhetoric and rabble rousing, without a solid foundation, history has shown that bad things happen.

T-2Bullshit Laws, Fiscal Irresponsibility, and the Inevitability of Police Abuse” by Sarah Baker. Published on August 11, 2015.

Every day fleets of law enforcement officers, from the DEA on down to the local police department, head out onto the streets armed with guns and hair-trigger fears for their own safety.

If they were going to fight the good fight against violence and theft, we could be unreservedly grateful. All too often these armed ingenues, represented by unions, covered by workers comp, and unwilling to tolerate any degree of risk to their person, instead spend their time enforcing petty, bullshit laws that accomplish nothing more than mindless bureaucratic authoritarianism—and revenue for overspent budgets.

The first place post was a clear winner. It was by one of our newer contributors, Albert Northrup.

1Why Conservatives and Libertarians Should Oppose The Death Penalty” by Albert Northrup. January 8, 2015.

Are you pro-life? Opposed to big government? Do you believe in reducing government spending? Do you support the death penalty? If you answered yes to all of these questions, then you may want to re-think your position on the death penalty. As supporters of life, liberty, property, and limited government, I believe that all conservatives and libertarians should oppose the death penalty.

Of course these 10 posts are just a small sample of what’s been published so far. Please read them, tweet them out, post them on social media, and more importantly stay tuned for what else we have coming over the next 10 years.

Ills That Underlie Violence Go Beyond a Shortage of Gun Control

portrait of schoolboy looking bored

Today I respond to the accusation that, beyond defending their own freedom, gun rights advocates offer only ¯\_(?)_/¯ in response to the problem of violence. In truth, I have deeply-held beliefs about the ills that plague modern society. Addressing some of them might impact the rate violence.

Doing so, however, would be more complicated, more difficult and require more compromise than I think most would-be agents-of-change really want to put forward. This is my challenge to them.

Guns are a tool of violence, not a cause. To find cause, one must look deeper.

Start with the cheap, shallow, one-size-fits all blueprint for life we bequeath sheep-like to our children, most of whom never commit violence, but who suffer in legions from some degree of the same aimless, disaffected, lack of fulfillment reflected in the manifestos left behind by the ones who do.

Eighteen years of artificially prolonged childhood, most of it spent in government run schools. Another four to seven years of delayed adulthood in the university system that is “the new high school.” An 8-to-5 job with a few weeks of vacation per year. Marriage, house, kids, retirement and here’s your gold watch, well done!

Literally, every element of that blue print needs to be re-examined.

Our Public Schools Are All Wrong. Children are meant to move, to explore, to question, test and try. Our schools are designed to enforce the opposite. Sit down, hold still, be quiet, and do as one is told. Learn the subjects and in the ways and at the pace dictated by the enlightened bureaucracy who drew up the blueprint.

National standards make this worse—not because the curriculums are bad, but because they do not light a spark in every child, but force schools to “teach to the test” rather than encourage individual interests.

What we need are young people so filled with spontaneity and wonder and interest and passion and joy that they never have a chance to feel empty or aimless or disaffected or isolated. We want them learning to follow their own directions and find their own projects so that they know how to fill their own spaces inside.

Instead, after eighteen years of conformity and confinement—waiting for permission to speak, to move, to go to the bathroom; memorizing information available in seconds on the phone in their pocket to take tests that don’t matter and learn skills they won’t need for jobs that no longer exist in an economy that has moved on—they no longer even remember what it was to have agency and interests and pursuits and passions that weren’t served up by the faceless social engineers who pre-planned their lives.

And we wonder why they turn their anger outward when they find themselves empty on the inside.

We wonder why so many shootings happen at schools and universities.

More Variety and More Choice. I have always been fascinated by people who focused from a very young age on working toward starting a business. Anecdotally, my observation is that this focus correlates with being a first or second-generation immigrant to the U.S.

Statistics bear this out.

For whatever reason, the U.S. culture does not impart this focus, or the skills necessary to achieve it, to our children. At best we fail to encourage—at worst we actively discourage—young people from doing things like starting businesses, pursuing trades, making movies, starting websites, touring with symphonies or otherwise rocking the boat that is the carefully calibrated public school system designed for an economy that no longer exists.

Instead, after a second period of delayed adulthood in the “new high school” that constitutes our university system, we graduate them into the world as overgrown children, searching for jobs (a new place to sit down, hold still, pay attention and obey) rather than creating them.

We ought to encourage them early to nurture all that messy, disorderly, nonconforming creativity into internal flames to fend off the chill of the inevitable disappointments and hardships of an imperfect world. As it happens the same qualities and pursuits that would nurture that flame are the ones the new economy demands (so convenient!). Creativity. Innovation. Outside-the-box imagination. Experimentation. Risk-taking. Self-motivation.

We don’t need more high school. We need more trade schools, apprenticeships, artists, entrepreneurs, more alternatives and more choice.

More Options for Spirituality. Our culture provides little recognition or support for spirituality outside the mainstream religions. At best, alternative sources of spiritual fulfillment are ignored or denied as a basis for a moral, meaningful life. At worst, they are mocked.

This is wrong. This is yet another area in which people on the fringes are pushed away from the very things that might otherwise gird them against emptiness and alienation, the very connections that might otherwise pull them back from the edge.

We should reconsider forcing the choice between indoctrination into a religion that does not resonate or derision for looking elsewhere. The only correct response to a person seeking spiritual fulfillment outside the major religions is: “That’s great. How can I help?”

The Disastrous Collision of Victorian Prudery and the Aimless Hookup Culture. Our sexual paradigms are as limited and disappointing as our schools and spirituality. We continue to largely limit young people to two seemingly opposite, but both deeply unhealthy, models.

On the one hand, still being taught in the aforementioned public schools, is the idea that all sex before marriage is bad, that young women who do it lack worth and young men who ask for it lack respect. On the other is the hookup culture endemic to our universities in which young people drink themselves into oblivion as a prelude to sexual encounters they otherwise lack the skills or fortitude to effectuate—and in which the point for young women is deeply obscured by the fact that they aren’t achieving either relationships or pleasure.

A recent post at The Harvard Crimson by a student who was raped reflects some of the ways in which the terrain between these two models has yet to be mapped. Let’s consider equipping young people with better tools than getting wasted or just seeing where it goes—tools like straightforward, sober communication about wants and needs and how to ensure they are compatible and met for both parties.

What does sex have to do with violence?

A more sex-positive culture and education might lead to fewer bitter fallouts from failed relationships, fewer unwanted pregnancies, and fewer ill-considered marriages, all of which lead to the broken families and absentee parents that correlate with violent crime.

Beyond that, as Bill Maher is getting some heat for suggesting, sexual frustrations have played a role in the downward spirals of mass killers from Roseburg, Santa Barbara and Oklahoma City, to Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech.

Coincidentally, Scott Shackford had a post at Reason recently covering the importance of sex work to the mental health of the socially disenfranchised. Another change to consider—for those who dare.

Conclusion. We are blessed to live in uncommonly safe and peaceful times. Violence is on a downward trajectory. But there are still dysfunctions to be addressed.

It won’t be as easy as closing the gun show loophole.

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