The Arrogance of Power?

In one of the more bizarre essays printed in the Oregonian this year, James Huffman of the Law School at Lewis and Clark, condemns the timid Obama administration of arrogance.  We’re not sure what Huffman has been smoking, but it must have affected his political memory.  Granted, Obama affects that head-tilted, eyes-on-the-horizon gaze that could be misconstrued as arrogance. More likely he’s just choosing his words carefully, in contrast to the previous White House occupant, who was both careless and arrogant as a matter of policy.

Huffman claims Obama rammed health care reform down our throats and against our will, rushed through an ill-conceived stimulus package, is pushing command and control cap-and-trade legislation, and is puppeteering the auto industry in dictatorial fashion.  All this is false, and presented without context.  Let’s review.

Obama actually delegated health care reform to congress, and if anything, has shown a lack of leadership. Obama’s stimulus package, regarded by many economists as too modest, was merely a follow-up to the previous administration’s Wall Street bail out, which initially demanded $700 billion from the American people in a three page memo (no arrogance there). The cap-and-trade legislation was crafted in congress, not the White House, and it will be a boon to guess who: Wall Street traders. And finally, the feds (that would be United States citizens) temporarily called a few shots at GM because we own the company.  That’s what owners do.  Not that we asked to own GM; they asked us to buy them.

So, in summary, Obama has actually been a model of restraint.  So have congressional Democrats, compared to the Republican-controlled congress before them. Let’s cut through the clutter of this bill or that, and look at the big picture: back in Bush’s first term, with a smaller Senate majority, Republicans constantly threatened “the nuclear option” should Democrats filibuster too forcefully.  And what did Republicans do when they lost their majority in the Senate in 2009? They doubled the use of the filibuster.  Meanwhile, with 60 seats Democrats had the ability to break filibusters. Did they exercise this power?  Not once.  And the dreaded “nuclear option?” It hasn’t been whispered since the R’s lost their majority. So if anything, Obama and congressional Democrats haven’t been arrogant enough.

The laugher in all this is the contrast between Obama and his predecessor in their approach to power.  The Bush administration explicitly and openly followed a philosophy of “the unitary executive.”  Cheney especially had been on a decades-long crusade to restore power to what he considered an emasculated branch of government.  And they did this with an arrogance that dwarfs Huffman’s complaints about Obama.

To recap just a few examples. We still don’t know who constituted the administration’s Energy Task Force in 2001. Top-secret stuff. Dick Cheney’s response on ABC in 2005 to the majority of Americans who had concluded that the Iraq War was not worth it: “So?” His response to Senator Patrick Leahy (Vt.) when questioned about his ties to Halliburton? “Go f*ck yourself.” We’ve already covered Bush’s $700 million give away to Wall Street, with not much more than a Post It note for collateral. Speaking of Wall Street give aways, Bush’s attempted privatization of Social Security would have bankrupted the system – a conservative dream – before he left office. Then there was the repeated re-writing scientific reports by administration political hacks. And let’s not forget the most egregious abuse of power since Nixon: the Iraq War, predicated on false premises, which were cynically dismissed as “intelligence failures.” And the war’s ugly little cousin, torture memos.

Obama, arrogant? Sorry Mr. Huffman, he’s a duffer compared to the preceding administration and their pals in congress.


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