Jay Fleitman: Obama’s lawless administration
NORTHAMPTON — Two weeks ago Eric Holder and the Justice Department filed suit against the state of Louisiana to stop its school voucher programs for poor children. New Orleans had started a school choice program in 2008 which was expanded to the entire state in 2012. Under this program, financial support is offered to allow poor families whose children are enrolled in failing schools.
Ninety percent of the children in this program are minorities, yet the Justice Department is suing the state of Louisiana under civil rights laws claiming this program “impedes the desegregation process ... (by) increasing the racial identifiability” of the schools these children leave behind.
The Obama presidency took measures to stop a similar program for poor children in Washington, D.C., under which poor black children could enroll in the same school attended by Obama’s daughters. That program had its funding reinstated by the Republican Congress.
Many of the Obama administration’s actions are difficult to understand if they are looked at as expressions of core principles. In fact, though the administration is characterized as being far left, I have often found it impossible to discern a belief system that drives his decisions.
Despite the bipartisan belief that improving education in the U.S. is a national priority, particularly for improving the prospects of poor children, this administration took the actions described above.
The only plausible explanation is that of a political reward to teachers’ unions for support during his elections.
There are similar examples of attempts to project power through cabinet departments and government agencies. The lawsuit brought against Boeing by the National Labor Relations Board is seemingly the same use of the levers of government. Boeing invested billions in building a new plant in South Carolina to expand its manufacturing capabilities in the U.S. There was no apparent intention by Boeing to reduce its manufacturing in the state of Washington, which is a union state, by building new facilities in South Carolina, which is a right-to-work state. This lawsuit was brought against a major American manufacturer in the middle of a deep recession with high unemployment. Rational economics would have encouraged this investment in American manufacturing by Boeing rather than risk seeing this work shipped to another country. The NLRB action rewarded unions for their support in the president’s election.
This administration has used government agencies to attack its opponents with a virulence unseen since the Nixon administration. The recent abuse by the IRS in targeting conservative organizations to keep them from being active in election activities was breathtaking in its audacity. The Justice Department has also been a tool of political payback as seen in its actions against reporters of the Associated Press and Fox News.
The Justice Department action several years ago against the Republican owner of the Gibson Guitar Co. was similarly astonishing. As a reminder, the Justice Department filed suit to stop manufacturing of this iconic American product in the middle of a deep recession using an arcane law passed in the early 1900s having to do with the finishing of wood products imported from overseas. Many workers lost their jobs and the only conceivable explanation was that this administration used the Justice Department to assail political opposition and send a message of how far it is willing to go in doing so.
A lack of principle seems also evidenced by revelations of widespread monitoring by the National Security Agency of communications by and between American citizens. I do not believe that this was begun by this administration, but it appears to have vastly expanded. Most liberal politicians at the federal level railed against the Patriot Act when it was passed by the Bush government, but now we have a president who has vastly expanded this surveillance. Given this government’s evident willingness to use its powers to punish its domestic opponents, there is cold comfort in the argument that this is needed for national security.
An extensive discussion can be made on the flipside of this issue, which is this president’s willingness to not enforce the laws of the land that he chooses to ignore. Article 2, Section 3, of the Constitution states that the president “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” and like all American citizens does not allow him the luxury of picking or choosing which laws to obey.
Whether it is offering a “get out of jail card” to the requirements of the Affordable Care Act or, as the Justice Department just decided to instruct its agents to ignore federal marijuana laws, there is an aspect of lawlessness to this presidency.
In short, many of the actions of our government resist understanding from the perspective of principle. It seems that many of this administration’s decisions are based on rewarding friends, punishing opponents or expanding its power. How then are we different from so many Third World countries whom we lecture about democracy?
Jay Fleitman, M.D., lives in Northampton. His column appears the first Tuesday of the month. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.