As Bob Hope and Bing Crosby observed in Road to Bali:
He gets his shirts straight from Paris
Cigarettes from the Nile
He talks like a highbrow
But he plays Chicago style . . .
I’ve no idea where President Obama gets his shirts and smokes, but he certainly talks like a highbrow, sufficiently so to persuade presidential historian Michael Beschloss to pronounce him the day after the 2008 election “the smartest president ever.” Yet, in the end, he plays Chicago style. You can take the community organizer out of Chicago, but you can’t take the Chicago out of the community organizer. Or as the Agence France-Presse headline put it, “Combative Obama Warns Supreme Court on Health Law.”
Headlines in which the executive “warns” the courts are usually the province of places like Balochistan, where powerful cabinet ministers are currently fuming at the chief justice’s determination to stop them kidnapping citizens and holding them for ransom — literally, that is, not merely figuratively, as in America. But, here as there, when Obama “warns” the Supreme Court “over health law,” it’s their health prospects he has in mind. He cautioned the justices — “an unelected group of people” — not to take the “unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.”
The eunuchs of the palace media gleefully piled on: As the New York Times sees it, were the justices to take an “unprecedented” step so unprecedented there are two centuries’ worth of precedents going back to 1803, they would be fatally damaging “the Court’s legitimacy.”
All that’s unprecedented here is the spectacle of the president of the United States, while the judges are deliberating, idly swinging his tire iron and saying, “Nice little Supreme Court you got here. Shame if anything were to happen to it.”
A nation can have formal “checks and balances,” but in the end free societies depend on a certain deference to the proprieties. If you’re willing to disdain those, you can drive a coach and horses through accepted norms very easily. The bit about “a democratically elected Congress” was an especially exquisite touch given Obama’s recently professed respect for the democratic process: As he assured Vladimir Putin’s sock puppet the other day, he’ll have “more flexibility” to accommodate foreign interests after he’s got his “last election” and all that tedious democracy business out of the way. His “last election,” I hasten to add, not America’s.
Aside from his contempt for judicial review and those rube voters, what other checks and balances doesn’t he have time for? Well, he makes “recess appointments” when the Senate isn’t in recess, thus circumventing the dreary business of confirmation by that “democratically elected” legislature he likes so much. But hey, it’s only members of the National Labor Relations Board and the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, so why get hung up on constitutional niceties?
By the way, have you heard of this Consumer Financial Protection Bureau? No? Don’t worry, no big deal, it’s just a new federal agency. Because we can always use another of those, right? What’s one more acronym jostling in the ever-more-crowded alphabet soup of federal regulation? CFTC, CPSC, CNPP, and now CFPB. Not to be confused with CFPB-FM, the Inuit radio station just south of the Arctic Circle in the Nunavut village of Kugaaruk, where in 1975 the world’s all-time coldest wind chill was recorded: minus 135 degrees Fahrenheit.