Losing the rule of law?

More fundamental than government, more important than politics, is the rule of law.   Not only the citizens but the rulers must follow their own laws.  Otherwise, no matter who is in power, you have rule by decree, which is nothing more than the arbitrary exercise of power; that is to say, tyranny.  Victor Davis Hanson is worried that we are losing the rule of law:

The new lawlessness at the federal level. . . is predicated on “social justice”: those deemed “in need” shall be exempt from the law; those “not in need” shall not.

The War Powers Resolution, like it or not, is the law of the land. It requires the president to notify Congress within 48 hours of committing armed forces to military action. Without an authorization of the use of military force or a declaration of war, the military cannot remain in combat abroad. That’s why George W. Bush went to Congress to authorize the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. During the heated rhetoric over the Iranian missile controversy, presidential and vice-presidential candidates Obama and Biden both expressed support for the resolution — apparently outraged that Bush might unilaterally bomb Iran without notifying a Senator like themselves.

So when we recently passed the 60-day limit after the initial and continual use of armed forces in Libya, why did not Obama seek permission from Congress?

Here the question is not the usual Obama hypocrisy that has seen him demagogue and damn Guantanamo, preventative detention, tribunals, renditions, the Patriot Act (just signed by a former critic via computerized autopen from the UK no less), and Predators — only to expand or embrace them all. Rather, the problem is a question of legality itself.

Is the War Powers Resolution the law of the land or not? Or are we to assume a progressive president is complying with both UN resolutions and an Arab League mandate, and therefore, as the good internationalist and Nobel laureate, sees no reason to consult, as American law requires, his own elected U.S. Congress — the latter a more suspect and reactionary body that does not enjoy the moral stature of the UN or the Arab League? . . .

In that regard, an administration is sworn to uphold the established law; why, then, was the Defense of Marriage Act arbitrarily rendered null and void without legislative appeal, simply because it was considered illiberal by those now with executive power? Can President Obama and Attorney General Holder de facto declare a law unconstitutional and then not enforce it? Could a renegade conservative counterpart likewise declare Roe vs. Wade unconstitutional, and go after abortionists because it deemed them too liberal?

Or perhaps a better example is the bailout to Chrysler that was contingent upon reversing the contractual order of creditors, putting union members and retirees, contrary to law, to the front of the line, and those who held Chrysler debt to the rear. Was the logic something like the following spread-the-wealth notion: Bondholders are wealthier anyway and so have enough money already; union members — and Democratic stalwarts — actually do the work, and so have a moral claim to the money that trumps the superfluous legal right of the wealthy and powerful?

Or we might ponder the administrative decision by bureaucratic decree to stop a company like Boeing from opening a new airline production line in South Carolina, purportedly because it is a red, right-to-work state. Again, the logic is that companies cannot open factories where they wish, since they have moral obligations that must stand above a mere legal notion of freedom of commerce and association.

Do we remember the voter intimidation case dropped against the Black Panthers — on the supposition that, given the history of the poll tax and Jim Crow voter discrimination, a little minor pushback is small potatoes?

Then we come to federal immigration law, or rather the deliberate effort to undermine it — in a fashion that goes well beyond the neglect of the law shown by previous administrations. The Obama administration is going to court, along with Mexico, to sue the state of Arizona that is trying to find ways to bolster a federal law that the administration will not enforce.

But it gets worse: the Obama administration tries to subvert states that wish to follow its own laws, but ignores cities that deliberately flaunt them by declaring themselves “sanctuary cities.” And consider entire states like California, whose Assembly just passed its own version of the “Dream Act” to provide millions in state funds to support illegal aliens at the state-run colleges and universities (at a time when the state is $15 billion short in balancing its annual budget, and, due to such a shortage of funds, must release 40,000 prisoners because of an inability to comply with a court order addressing overcrowding). . . .

