The Magazine

‘I Can Do Whatever I Want’

Feb 24, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 23 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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On February 11, writing for the Washington Post, Republican lobbyist Ed Rogers ably summarized the latest “bad week for Obamacare.” The Congressional Budget Office concluded that Obamacare will cause “a decline in the number of full-time-equivalent workers of about 2.0 million in 2017, rising to about 2.5 million in 2024.” The CBO also found that Obamacare would—after all the spending and disruption and coercion—still leave about 31 million Americans uninsured a decade after implementation. Then the White House disregarded the plain text of the law to carve out another delay in one of the law’s mandates, this time for businesses with between 50 and 99 employees. 

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Newscom

What’s more, as Rogers explained, the Obama administration decided that employers who fall below 100 employees “must certify to the IRS—under the threat of perjury—that the reasons for your employee head count have nothing to do with your opposition to or avoidance of Obamacare. .  .  . It’s jaw-dropping that if you fall below 100 employees, the burden will be on you to prove that you meant no disrespect to Obamacare.”

Showing commendable disrespect to Obamacare (that’s still legal for commentators, isn’t it?), Rogers concluded: “Obamacare is failing in its original purpose of providing insurance for the uninsured, it unnecessarily burdens American families and businesses, and now the White House has opened the door to prosecuting those they deem to be insufficiently committed to Obamacare. When will the nightmare end?”

It’s a good question. It’s perhaps the central question of American politics today. But the “nightmare” image can be misleading. After all, we know how nightmares end. We wake up. But when we wake up each morning, Obamacare is still here. 

Obamacare isn’t a nightmare. It’s a comprehensive piece of legislation passed by Congress. It won’t simply come to an end. It will have to be comprehensively repealed by Congress. Until that can happen, its provisions have to be limited and delayed as much as possible. The arbitrariness of its implementation has to be challenged and checked as much as possible, and Americans have to be helped to escape from it to the degree possible. All of this requires legislative action.

So it’s up to Congress to do what it can to save us from the disaster that is Obamacare. It’s also up to Congress to do what it can to defend the rule of law.

Touring Monticello last week with French president François Hollande, Obama joked about breaking protocol: “That’s the good thing as president. I can do whatever I want.”

Monsieur Hollande undoubtedly enjoyed Monsieur Obama’s bon mot, finding it, one suspects, très drôle. But in America we have been inclined to take the rule of law rather more seriously than our Gallic counterparts. In America we follow Jefferson, not Napoleon. In America the president cannot do whatever he wants. It was the sage of Monticello who explained that the meaning of a law “is not to be sought for in metaphysical subtleties which may make anything mean everything or nothing at pleasure.” It’s perhaps an injustice to metaphysics to call the Obama administration’s legal sophistries “metaphysical subtleties.” But the reputation of metaphysics will survive. The rule of law may not.

Unless, that is, our elected officials in Congress act to defend the rule of law. We can’t depend on the courts to do this. They are necessarily slow, passive, and limited in their reach. It’s Congress that has the powers of oversight, of the purse, of confirmation, and of legislation. It’s true that one chamber, the Senate, is of no use because for the Democrats who control it party loyalty seems to have trumped institutional responsibility. But the Republicans control the House, the people’s House.

The Republican party’s “brand” has been tarnished in recent years, we’re often told. That’s probably true. But perhaps part of the solution is for the Republican party to go back to its roots as the party of the rule of law and of equality before the law.

The Republican platform of 1860 put it well: “The present Democratic Administration has far exceeded our worst apprehensions .  .  . in its general and unvarying abuse of the power intrusted to it by a confiding people.”

That, in a nutshell, is the case for a Republican Senate in 2015—so we will have a Congress that can effectively check the Obama administration’s “general and unvarying abuse of power.”

The 1860 platform goes on to say

That the people justly view with alarm the reckless extravagance which pervades every department of the Federal Government; that a return to rigid economy and accountability is indispensable to arrest the systematic plunder of the public treasury by favored partisans; while the recent startling developments of frauds and corruptions at the Federal metropolis, show that an entire change of administration is imperatively demanded.

That’s the case for a Republican president in 2017.

We don’t want to be too partisan. But there are times when a political party can rise to the defense of a fundamental principle that transcends partisanship. One such principle is the rule of law. The historic mission of today’s Republican party is to defend and restore it.

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