Spending more than a minute or two to discuss Barack Obama’s latest assault on the Constitution that he has sworn to uphold is, quite frankly, a waste of time. Even before the announcement of his “executive action” plan for amnesty for five million illegal immigrants, the President’s defenders had claimed that he wanted to do nothing more than Ronald Reagan had done. Set aside the fact that the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 was one of the worst actions of Reagan’s near-disastrous second term; it was, at least, a piece of legislation approved by Congress, and not a policy imposed upon the nation by executive fiat.
The President’s defenders are attempting to draw superficial parallels with the Reagan amnesty, and FOX News and CNBC will debate those similarities until the last Mexican blows out the last candle in the last remaining Catholic church in Mexico before heading north of the border. But on a much deeper level—one they don’t even recognize—they’re right.
Just as the worst Supreme Court decisions of the last 50 years have been made by justices appointed by Democrats building on earlier disastrous decisions made by justices appointed by Republicans, so, too, Barack Obama’s Democratic “executive action” last night would not have been possible without the expansion of the Imperial Presidency under the Republicans Nixon, Reagan, and the two Bushes (Junior more than Senior). Yes, Bill Clinton made plenty of executive power grabs, but his, too, were built on the firm foundation laid by the Republicans, who unashamedly spoke of the need to expand the powers of the executive branch to offset those of Congress.
How could we expect them to limit government if we didn’t allow them to expand it?
The difference, of course, is that the Republicans have always expanded the power of the presidency for good reasons, such as fighting unnecessary wars and covering up political scandals, while the Democrats have used the power to remake society in their own image.
Over the coming weeks and months, Republican congressmen, potential presidential candidates, and talking heads will rail against Obama’s “unprecedented” use of executive power to bypass the country’s immigration laws (though they will be careful not to discuss demographic change, except to embrace it). But in the end, they will do nothing to stop it, because the only way to do so is to go to the root of the problem, by reining in the Imperial Presidency.
And they will never do that, because they hope someday to regain the White House. And when they do, there will be wars to fight and scandals to cover up, and to fight those wars and to cover up those scandals they will need the very powers that Barack Obama asserted last night.
Scott P. Richert is editor at large for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, and Publisher for Our Sunday Visitor. He holds an M.A. in political theory from the Catholic University of America. He has been published in, among others, The Family in America, This World, and Humanitas. He is the Catholicism Expert for About.com.