Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Madison vs. Obama

Reacquainting myself with The Federalist Papers (or The Federalist) and James Madison's contributions to them, I came upon a speech of his that struck me with its ominous prescience. Keep in mind that political discourse in Madison's time was of a caliber that makes today's political dialogue seem like infantile prattling. Madison, who represented Virginia during the Constitutional Convention of 1787, whose purpose was to draw up a stronger political document to replace the Articles of Confederation, was later the author of the Bill of Rights and the country's fourth president.

Originally opposed to a "bill of rights," which he viewed as redundant and possibly dangerous, Madison changed his mind while the states were embroiled in the ratification process and campaigned to secure a Bill of Rights that would be inserted in the Constitution as an additional check on federal powers and a guarantor of individual liberties. We owe him.

On June 20th 1787, in the sweltering summer heat of Philadelphia, he spoke before the Convention and made these observations (spellings, punctuation, and abbreviations corrected for clarity):

Mr. Madison thought it indispensable that some provision should be made for defending the Community against the incapacity, negligence or perfidy of the chief Magistrate [later to be called "President"]. The limitation of the period of his service was not sufficient security. He might lose his capacity after his appointment. He might pervert his administration into a scheme of peculation or oppression. He might betray his trust to foreign powers. The case of the Executive Magistracy was very distinguishable from that of the Legislature or of any other public body holding offices of limited duration. It could not be presumed that all or even a majority of the members of an Assembly would either lose their capacity for discharging, or be bribed to betray their trust.

Besides the restraints of their personal integrity and honor, the difficulty of acting in concert for purposes of corruption was a security to the public. And if one or a few members only should be seduced, the soundness of the remaining member would maintain the integrity and fidelity of the body. In the case of the Executive Magistracy which was to be administered by a single man, loss of capacity or corruption was more within the compass of probable events, and either of them might be fatal to the Republic.*

When I came upon the terms peculation, oppression, corruption, and betray, I could not help but be reminded that these terms best describe the administration of Barack Obama. Of course, Obama is not alone. Presidents have been guilty of committing one or another impeachable offense, and even all of them and more in one sitting, since at least Lincoln (who employed the income tax and the draft to prosecute the Civil War). Contending for the rank of worst administration in terms of theft, malfeasance, and corruption are Warren G. Harding's and Bill Clinton's.

Obama is in a class of his own. He is the culmination and climax of a succession of acts of perfidy and betrayal that stretch back over a century and a half. It is hard to imagine how his record could be bested by a successor in the White House. He is acting to surpass the record of his first term. While he has declared war on the country in conformance with a Marxist ideology, and has acted to cripple and bankrupt the country's economy, stack the judiciary with ideological bedfellows, enfeeble and literally emasculate the military, and erase America's exceptionalism, his first term was riddled with corruption, scandal, and hubristic arrogance. Need any reader be reminded of TARP, or the bailout of General Motors, of Solyndra, the Affordable Care Act, and other highlights of Obama's first term? Not to mention his de facto alliance with this country's enemies, represented by the Muslim Brotherhood, and his ostensive foreign policy failures, especially in the Mideast?

I say "ostensive," because, in the final analysis, they were meant to fail. That is, the "Arab Spring" was intended to be taken over by this country's enemies. His foreign policies "failures" and "miscalculations" are part and parcel of his malice and the contempt in which he holds this country.

An American president now has vastly more executive power than did George III in Madison's time, and more influence on Congress than had the British monarch on Parliament. Madison and others of his generation struggled to erect a legal, constitutional wall between the executive and legislative branches, specifying that neither branch should have any power or influence over the other. On July 17th, Madison spoke on the separation of powers:

If it be essential to the preservation of liberty that the Legislative, Executive, and Judiciary powers be separate, it is essential to maintenance of the separation, that they should be independent of each other. The Executive could not be independent of the Legislature, if dependent on the pleasure of that branch for reappointment [the idea was proposed during the Convention to grant Congress the power to appoint the President]. Why is it determined that the Judges should not hold their places by such a tenure? Because they might be tempted to cultivate the Legislature by undue complaisance, and thus render the Legislature the virtual expositor, as well the maker of laws…and then tyrannical laws may be made that they may be executed in a tyrannical manner….**

On July 19th he remarked on the election of the President:

If it be a fundamental principle of free Government, that the Legislative, Executive and Judiciary powers should be separately exercised, it is equally so that they be independently exercised. There is the same and perhaps greater reason why the Executive should be independent of the Legislature, than why the Judiciary should: A coalition of the two former powers would be more immediately and certainly dangerous to public liberty.

