Anxieties within the GOP over a possible government shutdown in the wake of Obama’s promise to push amnesty by unconstitutional executive order continue to grow. Those anxieties don’t show much confidence in the American voter.
The fear appears to be that voters will punish the GOP in two years for opposing Obama’s open tyranny. In other words, GOP leaders think the American people prefer unconstitutional government to a limited government shutdown aimed at stopping it. If that is true, American democracy is as degraded as Jonathan Gruber’s infamous remarks suggest.
In a healthy democracy, politicians wouldn’t even debate whether or not to fund an unconstitutional order. They would automatically defund it. That GOP leaders turn to pollsters and image consultants before deliberating on such a fundamental issue is already a bad sign. By saying in effect that they will lose their power if they defend the Constitution, they reveal the emptiness of that power.
And it is not even clear if they are correct in thinking that principled opposition constitutes bad politics. The government shutdown of 2013 obviously didn’t impede GOP success. It may have contributed to it. In any case, it is hard to see how a refusal to fund Obama’s illegal amnesty could prove more dangerous than that shutdown.
If Obama insisted on rejecting all funding of the government until Congress financed his law-breaking, even the liberal media would find that hard to spin as a frivolous GOP-forced shutdown. Perhaps anticipating the difficulty of defending his intransigence where his legal authority is nil, papers like the Washington Post are warning him against the amnesty order.
Republicans in recent days have been denouncing Gruber for his description of the American people as stupid and gullible. But if they capitulate to Obama on his illegal amnesty, they will have tacitly endorsed Gruber’s analysis. They will essentially be saying that the American people are too stupid to see Obama’s responsibility for the breakdown or the wisdom of GOP resistance to it.
They will also be conceding that the American people stupidly favor Obama’s destructive notion of a living Constitution, which grows more ambitious by the year. It was always clear that he felt free to disregard the original words of the Constitution in the name of an “evolving” America. But now he is even evolving from his own words about what he can and can’t do as president. Obama, until this year, had called amnesty by executive order the act of an “emperor.” Now he pronounces it perfectly legal.
“I was a constitutional law professor, which means unlike the current president I actually respect the Constitution,” Obama said before becoming president. George Bush, in other words, wasn’t conforming to his version of the living Constitution. Bush’s executive orders were improper, declared Obama, even as he planned far more outlandish ones. Obama didn’t bother to explain how it was possible for Bush to violate a living Constitution if it just means whatever those in power want it to mean.
According to Obama, a president is entitled to ignore the separation of powers in the Constitution if Congress fails to enact his legislative preferences. The weakness of his reasoning has his own media allies worried, as they imagine what that precedent would mean under a conservative president. If Obama can use an executive order to authorize amnesty, they fret, a conservative president could use an executive order to neuter the IRS.
Obama has clearly decided to make his legacy that of a progressive champion. Cooperating with Congress, he has concluded, can only undermine his legacy. He is betting that the Republicans will choose cowardice over conviction and permit him his progressive power grab. So far it appears that his bet is paying off, as skittish Republicans, many of whom probably agree with Obama’s immigration plans, rule out a shutdown no matter how tyrannically he behaves.
A party that seeks to retain its power by sacrificing principle will end up losing power. But worse is that such an optics-obsessed party won’t achieve any good with the power it has got and the country will deteriorate. The point of winning is not simply to attain power but to attain power for the sake of implementing sound policies and stopping destructive ones. Power without duty is pointless and politicians who chase after that kind of power will lose not just elections but the integrity of the country they supposedly went into politics to save.