Is America sliding toward autocratic rule? This is the essential question of Barack Obama’s presidency. Mr. Obama vowed to “fundamentally transform” the United States. Despite his incompetence and economic failure, the president is making good on his central promise: the destruction of our constitutional republic. He is trying - piece by painful piece - to reverse the legacy of the Founding Fathers. Conservatives have underestimated him at their peril. For Mr. Obama is not simply an inept, liberal president in the mold of Jimmy Carter. He is an ideological revolutionary who seeks to sweep away traditional America.
The American war of independence did not just overthrow British imperial domination. The Founders forged something almost unique in history: a nation devoted to individual liberty, Christian civilization and federalism. The rule of men was replaced bythe rule of law. The linchpin was constitutional government based on the separation of powers and checks and balances. The American system is entirely predicated on the Constitution. Once the Constitution becomes meaningless or just an inconvenient piece of paper, the American experiment is over. The republic is dead.
This is what’s at stake. Mr. Obama is acting like an arbitrary tyrant. He is running roughshod over the Constitution, egregiously, repeatedly and deliberately violating its restraints and clear limits on federal power. He has publicly admitted that he finds Congress a nuisance, an “obstacle” to his secular socialist project. He has said that he often thinks about “going it alone.” In fact, this is what he has done - so far, largely with impunity.
He waged an illegal war in Libya. The last time Congress officially declared war was in December 1941. Yet Mr. Obama went one step further, something his predecessors - Lyndon B. Johnson, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush - never did: He refused even to ask Congress for authorization. Mr. Obama ignored the War Powers Act, flagrantly circumventing congressional authority.
Moreover, late last year, the massive National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was signed into law, which potentially allows for the military - not domestic courts - to indefinitely detain American citizens suspected of ties to terrorism. The vaguely worded NDAA undermines the rule of law and due process, enabling the government to abrogate the fundamental right to trial. It lends itself to abuse of state power - the very thing our Founders warned against. In the wrong hands, the NDAA could be used as a weapon to persecute - and imprison - political opponents under the guise of fighting terrorism. This is the same administration that has lumped anti-abortion and anti-illegal-immigration activists with radical Islamists as possible “threats” to national security.
Yet it is not just national security. Mr. Obama has created countless policy czars possessing Cabinet-like powers without the approval or consent of the Senate. Recently, he appointed Richard Cordray to be the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau - despite the fact that he lacked needed support in the Senate. Mr. Obama’s response: Take a hike. He parachuted in Mr. Cordray as a recess appointment even though Congress was not in recess. The president has usurped congressional oversight - a clear and dangerous violation of the Constitution.
His greatest assault, however, is on religious freedom. Fortunately, his latest effort sparked a rebellion. Mr. Obama had declared war not just on the Catholic Church, but on the First Amendment. The administration ordered almost all religious organizations to provide health insurance coverage that includes free birth control and sterilization procedures - even the morning-after pill, which can induce abortions. Otherwise, under Obamacare, Catholic hospitals, charities and universities would face major fines totaling millions of dollars. The choice was clear: Catholic institutions must either abandon their fundamental tenets or go bankrupt. The contraceptive mandate denied the conscience rights of the church. It was state-sanctioned coercion of private entities to act against their explicit religious beliefs. This is why it triggered such furor among Catholics and non-Catholics alike. If such basic liberties could be trampled on, then nothing - and no one - is safe from big government’s crushing grip. Fortunately, a three-week outcry forced him to back off.
Like many on the radical left, Mr. Obama is an anti-Christian, anti-religious bigot. His goal is to purge Christianity from civil society, to marginalize religion from the public square. He essentially told the church that Washington, not the Vatican, will dictate how it must run its affairs and administer its social services. He demanded that Catholics sacrifice their beliefs on the altar of secular liberalism. The state - with him at its helm - is the new pagan church. Women’s “reproductive health care” trumps Catholic positions on birth control and abortion. The fact that most health insurers already cover contraception and that it is widely available and accessible to women - just go to your local Walgreens - means nothing to feminists or the powerful abortion lobby. The real aim is to smash the Catholic Church as a bulwark against the sexual revolution, reducing it to a quisling of the liberal regime.
Catholic leaders rightly stood up. The Church understood it was under siege. That may not be over. Mr. Obama could win a second term. Hence, Obamacare - along with its contraceptive mandate - might not be repealed and may even expand. If so, he will have succeeded in giving birth to his Frankenstein monster: a post-constitutional, post-American soft tyranny.
Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a columnist at The Washington Times and president of the Edmund Burke Institute.