It is essential then that the appointment of the Executive should either be drawn from some source, or held by some tenure, that will give him a free agency with regard to the Legislature. This could not be if he was to be appointable from time to time by the Legislature….Certain it was that the appointment would be attended with intrigues and contentions that ought not to be unnecessarily admitted….The people at large was in [Madison's] opinion the fittest in itself.

The substitution of electors [i.e., the Electoral College] obviated this difficulty [in a popular election of the President] and seemed on the whole to be liable to the fewest objections.***

Madison and other Founders viewed the Senate as a bulwark against populist movements originating in the House of Representatives, movements that would undermine liberty and deprive minorities of their rights and freedom. He was adamantly opposed to populating the Senate with as many seats as there would be in the House.

The use of the Senate is to consist in its proceeding with more coolness, with more system, and with more wisdom, than the popular branch. Enlarge their number and you communicate to them the vices which they are meant to correct.****

Obama's cabinet and government appointments without exception came and continue to come from the radical left. He has alienated our allies, and befriended our enemies. He has overseen with demonstrable negligence and encouragement the infiltration by this country's Islamic enemies of all the branches of government charged with the defense of the country. He has endorsed policies that prohibit those branches from even identifying by name this country's committed enemies.

Coolness? Wisdom? Has anyone noticed these virtues in operation in the Senate over the last four years? The Senate has behaved like a handmaiden of the House in virtually every piece of statist, liberty-obviating legislation sent from the House, legislation contrived and passed at the behest of the Executive branch.

At this point in our history, all three branches are in philosophical collusion – that philosophy being collectivist in essence and ultimately totalitarian in end – something neither Madison nor Patrick Henry nor even Alexander Hamilton could have imagined could befall this country.

At this point in our history, it is James Madison versus Barack Obama. And it is incumbent upon those who value their freedom to rediscover Madison. We owe him.

*James Madison: Writings. New York: The Library of America, 1999. Ed. Jack N. Rakove.  p. 128.
**Madison, op cit., p. 126.
***Madison, op cit., p. 127-128.
****Madison, op cit., p. 98.


BLNelson said...

I would add Woodrow Wilson to the list of horrible presidents - it was in his administration that the Senate became a popularly elected body, just like the House, by virtue of the 17th Amendment, leading to today - when both bodies certainly can be bribed.... Wilson also imposed on us the Income Tax. I agree that Obama eclipses all previous presidents no matter how bad, but only because step by step the protections put in place by the founders have either been obviated or decimated.

Edward Cline said...

BLNelson: Yes, you're right about Wilson, who also approved of the renewal of the draft. I would've also mentioned the popular electionof the Senate, but wanted to keep the column short and punchy. Thanks for your input. Ed

Edward Cline said...

A British friend and correspondent sent me these remarks about the column, but he's too shy to post them himself. So, here they are.

I do not think you can really understand the glory that is/was America until you understand its British intellectual and political roots - Coke, Lilburne, Walwyn, Overton, Locke, Trenchard, etc..

The funny thing about British colonies is that - as British colonies - they were already free.

When Henry VIII finally stuffed the Papists one of greatest benefits to Britain was that this country - unlike France or Spain - had no canon law to morph into an administrative law, with its vast choking, regulatory bureaucracy.

Hence, all the UK charters and contacts, a vast corpus of laws, letters patent, grants, etc. were written in a very British context - even the US colonial press [which played a huge US cultural/intellectual role] was full of British stories expounding British values - Addison's 'Cato,' for example, the most popular play during the War of Independence - is a thoroughly English play.

The American contribution is unique because, as free colonies, the colonists were permitted, indeed expected, to make their own local laws, covenants and ordinances as they saw fit - and they use implicit and explicit British values to do so - even in the Declaration of Independence the archetypal US terminology "pursuit of happiness" "inalienable rights" etc., is of English origin [Locke].

But it was American thought and blood that condensed and concentrated these ideas - severing the ties with the Crown which we had tried - and failed to do - 100 years earlier - cementing them into the very foundations of the US.

The current US President may feel the founders' US Constitution is fundamentally "flawed" but I shudder to think what might have happened to the world had they failed.

We would have been finished by 1840 like the rest of Europe.

Anonymous said...

The Revolution was based on radical Whig thought. However in 18th century Britain, such ideas were held by a small minority. In America, the same ideas were held by a majority of educated people. When the European Enlightenment collapse, there was no American thinker to save it. Until Ayn Rand, that is.