Where does this end, this effort by Ivy League lawyers and civil libertarians to substitute supposedly enlightened progressivism for purported reactionary law? We easily and rightly condemn the crime when the Right tries to overthrow legality in the cases of a Franco, Hitler, Greek colonels, or Pinochet, who are easily identified as autocrats and dictators openly subverting constitutional government. But the assault from the Left is more insidious, given that the miscreants do it in self-declared high-minded fashion for “us.” I think here of the frightening trial of Socrates in ancient Athens, the ascendency of the Jacobins during the French Revolution, or Hugo Chavez’s thuggery in Venezuela — not coups as much as overdue punishment of “them.”

Without the law, there is nothing.

Via Works and Days » Land of the Lawless.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • CRB

    Also of interest to Victor Davis Hanson fans: (a 14 min. interview)

    http://fetch.noxsolutions.com/laura/mp3/053111_victor.mp3

  • CRB

    Also of interest to Victor Davis Hanson fans: (a 14 min. interview)

    http://fetch.noxsolutions.com/laura/mp3/053111_victor.mp3

  • ELB

    We have been headed this way for years. Will the historians identify this administration as the time that we lost the republic to a Caeser? Mark Antony’s funeral oration (according to Shakespeare) didn’t mention Julius Caesar’s tyranny, but all that he did “for the people.”
    You ar right on, Professor Hanson!

  • ELB

    We have been headed this way for years. Will the historians identify this administration as the time that we lost the republic to a Caeser? Mark Antony’s funeral oration (according to Shakespeare) didn’t mention Julius Caesar’s tyranny, but all that he did “for the people.”
    You ar right on, Professor Hanson!

  • Jeremy

    The hypocrisy here is just staggering. Republicans criticizing Obama for the Patriot Act?

  • Jeremy

    The hypocrisy here is just staggering. Republicans criticizing Obama for the Patriot Act?

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com bike bubba

    Obama flaunts the rule of law? OK, time to impeach, no?

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com bike bubba

    Obama flaunts the rule of law? OK, time to impeach, no?

  • Dennis Peskey

    President Obama has not complied with the provisions of the War Powers Resolution – oh my, how shall I sleep tonight. Would this not be the same War Powers Resolution that President Nixon vetoed in 1973? Is this not the same congressional act ignored by virtually all Presidents since, denounced by Supreme Courts justices and generally as functional as a United Nation’s pronouncement? At least, when we had newspapers, there always was a “comic” section to wit we could flee for a daily dose of truth and reality.
    Pax,
    Dennis

  • Dennis Peskey

    President Obama has not complied with the provisions of the War Powers Resolution – oh my, how shall I sleep tonight. Would this not be the same War Powers Resolution that President Nixon vetoed in 1973? Is this not the same congressional act ignored by virtually all Presidents since, denounced by Supreme Courts justices and generally as functional as a United Nation’s pronouncement? At least, when we had newspapers, there always was a “comic” section to wit we could flee for a daily dose of truth and reality.
    Pax,
    Dennis

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    Dear Victor Davis Hanson, the word is “flout,” not “flaunt.”
    That is all…

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    Dear Victor Davis Hanson, the word is “flout,” not “flaunt.”
    That is all…

  • DonS

    The politically powerful and connected routinely consider themselves above the law. The law is for the little guys. When my wife worked on Capitol Hill back in the ’80′s she marveled at how Congress had excluded itself from every employment discrimination law it had imposed on the private economy, and the resultant Congressional employment practices. Exclusions and exceptions for the powerful. In L.A., the existence for some thirty years of a so-called “Gold Card” desk where the powerful could get their tickets fixed was exposed. Less political power means less opportunity for corruption, and more equal treatment for all. Period.

  • DonS

    The politically powerful and connected routinely consider themselves above the law. The law is for the little guys. When my wife worked on Capitol Hill back in the ’80′s she marveled at how Congress had excluded itself from every employment discrimination law it had imposed on the private economy, and the resultant Congressional employment practices. Exclusions and exceptions for the powerful. In L.A., the existence for some thirty years of a so-called “Gold Card” desk where the powerful could get their tickets fixed was exposed. Less political power means less opportunity for corruption, and more equal treatment for all. Period.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Someone remind me: was Hanson this concerned about the erosion of the Rule of Law during Bush’s tenure? Or is “rule of law” yet another fungible rhetorical weapon to be wielded or sheathed at one’s convenience in this postmodern world?

