- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Some commentators have asserted recently that President Obama and his administration are incompetent. Mort Zuckerman perceives “something amateurish and incompetent.” For Dick Morris and Eileen McGann, Mr. Obama’s reaction to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill “calls to mind Jimmy Carter’s incompetence in the face of the hostage crisis.” Indeed, they conclude that the president “is failing because he is incompetent.”

When it comes to expanding and perpetuating the power of his administration and its ideological allies and transforming the country for their benefit, Mr. Obama is anything but incompetent. His administration has pursued a razzle-dazzle offense so swift and relentless that the president and his regime have only begun to digest the spoils of their victories. To illustrate, let us consider a sampling of his legislative, administrative and judicial accomplishments.

First, the administration trampled the legal rights of creditors, nationalizing two U.S. auto manufacturers to subsidize politically loyal unions that had brought the companies to ruin in the first place. According to the TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) inspector general, after the takeover, the president’s “auto team” ordered the immediate termination of one-quarter of GM and Chrysler dealerships. This was not done to cut costs, but rather on the basis of race and politics. Thus, racial preferences preserved the businesses of likely supporters, while the companies simultaneously were pressured to close rural dealerships even though they gave GM and Chrysler an advantage over import brands. Union and urban jobs were saved; tens of thousands of red-state jobs were killed.

As for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, its trillion dollars or so in “stimulus” spending was a veritable festival of pork. The bill did a great deal to reward Democratic Party constituencies and virtually nothing to boost private-sector employment. Instead, the “stimulus” spawned thousands of new government jobs, funneling federal dollars into union dues for Democrats’ campaign coffers.


Then, after excluding all but its allies from secret, dead-of-night drafting sessions, the administration resorted to an unprecedented use of the “reconciliation” process to ram through legislation that essentially nationalizes the health care industry. Rolled into that same massive bill was a takeover of the student loan business, assorted racial and union preferences, and a host of other provisions whose full implications are only now being sorted out.

Recently, another huge bill, also drafted in the dark, has given the administration sweeping control over the financial industry in the name of “reform.” No surprise - this legislation dramatically expands the power of Washington over yet another industry, creates dozens of new boards and bureaucracies, codifies racial-preference regimes and assures this president still more control over business and consumer conduct.

All of these bills foster dependence on government and strip the private sector of freedom and financial resources. To accomplish this, the president and his administration have come up with an approach that works very well for them. They meet behind closed doors with allies and favored constituents and craft massive, thousand-page bills whose sheer density effectively conceals many provisions that could not pass if exposed to the light of day. Rammed quickly through Congress on purely partisan votes, they become law before any public analysis is done of their contents. Discussion and disclosure, potentially so messy and inconvenient, are avoided almost entirely.

Although completely at odds with candidate Obama’s promises about transparency, this hide-the-ball strategy has succeeded for Mr. Obama, who cares more about results than about campaign pledges. Indeed, for this administration, deception of the public about the content and effect of legislation - e.g., the repeated false claims that health care “reform” would save billions - has been very effective. Mr. Obama uses this tool skillfully, manipulating the ever-willing mainstream media, which have been complicit to the point of deliberately coordinating their stories and their attacks on the administration’s critics (as the Journolist diaries make crystal-clear).

Where legislation seems uncertain of passage, our president’s many appointees have stepped into the breech. Thus, although its comprehensive energy legislation is stalled for now, the Gulf oil spill provided the administration with an opportunity to shut down offshore drilling - albeit through orders twice found to be illegal by federal courts and still in litigation. Whatever the ultimate outcome, the president has succeeded in crippling a major industry he and his supporters don’t like. And the several hundred thousand jobs killed in the process? Well, let’s just say the victims weren’t among the constituencies valued by our president.

All across the federal bureaucracy, the administration’s appointees are taking steps to get done, via agency rules and orders, what cannot be achieved through legislation. Thus, the Federal Trade Commission, which historically concerns itself with anti-competitive mergers and deceptive advertising, is studying the “reinvention” of journalism. The Federal Communications Commission is looking at new ways to regulate talk radio and political blogs, coincidentally strongholds of dissent.

Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security and its U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement are so committed to advancing an amnesty agenda in lieu of securing borders and enforcing immigration laws that the Border Patrol agents’ union board passed a unanimous vote of “no confidence” in ICE’s leadership. Similarly, the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division refuses to clean up voter rolls, declines to take legal action to protect the civil rights of whites and takes no action to prevent the disenfranchisement of deployed military personnel even though laws on the books require such actions. And on it goes, with Mr. Obama’s minions looking for additional ways to expand political power and patronage, never mind the rule of law.

As for “limited government,” historically the federal courts imposed some check on legislative and executive power. Here again, the Obama administration presses its program, with judicial nominees wed to the most radical and expansive views of federal power. In confirmation hearings, our newest Supreme Court justice, Elena Kagan, declined to agree that it would be unconstitutional for the government to compel people to eat particular foods. Other Obama nominees to the bench are cut from the same cloth. The Founders’ concept of a federal government with limited, enumerated powers is not what our president and his judiciary have in mind.

Mr. Obama is audacious and aggressive, willing to bend rules and twist arms to get things done, if not through Congress, then through czars and other worms in the woodwork or an activist judiciary. His administration is empowering and enriching a Washington ruling elite whose members will respect neither the liberty nor the property of American citizens. Incompetence would be preferable.

Ray Hartwell is a Navy veteran and a Washington lawyer.