A Further Perspective

Our Caudillo President

We're still a constitutional republic, right?

By 6.16.10

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As I write this on Monday night, there are rumors around that BP will agree to President Barack Obama's demand that the oil giant "voluntarily" put about $30 billion into a fund to be administered by the government to compensate victims of the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster.

Now, no one disputes that this is a real disaster and that BP acted irresponsibly in commissioning Trans-Ocean and Halliburton to drill for oil in waters so deep that if a failure occurred there would be no way to fix it -- at least until major damage had been done. BP, Trans-Ocean, and Halliburton, as well as the individuals involved, have much to answer for.

But the action of the President in demanding this immense transfer of the stockholders' wealth without any legislation or court decision is extremely worrisome.

We live in a Constitutional Republic. The President's job under the Constitution is to enforce the laws made by the elected Congress. His job is not to create new laws and enforce them all by himself. His job is as magistrate under the Constitution, not as Caudillo. He is not the law. He is supposed to enforce what Congress decides.

The BP behavior is reminiscent of how, immediately after assuming office, Mr. Obama, with no Congressional authority or administrative allowance, simply made a phone call to fire the head of GM. When I called the White House press office to ask under what law or regulation Mr. Obama was acting, I was told he did not need a law. If the government put a lot of money into GM, it could call the shots at GM, I was told. But under what authority, I asked. "None needed," was the final answer.

Without any new legislation, President Obama has used returned TARP money as a political slush fund to prop up favorite industries. This is the same problem: serious executive action without legislative authority.

The same goes for Mr. Obama's demand that BP pay the lost wages of oil and gas workers suspended from work because of the moratorium on Gulf of Mexico underseas drilling. There simply was no legislation allowing this kind of specific demand. Mr. Obama's demand was in the nature of a threat, more than a Constitutional act.

Of course, every President tries "jawboning" to restrain steel company price increases or something similar. But to create specific enactments and actions without any authority -- now Mr. Obama's specialty -- is so at odds with the law of the land that it terrifies me. These are not the acts of a teacher on Constitutional law. These are the acts of a big city boss or a third world dictator. If you want to know why business has pulled in its horns and hunkered down, and why people at tea parties and elsewhere are scared, look no further than Barack "I Am The Law" Obama.

Is there anyone in Congress to stop him? Is there anyone in a black robe to stop him? Or is everyone already too scared to challenge the Duce in the White House?

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About the Author

Ben Stein is a writer, actor, economist, and lawyer living in Beverly Hills and Malibu. He writes "Ben Stein's Diary" for every issue of The American Spectator.