In March 2003, amidst simmering legislative controversy over the future of Chicago’s lakefront airport, Meigs Field, then-Mayor Richard M. Daley sent bulldozers in the dead of night to carve the letter “X” several times into the runway, rendering the airport useless and ending the debate. That stunt is a model for President Barack Obama’s second term, in which he is determined to exceed the boundaries of his power.
On every front, the Obama administration is testing its constitutional limits. Yesterday’s announcement of 23 executive orders to implement gun control without the consent of Congress is only the most recent example. Obama knows that some of the orders will not stand, just as some of the legislation he has proposed will not pass. But if he can make even a small dent in the Second Amendment, he can change the debate forever.
Likewise on the debt ceiling, where Obama has indicated bluntly that he will not even negotiate with Republicans. In 2006, Obama railed against a new debt ceiling increase, when the national debt was $8 trillion--half of what it is today--just as he raged against what he saw as the expansion of executive power under President George W. Bush. Now that he is the one in control, Obama is determined to seize whatever he can.
The list goes on. Obama has already used his executive power to create a “Dream Act” by fiat, staying the deportation of illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. He is challenging the First Amendment religious liberty of faith institutions that do not wish to provide insurance coverage for abortion or contraception. He is usurping the Senate’s power to review appointments or even to determine when it is in recess.
In other words, welcome to Chicago.
It is worth remembering that at the outset of his improbably fortunate political career, Obama dared not dream of the presidency; his ambition was to be mayor of Chicago, just like Harold Washington, whose pioneering victory drew Obama to Chicago in the first place. He began by railing against the Daley machine. He ended by submitting to it, then winning its support and making it his own.
Obama now rules America the Chicago way. He plays to racial and ethnic divisions and resentments, stoking class warfare while convincing business leaders that he is the only game in town. He punishes opponents harshly and rewards supporters generously, putting the “bully” in pulpit and the “crony” in capitalism. He behaves as if Congress is the Chicago City Council--a one-party chamber whose rancor can be safely ignored.
The results for Chicago are a forecast for America. The city enjoyed a renewal during the Bill Clinton--nay, Michael Jordan--era. But the city’s economy is struggling--one in three Illinoisans lives in or near poverty--and its population has been declining, even as it struggles with huge debts and unfunded pensions. The rich huddle in small pockets while the murder rate skyrockets and the mayor fiddles with distractions like gay marriage.
Obama is not offering solutions in his second term to our pressing fiscal and economic problems. He is focusing on marginal but divisive issues to stun the opposition and put in place as many radical changes as he can before his time runs out. His Cabinet picks are undistinguished men who have been wrong about everything, and whose chief qualification is their ideological conformity and their unquestioning loyalty to his agenda.
Meanwhile, our nation’s troubles continue. We will likely see another debt downgrade soon, which the media will again fail to blame on the president. New threats to our national security are emerging from an expanding Al Qaeda and an emboldened Iran and China, while our allies are on their own. The generation that voted Obama into office, both times, is ironically the least hopeful that they will live better lives than their parents did.
Rahm Emanuel famously observed, at the dawn of Obama’s first term, that “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste” because it “provides the opportunity for us to do things that you could not do before.” Obama still wants to do many things that could not--and ought not--be done. So he creates new crises to exploit. America cannot move forward except on his terms.
Hizzoner, the Mayor of America.
Welcome to Chicago.
Photo credit: Chicago Magazine