The recent actions of the Obama administration to appoint Mr. Cordray over the objections of Congress highlight the meaning of the Rule of Law, and the question of honor.
The Rule of Law is often summarized in the phrase "A government of laws, and not of men", meaning that the law is controlling, not the desires of those who hold the offices.
Honor is about keeping your word. Honorable people can agree on rules, and honor their agreements even when those rules yield disadvantage or failure. Our constitution is such an agreement between citizens. It is an agreement on how laws will be written and changed, and how government power will be kept in check. Every elected official takes an oath to uphold the constitution.
President Obama recently decided to make a "recess appointment" of Mr. Cordray to the new CFPB, when the senate is arguably not in recess. My problem is not with the state of the senate, but with the justification pushed by the President. Obama is not arguing that the senate is in recess and that the law and the constitution are on his side. He is saying that he "can't wait". He is saying that the Congress is an obstacle, and that he needs the power to do "what's necessary".
Men of honor do not cast aside the rules when they are not to their advantage. They understand that the consent of the governed depends on the governed honoring "the rules" (constitution), and without rules, we are starting down a very dangerous road.
This is an election year, and closer to home, we have many more examples of this sort of lawless behavior, including:
- Governor Dayton attempting to unionize daycare providers without explicit legal authority
- Judge Gearin deciding during "the shutdown" (June 2011) that she could ignore the Minnesota constitution and appropriate funds
We, the voters, need to decide what kind of government we want. Do we want a limited government, ruled by the written constitution, where our government cannot do everything we may want, but it also cannot abuse its authority?
Or, do we want a government that is unconstrained by the plain meaning of the constitution, and can do whatever those in office consider the "right thing"? This latter government sounds appealing when someone of my persuasion is in office, and very scary when someone from "the other side" is in office.
President Obama has chosen his issue well. This "recess appointment" is popular enough that voter anger will be muted. Unfortunately, if the appointent stands, the approval of the senate for future appointments will become a formality without force. The President will be able to appoint whoever he wants, regardless of objections in Congress. For those of you on the left, think about this power in the hands of George W Bush, or Richard Nixon.
Checks and Balances are a Big Deal. We cast them aside at our peril.
This is an election year, and an important one. This issue is not explicitly on the ballot, but should be raised anywhere and everywhere with candidates. Will we have a government "of laws, and not of men", or will we have a government of unlimited and poorly defined powers?
Make your choices very carefully this year.