    For what it’s worth, I found George Will’s take on this to be far better. But then, I find Will to be far more ideologically consistent and respectable.

    But I do wonder what Hanson is talking about when he asks, “why did not Obama seek permission from Congress?” Um, that’s not how the War Powers Resolution (WPR) works. Once Obama gave his initial report on the use of our forces, it was already up to Congress to approve the action, extend the period by another 60 days, or the action would be illegal. Of course, one might notice that Congress hasn’t exactly done anything about this breach of law. The WPR doesn’t stipulate any consequences. So … here we are.

    But Hanson is far more interested in partisan framing than ideology, it seems.

    This disregard reminds us of the shake-down of BP, when the administration more or less declared by fiat that the demonized corporation had to cough up a $20 billion contingency clean-up fund.

    Yes, that’s … one way to think of it. Another way would be to realize that BP agreed to this fund. But when you use weasel words like “more or less” in combination with strong words like “fiat”, subtlety like that gets a little lost.

    Hanson complains about how the Obama administration has handled the DOMA, asking if they can “de facto declare a law unconstitutional and then not enforce it?” But was he asking these same questions of President Bush’s signing statements, which did the very same thing?

    No, he was too busy moving on the Boeing/NLRB dispute, writing silly sentences like “the logic is that companies cannot open factories where they wish”, while apparently willfully ignoring that, regardless of what you think of the facts of the case, it revolves around the issue of a company retaliating against workers for striking. Ah, too subtle. Not as effective a cudgel against Obama. Move on!

    What was it Rumsfeld said after 9/11? “Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not.” Kinda sounds like Hanson’s approach here. Culminating with, of course, a comparison to Hitler (who, please note, Victor Davis “Military Historian and Classics Professor” Hanson just called a member of “the Right”).

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Someone remind me: was Hanson this concerned about the erosion of the Rule of Law during Bush’s tenure? Or is “rule of law” yet another fungible rhetorical weapon to be wielded or sheathed at one’s convenience in this postmodern world?

    For what it’s worth, I found George Will’s take on this to be far better. But then, I find Will to be far more ideologically consistent and respectable.

    But I do wonder what Hanson is talking about when he asks, “why did not Obama seek permission from Congress?” Um, that’s not how the War Powers Resolution (WPR) works. Once Obama gave his initial report on the use of our forces, it was already up to Congress to approve the action, extend the period by another 60 days, or the action would be illegal. Of course, one might notice that Congress hasn’t exactly done anything about this breach of law. The WPR doesn’t stipulate any consequences. So … here we are.

    But Hanson is far more interested in partisan framing than ideology, it seems.

    This disregard reminds us of the shake-down of BP, when the administration more or less declared by fiat that the demonized corporation had to cough up a $20 billion contingency clean-up fund.

    Yes, that’s … one way to think of it. Another way would be to realize that BP agreed to this fund. But when you use weasel words like “more or less” in combination with strong words like “fiat”, subtlety like that gets a little lost.

    Hanson complains about how the Obama administration has handled the DOMA, asking if they can “de facto declare a law unconstitutional and then not enforce it?” But was he asking these same questions of President Bush’s signing statements, which did the very same thing?

    No, he was too busy moving on the Boeing/NLRB dispute, writing silly sentences like “the logic is that companies cannot open factories where they wish”, while apparently willfully ignoring that, regardless of what you think of the facts of the case, it revolves around the issue of a company retaliating against workers for striking. Ah, too subtle. Not as effective a cudgel against Obama. Move on!

    What was it Rumsfeld said after 9/11? “Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not.” Kinda sounds like Hanson’s approach here. Culminating with, of course, a comparison to Hitler (who, please note, Victor Davis “Military Historian and Classics Professor” Hanson just called a member of “the Right”).

