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Or just call it the New Obama Constitution.
“I’m going to get everybody concerned around a big table where all can express their views and their needs. And I’ll express mine, and that will make sense of them all because I’ll be president.”
-Barack Obama, candidate
OBAMA WAS NOT KIDDING. Ever since he became president the media have carried accounts of him and his closest officials meeting with “everybody,” meaning executives of banks, auto makers, insurance companies, medical suppliers, energy producers, indeed of major corporations in each sector of American life. They meet for no less a purpose than to mandate new ways for Americans to go to the doctor; to change the kinds of cars we drive, the kinds of places we live, and the work we do; to decide how much we should pay for electricity; and many more things. Corporations that had grown by providing their customers ever more attractive choices now negotiate with the U.S. government and each other about how collectively to structure (read, restrict) their customers’ choices in ways that will suit the government while guaranteeing their profits. To object that there is nothing in our Constitution that empowers the government to make deals with some private citizens at the expense of other private citizens or otherwise to shape citizens’ lives involuntarily is to have failed to notice that a new constitution has largely superseded the one ratified in 1789. Here is a primer on it.
The Obama administration develops laws and practices toward any sector of American life by holding “summit” meetings with what it calls the “stakeholders” in that sector, satisfying and modifying the stakeholders’ interests into a scheme that supports its own political standing and objectives. For each sector, it appoints what it calls a “czar,” who shepherds the stakeholders into line, binding both the government and the stakeholders. It expects Congress to follow, and the people to consent. Thus in July 2009 Obama argued that since “the doctors, the nurses, the hospitals” (meaning the leaders of some associations with whom he had been meeting) had agreed to his plans for restructuring America’s health care system, “including even Wal-Mart” (more on this below), any wholesale objection to his plan was somehow illegitimate. Although in America this way of governing has grown gradually only over the past half-century, it is common around the world.
First developed in 1920s Italy, what we are coming to know as stakeholder government is akin to the regimes of Argentina, Mexico, and the European Union. Herein I explain what should be obvious: Unelected “stakeholders” gathered by “czars” around big tables make for bodies politic very different from officials elected and removed by the general public. Recall Aristotle’s lesson: Any polity’s character and identity depend on who makes the rules. Stakeholder government must make America different from what it has ever been, and more in the image of the countries where it has been practiced.
UNDER THE U.S. CONSTITUTION, whose form if not substance has been copied around the world, laws are made by legislators, each of whom represents voters with diverse interests and views about their own and the common good. Such legislators arbitrate conflicts within and among interests. As well, they “enlarge and refine” the public’s views of the common good. The voters, for their part, may accept or reject the legislators’ or executors’ actions by voting them out. Crucially, this Constitution limits the extent of the government’s role in people’s lives. By contrast, under the constitution that is now fast waxing solid among us, decisions about what cars we will drive, how we will go to the doctor, how much and what kind of energy we will use and at what price are no longer up to individual consumers, nor even subject to our collective judgment as citizens. Rather, they are being made by stakeholders around the big table under the guidance of their czars. Crucially, no constitution limits what they may agree to impose on their fellow citizens.
By governing explicitly through “summits” with “stakeholders” rather than through representative institutions, the Obama administration is leaving no doubt that, in the new American constitution, “stakeholders” are the only citizens, and that neither voting nor taxpaying qualifies as stakeholders the individuals who used to be known as citizens.
Mere interest in any field does not qualify anyone or any group as a stakeholder. Thus, for example, while our government considers teachers’ unions and state governments and certain nonprofit groups as stakeholders in the field of education, it does not recognize parents as stakeholders. Nor are car buyers stakeholders in the auto industry, whereas bondholders, labor unions, and management are. Whereas citizens are supposed to be created equal, stakeholders have only such status as the sovereign authority manages to give or take from them. Thus, in the auto industry, the Obama administration chose to rank the unions first, management second, and some bondholders ahead of others. The energy business’s stakeholders include the various companies involved in the production of energy plus farmers and environmentalists. But not consumers. By definition, non-stakeholders have no stake.
Our Not-So-New Constitution
BARACK OBAMA IS BY NO MEANS the first American to believe that minimally intrusive government based on representation of individuals in localities is a barrier to doing what needs to be done to improve people’s lives, and that it does not fulfill people’s spiritual need to feel part of things bigger than themselves.
Woodrow Wilson’s 1885 book, Congressional Government, faulted the U.S. Constitution for not creating a power able to deal in detail with the reality of “modern industrial organization, including banks, corporations, joint-stock companies, financial devices, national debts, paper currency, national systems of taxation…so that the play of the civil institutions shall not alter the play of the economic forces, [and thus accurately to regulate] the complication and delicacy of the industrial system.” Wilson wrote that competent government must be like “a foreman [who] take[s] a hand in the work which he guides; and so I suppose our legislation must be likened to a poor foreman, because it stands altogether apart from that work which it is set to see well done.” A competent government must also have full power “to remedy the mistakes of the legislation of the past.” In short, according to Wilson, a new constitution that reaches over citizen-voters and their elected representatives should transcend the Constitution of 1789. This new constitution should run the nation’s vital organs directly, with full power over details. Planted by Wilson, this Progressive dream continued to grow in the minds of America’s ruling class.
The version of that dream that Obama named “The New Foundation” in 2009 had been gestating since the 1930s creation of “independent” agencies endowed with powers “quasi-legislative and quasijudicial” to govern broad areas of national life. With each passing year, Congress has given broader and less defined authority to these agencies, and ever less defined mandates. Bureaucracies with names like the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency exist on the state level as well, and take their cues from their kindred on the federal level. Almost half of state funds come from the federal government. At all levels and in each of the fields they cover, these agencies are and cannot be but the sum, the expression, the guarantors, the regulators, of the interest groups in their field. Presidents Clinton and Bush held “White House Summits” on all manner of subjects, to develop policies in concert with interest groups and then to get Congress to ratify faits accomplis. Obama means to bring these developments to their logical conclusion.
Stakeholders Are Artificial
WHAT EXACTLY IS A “STAKEHOLDER”? How does anyone qualify as a stakeholder?
What is the difference between a society organized on the basis of stakeholders rather than of citizens, families, localities, states?
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online