The 19th-century's Henry David Thoreau once heartily concurred with the motto that the best government is the one that governs least, but here's the 21st-century way of things, the new motto, the Barack Obama thesis:
The best government is the one that governs most, and if Congress and the Constitution stand in the way, flatten them and get on with the unaccountable regulatory show.
That was pretty much the message when President Obama announced that Richard Cordray, a former Ohio attorney general, would serve as director of the newly established, hugely powerful Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Without a director in place, the agency had to sit on its hands. Watch now for it to start giving nonbank financial institutions dawn-to-dusk marching orders: Do this, do that, but don't anyone tell us what to do. We don't want to be monitored.
There is damage enough right there, but here comes more — three appointments that will put the National Labor Relations Board back in action following its adventures in Big Boss radicalism. For a while, to make Washington state unions happy, it was thinking about prohibiting Boeing Co. from opening a new plant in South Carolina. It has also been busily figuring out ways to get around fairness to workers in votes about starting unions. An expired term left it without a quorum, and Obama said here he comes with the final deal, rules or no rules.
In appointments like these, the president is supposed to get the approval of the Senate. He didn't. The White House said this was OK because they were recess appointments and the Constitution allows him to act alone when the Senate is not in session. Only it was in session. Because other presidents have played this game over and over, the Senate keeps some people around to go through the motions of conducting business even when most members are home schmoozing with constituents and enjoying some vacation time.
Oh, give us a break, said the White House, observing that a session is a session and a gimmick is a gimmick and this was the latter. Technically, the administration may be right, but the spirit of the Constitution is pretty clear. The idea is to have give and take, not table-pounding autocracy, as even Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid understood when George W. Bush was president.
This time around, he thinks the table-pounding is dandy, and he got some. Obama said the middle class needed protection and Republicans did not want the middle class to have it and were being obstructionists.
Not really. Not this time. Concerning the financial bureau, Senate Republicans were reasonableness personified. Mostly what they wanted was it to be answerable to someone. As of now, it isn't — Congress does not even have to pass on its budget. It is about as free to do what it wants as the late, unlamented Kim Jong Il was free to run North Korea. That does not mean that widespread American famine is now in the offing, but it could mean that an economy beginning to pick up will have to struggle past still more burdens imposed by central planners who cannot possibly grasp all the intricacies understood by those on the scene.
A point to remember as you read about new job creation and the like is that it is occurring more nearly despite the administration than because of it. Businesses have repeatedly made it known through a variety of surveys that they are hesitant to expand in the face of thousands of pages of existing regulations and still more pages coming at them from the Obama administration.
Some regulations are obviously needed, but some congressional regulation of agencies is also needed and regulation of presidents is needed too. The Constitution was a pretty good idea if anyone would pay attention to it.
Scripps Howard News Service