  • Kirk

    Yeah, everyone hates a powerful executive when their party doesn’t hold the office.

    There are really two questions which need to be asked here: 1.) Why hasn’t Obama sought authorization? 2.) Why hasn’t Congress demanded a request for authorization?

    Like tODD says, there’s no consequence for violating the 60 day limit, except that Congress could, at that point, stop funding the conflict. In the case of Libya, they haven’t. Politically, it’s not that difficult to understand why. Any request for an authorization (and, necessarily, threat of defunding) would have to come from the Republican leadership in the House. If they choose to try to enforce WP and Obama calls their bluff, suddenly they’re faced with having to remove the resources of soldiers in combat, abandoning our allies and leaving a fight half finished. This makes the Dems looks stronger than on defense right when the Republicans are hoping to take back the Senate. Plus, the last thing anyone on the Hill wants right now is another factor in the budget debate.

    On the other side, if Obama brings a Republican controlled House into the decision making equation, it stops being his conflict (and it’s thus far been a tidy little conflict for American forces. Never mind the money we’re spending) and maintains the status quo for how Democrats are perceived on defense.
    But, lest your ire work up, Obama is in good (most of you would say “the best”) company in ignoring WP. Reagan, in ’82, never requested authorization for deploying Marines to Lebanon during our peacekeeping mission there.

    This isn’t a democrat or republican problem. It’s an issue of the erosion of legislative power in favor of an expedient and relatively unchecked executive. It’s a theme repeated in every presidency since John Adams.

  • Kirk

    Yeah, everyone hates a powerful executive when their party doesn’t hold the office.

    There are really two questions which need to be asked here: 1.) Why hasn’t Obama sought authorization? 2.) Why hasn’t Congress demanded a request for authorization?

    Like tODD says, there’s no consequence for violating the 60 day limit, except that Congress could, at that point, stop funding the conflict. In the case of Libya, they haven’t. Politically, it’s not that difficult to understand why. Any request for an authorization (and, necessarily, threat of defunding) would have to come from the Republican leadership in the House. If they choose to try to enforce WP and Obama calls their bluff, suddenly they’re faced with having to remove the resources of soldiers in combat, abandoning our allies and leaving a fight half finished. This makes the Dems looks stronger than on defense right when the Republicans are hoping to take back the Senate. Plus, the last thing anyone on the Hill wants right now is another factor in the budget debate.

    On the other side, if Obama brings a Republican controlled House into the decision making equation, it stops being his conflict (and it’s thus far been a tidy little conflict for American forces. Never mind the money we’re spending) and maintains the status quo for how Democrats are perceived on defense.
    But, lest your ire work up, Obama is in good (most of you would say “the best”) company in ignoring WP. Reagan, in ’82, never requested authorization for deploying Marines to Lebanon during our peacekeeping mission there.

    This isn’t a democrat or republican problem. It’s an issue of the erosion of legislative power in favor of an expedient and relatively unchecked executive. It’s a theme repeated in every presidency since John Adams.

  • http://steadfastlutherans.org/ SAL

    I don’t know about the rule of law in regards to Libya. I’m not sure to what degree our laws even apply to Presidents anymore (ex: Bush, Obama, Clinton).

    All I know is that Libya is a subject of purely European concern. I really don’t understand why Obama has allowed our military to be dragged into a quagmire. I thought he was the anti-war candidate not a skinny effeminate version of George Bush.

  • http://steadfastlutherans.org/ SAL

    I don’t know about the rule of law in regards to Libya. I’m not sure to what degree our laws even apply to Presidents anymore (ex: Bush, Obama, Clinton).

    All I know is that Libya is a subject of purely European concern. I really don’t understand why Obama has allowed our military to be dragged into a quagmire. I thought he was the anti-war candidate not a skinny effeminate version of George Bush.

