During class today, my American Government students asked about a quote from a primary source document that was found in their reading assignment.
The liberty of man, in society, is to be under no other legislative power, but that established, by consent, in the commonwealth; nor under the dominion of any will, or restraint of any law, but what that legislative shall enact, according to the trust put in it. . . . [F]reedom of men under government is, to have a standing rule to live by, common to every one of that society, and made by the legislative power erected in it; a liberty to follow my own will in all things, where the rule prescribes not; and not to be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, arbitrary will of another man. . . .
We talked about it for a while, and thrashed it out to mean something along these lines.
A free people is legitimately subject only to those laws passed by a duly constituted legislative body and regulations issued pursuant to such legislation. We are not a free people when “the law” is based upon the decisions of one man (or, perhaps, a group of men), enacted without the approval of the legislative branch or contrary to the will of the will of that branch, and when the laws are arbitrarily changed or unenforced without the consent of the legislative branch.
Which led one of my students to start talking about this news story (not this particular article, but this story).
President Barack Obama vowed Tuesday to use the power of executive actions to bypass the unfriendly Republican-controlled House in order to advance his liberal economic agenda.
Obama focused on improving the up-and-down economic recovery as he convened his first Cabinet meeting of 2014 and made clear he'll be doing so with or without the help of the embattled Congress.
'We're not just going to be waiting for legislation in order to make sure that we're providing Americans the kind of help they need,' the president said.
(NOTE TO READERS -- No, I didn't prompt anyone to bring the story up. And I've only had these kids for two weeks, so don't write it off to teacher bias.)
The discussion that ensued was one of those that teachers dream about -- one that shows kids are actually paying attention to the world around them and thinking about the things they see, hear, and read. I just stood back and moderated. What surprised me was the number of them who really had a problem with Obama's statement and his actions in recent weeks regarding ObamaCare, given their age and the makeup of the class.
I didn't give my opinion to my students -- but I will give it here.
Our constitution vests the legislative authority – the ability to make laws – in the Congress. But Barack Obama does not want to wait for Congress to act, and does not respect the decision of Congress not to adopt his preferred policies. Obama therefore insists upon the right to unilaterally create his own laws through executive orders – or, in the case of ObamaCare, to rewrite provisions of the law and waive deadlines and mandates that the law prescribes. In doing so, Obama has made and will continue to make the laws of this country “subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, arbitrary will of another man” – himself – rather than the will of the duly established legislative branch.
The sad thing is that Obama knows he can do this with impunity. Members of his party in the House will not vote to impeach, and members of his party in the Senate will not vote to remove him. As a result, Obama can paint any opposition as a partisan effort by Republicans, despite the fact that he is clearly violating the laws and the Constitution which he has sworn to uphold.
We do, however, have a chance to limit the damage. This fall, we can elect men and women who believe in upholding the Constitution and following the laws of this country – regardless of their party. Such folks would have the character that would lead them to put the brakes on Obama power grabs which violate Constitution. And while I would prefer that these new men and women be members of the GOP, I would be content if they were Democrats who still had respect for the limits of the Constitution and put fidelity to that document above partisan advantage. Because it is only fidelity to the Constitution and assurance that the legislative power is in the hands of those to whom it was properly delegated that we will return to the situation where we the people are not subject to “subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, arbitrary will of” a single man – of any party.
John Locke lived in a very different age than we do today -- but the issues that the British people faced at the time of the Glorious Revolution really are not too different from those we face today. Their example shows us there is hope for reigning in government run amok. Our solution need not be identical to theirs -- deposing a ruler and bringing in new ones -- but we can certainly find our own that fits the needs of our nation today.