- - Tuesday, May 21, 2013

There is an old proverb that goes something like this: From the mouths of babes and drunks comes the truth. It is pretty dated. If you were to create that proverb today, you might have to include politicians and their advisers. You never know what they are going to say next, and at times it can be pretty revealing.

Take David Axelrod, one of President Obama’s most amusing spinners. He recently opined — if that is the right term — that the government the president leads is so “vast” that the president cannot be expected to know, much less be accountable for, what goes on in it. Imagine that. This is the same man who wants to grow that same government and to give the same agency that prompted his remarks — the Internal Revenue Service — much more authority over those same Americans it has already abused. So the IRS will not only enforce American political conformity, it will soon enforce American health care as well. If, however, government is already too “vast” to be managed by the official elected by the people for that purpose, then it should have less, not more, responsibility. For once, Mr. Axelrod said something that is authentically true. He has conceded that the government is too big.

Presumably, Mr. Axelrod is neither a babe nor a drunk. He is a political adviser, and in an effort to spin a way for the president out of a scandal, he admitted something that most thinking Americans already know: The president of the United States is incapable of understanding or managing the vast government he inherited, much less the vastly greater government he favors. We do know that he sets the tone for the government, and the president did make a sport of bashing the conservative targets of the IRS during that period. The proposition that the president is not accountable for the IRS when it steps over the line is a sobering one.

The United States is, on paper at least, a democracy. This means its government must be chosen by, and be accountable to, the electorate. As President Lincoln said, it is supposed to be a government of the people, by the people, for the people. Under the constitutional charter that is the framework for our democracy, the president is elected to lead and manage the executive branch. According to Mr. Axelrod, however, he simply can’t. Under this thesis, Americans will have to choose between their democracy and their government. It is that simple.


If you are the president, and are true to the oath that you took when you assumed office, the correct choice is obvious. You have to faithfully execute your duties as president and preserve, protect and defend — to the best of your ability — the democratic form of government established by the Constitution. If government has become too large for the president to understand or manage, then his oath requires the president to correct that. In other words, he must make government smaller and more accountable. No president should ever be allowed to use surrogates to spin away from his sworn responsibility as president to the people who elected him.

There are some ironies in Washington that are just too sublime to escape mention. The idea that a rogue government should attack constitutional fundamentalists in the Tea Party, and in so doing, vindicate the Tea Party’s own ideals has to be one of the most delicious ironies of all. The Tea Party needs to seize the moment to recognize and honor one of its own. Mr. Axelrod finally has come out of his closet and joined the ranks of small-government conservatives. Undoubtedly the president would have his back, if he just knew what was going on.

Warren L. Dean Jr. practices law in Washington, D.C., and is an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center.