I authored this opinion piece for the Minnesota Tea Party Magazine. It is available only here and in the print edition of the magazine:
(MN Tea Party Alliance) -- In the announcement that he would seek to take executive action on immigration, President Obama declared that he was drawing his authority, in part, from Americans who had chosen not to vote. “To everyone who voted, I want you to know that I hear you. To the two-thirds of voters who chose not to participate in the process… I hear you, too.”
To some, that may come across as simple conceit. However, it is more significant. It is part of a broader intellectual framework being developed by Washingtonians seeking to defy democracy and casually disregard constitutional restrictions on federal power. It represents a set of ideas that seek to undermine traditional separation of powers. Those ideas are going to gain momentum if they are not met with a response.
The Washington class believes there are two “problems” with American government. One is Congress. Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution and Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute are two of the most prolific advocates of the view that Congress is not working properly. Specifically, they claim that Congress does not approve President Obama’s agenda often enough. Therefore, it is broken. Writing in 2012, they said that Republicans were too protestant of the president’s agenda:
An examination of the Obama presidency suggests that we are experiencing neither politics as usual nor an odd blip. We are witnessing unprecedented and unbalanced polarization of the parties, with Republicans acting like a parliamentary minority party opposing almost everything put forward by the Democrats.
“We’ve all heard the laments... that Washington is broken, that our political system can’t grapple with the nation’s big, long-term problems,” they wrote. To be sure, that view is prevalent in the Washington echo chamber. We often hear Congress maligned as “dysfunctional” when it refuses to pass the president’s legislation. From the perspective of Washington academics, our constitutional system is “broken” when it does not result in the policy outcomes they prefer.
We are told the second problem is too many Americans failing to vote properly. It does not matter whether they show up. When they stay home, their consent for an all-powerful executive branch is assumed. When they show up and vote against the president, we are told that they were given bad information.
A popular term for describing this “problem” emerging within academia is “fragmentation.” It is the idea that voters seek viewpoints that agree with their own. According to the technocrats, voters are usually wrong, and thus seek out the wrong opinions.
President Obama’s former regulatory czar, Cass Sunstein, wrote a book called Republic 2.0 in which he described his views on the Internet. “A system of limitless options, may lead in unfortunate directions, both for… individuals and for society at large,” Sunstein wrote. One potential solution he proposed was forcing Websites to display content with which they did not agree.
However, we are also told that those who agree with the president are not the problem. It is those who disagree who simply do not have enough information. Journalist Farhad Manjoo, writing in his book True Enough, reiterates a study conducted by Stanford Communications Chair Shanto Iyengar:
[Iyengar] discovered that Republicans were far friendlier to Fox than were Democrats to either CNN or NPR; Republicans showed, in other words, a much greater propensity toward giving in to their bias.
To condense the second problem, it is that the limitless options of our present age in fact mean fewer options. Because of the abundance of information available, Americans are actually becoming less informed. The solution is to force them to look at the “right” information, and perhaps to block them from viewing the “wrong” information. This only applies to those who do not support the president. Those who support him already have the correct information.
If we evolve the Washingtonian argument a bit, we can summarize it as such: The Constitution represents a broken system in which there are unnecessary checks and balances. The only way for the government to do everything it should is for the executive branch to do so without input from Congress and to disregard any constitutional restrictions that are too burdensome. If you are not on board with this agenda, you have fallen victim to bad information and need to be given the right information.
President Obama’s expression of this emerging philosophy was brief. Yet it was not coincidental or meaningless. It represents a significant body of thought germinating among many in the ruling Washington class. Americans need to recognize these ideas and respond with the force merited by their implications.