  • larry

    The larger point is correct not who, Bush or Obama, right or left, is “the most” guilty of this. This plays down in very practical life and we are more and more seeing this lawlessness occurring. Going down the red herring rabbit trail of “whose most ignored the Wars Power Resolution”, “Squirrel!”, is going way off the broader and valid point being made. It’s not a right or left thing, but a general lawlessness that abounds.

    This manifests itself in the growing fear that one sees across the board in the various walks of life. E.g. businesses that don’t wish to move in the direction of growth and investment, especially the smaller to middle level businesses, are not NOT doing so because of the economy, but the fear of “not knowing what the rules are or will be or if they will remain” (i.e. lawlessness). The same with every day consumers like ourselves. It’s not the economy that strikes fear and forces one to spend less on things, but the fear of the unexpected changes in the law of the land. Fear is abounding and growing, and along with it despair, not so much because of economic down turn but due to the lawlessness that both sides display. It also displays itself at election time, right or left. Both right and left are increasingly tired of voting for X when they know rules, i.e. law, will be usurped even by “their man/woman”. This is actually displayed more prominently, for now, among the right who are sick and tired of double tongued politicians, the left is starting to find themselves in the same shoes among their candidates. Using tricks to pass legislation, right or left, is in fact lawlessness regardless of the content of the Law being passed.

    Nothing is worse than this kind of overt lawlessness. Even a child shows this when they melt down into utter terror and despair when a lawless parent keeps changing the rules of the house. This creates a “survival” mentality, right or left.

    When law looses its objective force and reality, no matter who is in office or what office or even what walk of life, nothing but ever increasing fear and despair CAN happen. This is why in the past during great world events and tragedies that good sound leaders, both parties, would FREEZE prices and things so that people might find some comfort amid the otherwise chaos happening at the time in “what was yesterday” will be here tomorrow.

  • larry

    The larger point is correct not who, Bush or Obama, right or left, is “the most” guilty of this. This plays down in very practical life and we are more and more seeing this lawlessness occurring. Going down the red herring rabbit trail of “whose most ignored the Wars Power Resolution”, “Squirrel!”, is going way off the broader and valid point being made. It’s not a right or left thing, but a general lawlessness that abounds.

    This manifests itself in the growing fear that one sees across the board in the various walks of life. E.g. businesses that don’t wish to move in the direction of growth and investment, especially the smaller to middle level businesses, are not NOT doing so because of the economy, but the fear of “not knowing what the rules are or will be or if they will remain” (i.e. lawlessness). The same with every day consumers like ourselves. It’s not the economy that strikes fear and forces one to spend less on things, but the fear of the unexpected changes in the law of the land. Fear is abounding and growing, and along with it despair, not so much because of economic down turn but due to the lawlessness that both sides display. It also displays itself at election time, right or left. Both right and left are increasingly tired of voting for X when they know rules, i.e. law, will be usurped even by “their man/woman”. This is actually displayed more prominently, for now, among the right who are sick and tired of double tongued politicians, the left is starting to find themselves in the same shoes among their candidates. Using tricks to pass legislation, right or left, is in fact lawlessness regardless of the content of the Law being passed.

    Nothing is worse than this kind of overt lawlessness. Even a child shows this when they melt down into utter terror and despair when a lawless parent keeps changing the rules of the house. This creates a “survival” mentality, right or left.

    When law looses its objective force and reality, no matter who is in office or what office or even what walk of life, nothing but ever increasing fear and despair CAN happen. This is why in the past during great world events and tragedies that good sound leaders, both parties, would FREEZE prices and things so that people might find some comfort amid the otherwise chaos happening at the time in “what was yesterday” will be here tomorrow.

  • ken abbott

    This blog is supposed to be about Christianity, Culture, Vacation. But you mention nothing about the Jersey Shore, Florida, Club Med or Paris. And what about cheap fares on Virgin Atlantic?

  • ken abbott

    This blog is supposed to be about Christianity, Culture, Vacation. But you mention nothing about the Jersey Shore, Florida, Club Med or Paris. And what about cheap fares on Virgin Atlantic?