- - Monday, March 12, 2012


When Barack Obama became president of the United States, he swore an oath to “preserve, protect and defend our Constitution.” Unfortunately, evidence has accumulated ever since that he feels no obligation to honor his commitment.

In fact, Mr. Obama has been violating that oath, left and, well, left. Here are a few of the most egregious examples:

  • Under the president’s health care legislation, now universally known as Obamacare, Americans are compelled to purchase health care. The constitutionality of this measure is being tested in court at this writing. But such a mandate smacks of big-government overreach that must be struck down by the Supreme Court.
  • Then, in January, there were Mr. Obama’s “recess” appointments of several controversial nominees to positions requiring Senate confirmation. For the first time in the country’s history, a president made such appointments when the Senate was not actually in recess.

On the basis of this precedent, Mr. Obama (or his successors) may choose to flout senators’ constitutional prerogative even further - say by making recess appointments when the Senate breaks for lunch. Given the lack of outcry or meaningful push-back from senators to date, why not?

  • The latest, and one of the most ominous, examples of Mr. Obama’s low regard for the Constitution came to light in congressional testimony last week by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta. He told incredulous senators that the United States would only go to war in Syria if it got international permission. Wherever you come down on the advisability of America engaging militarily in yet another Middle Eastern nation, if we decide it is in our national interest to do so, it should be up to our elected representatives, not the United Nations, the Arab League or some other multilateral entity.

Mr. Panetta added true insult to constitutional injury. He declared that the administration might or might not inform Congress should it decide to use force. Presumably, any such decision would, like the U.S. intervention in Libya, be dressed up as a humanitarian operation. Its true purpose, however, surely would be to topple the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad - a government that, like Moammar Gadhafi’s, it was assiduously romancing until recently.

These were not misstatements or Freudian slips on the part of the defense secretary. In his hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Mr. Panetta declined several opportunities to clarify or revise his position. Consequently, one can only conclude that Team Obama has embraced the sort of diminution of U.S. sovereignty that helped scupper John Kerry’s presidential bid in 2004, when he pledged to seek U.N. permission before engaging in military action.

Many years ago, I had the privilege of working for the late, truly great Democratic Sen. Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson. It is inconceivable to me that such anti-constitutional misconduct - by a president of either party - would be tolerated were he still in the U.S. Senate.

Scoop Jackson would have been affronted by the dire implications of such behavior for the system of checks and balances that is enshrined in the Constitution and is supposed to limit the scope and potential for abuse of the government it charters. He would never have stood for relegating our national security decisions to the say-so of others or having our military be, as Mr. Obama once put it, “volunteered” by them.

Ever the level-headed politician, Jackson would have recognized the validity in such cases of the adage “What goes around comes around.” Mr. Obama is creating precedents today that a future Republican president could exploit to the detriment of his partisan rivals. Some of them may turn out to be the very legislators who today are largely turning a blind eye to what this chief executive is doing, evidently on the grounds that the ends justify the means.

It is striking that few, if any, Democrats in Congress appear to recognize the peril to our country posed by Mr. Obama’s anti-constitutional behavior. Even more amazing is that none of them seems to appreciate that they have a vested interest in shoring up the Constitution, not allowing it to be eviscerated, piece by piece. If they allow this to continue, they surely will rue the day at some point in the future when another commander in chief is running roughshod over their institutional duties, prerogatives and policy preferences.

Naturally, in the course of a national election, Democratic politicians are reluctant to part company from the man at the top of their ticket, especially in ways that might be seen to align them with his critics. Still, violating the Constitution is the sort of thing that should compel them to do so. After all, they also took an oath to “support and defend the Constitution.” I feel sure Scoop Jackson would do so, were he alive today. The country urgently needs his successors on Capitol Hill - on both sides of the aisle - to channel his character and fidelity to the oath of office that they all have sworn.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy (SecureFreedom.org), a columnist for The Washington Times and host of Secure Freedom Radio, heard in Washington weeknights at 9 p.m. on 1260 AM.

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