When liberal media outlets talk about the president and “the rule of law,” you can bet they are talking about restrictions on executive power and the war on terror. But “the rule of law” refers to something far more fundamental than executive war powers. You really can’t get away from King John and those nobles at Runnymede. The core issue is whether the head of state is checked by a regime of law or whether he can, depending upon the needs and desires of the moment, do whatever the heck he wants.
So how’s Obama doing? Not great. Signing statements are back in fashion — a bad development for those who contend the Constitution provides just two options (veto or sign/enforce the law). He’s pursing cram down mortgages, allowing mortgage contracts to be abrogated on a case by case basis. And, of course, those AIG bonuses have become inconvenient and embarrassing so we’ll alter the tax code just for those unlucky employees. The sanctity of contracts are out; populist mobs are in.
And where is the Justice Department in all this? The rule of law is its specialty, right? Well, Eric Holder seems entirely unwilling to restrain or even question the political operatives in the executive branch. (Some of us anticipated he was the least likely person to stand up to the president.) Whatever the president and Nancy Pelosi want seems fine with Holder.
It is unfortunate that Democrats in Congress (with the exception of a few stalwarts like Robert Byrd) are mute in the face of an executive who seems intent on pushing the envelope. Only when George Bush is “shredding the Constitution” are they moved to complain. So the minority party is largely alone in complaining about these sorts of things. The Democrats may regret their new loose attitude towards the law. For the law may come in handy some day. But by then it won’t quite be what it used to be.