One of the most disturbing aspects of living through the Obama presidency is reading every week or two about some new decision that has been decreed by the executive branch rather than voted upon by the legislative branch. Time and again, things that — in a constitutional republic — should be decided by the people’s representatives are instead being decided by a man who never again has to face the people’s verdict, or by those serving underneath him and at his discretion. This is not the way America is supposed to work.
The latest example, of course, is President Obama’s decreeing, king-like, that the tallest mountain on the continent will henceforth have a new name — because he thinks it should. This comes on the heels of his administration’s declaration that Alexander Hamilton will be taken off the $10 bill in favor of a person to be named later (although her sex has been named now). The truly disturbing thing in both instances has not been the decision itself — unjust as that is at least in Hamilton’s case. Rather, it is the dangerous precedent that is being set of a citizenry being ruled by the branch whose very name conveys that its primary responsibility is to execute the decisions made by others — namely, by Congress.
Mount McKinley sits on federal territory, in Denali National Park. The Constitution reads, “The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States.” Similarly, it says, “The Congress shall have Power…To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States.”
As a matter of constitutional authority, therefore — and not merely of what this president thinks he can get away with politically — if Obama is justified in unilaterally renaming Mount McKinley, why wouldn’t he also be justified in unilaterally renaming Washington, D.C.? Surely Obama can think of people he’d rather honor than Washington and Columbus. Given his constantly widening conception of his own power, his magnanimous restraint in this regard seems to have nothing to do with his perceived limits to his authority and everything to do with the limits of how unpopular he is willing to be.
The rule of law requires the active engagement of the law-making branch. Our republic cannot long survive the repeated circumvention of that branch by presidents who seek to impose their own will and pursue their own glory.