Obama’s Success: It’s the Institutions, Stupid

 

Over the past few weeks and months, Obama has been winning. His administration has proved unstoppable on just about every item on its agenda, from environmental and energy regulation to illegal immigration to gay marriage to Obamacare. Indeed, the president recently acknowledged this obliquely, saying that gun control “has been the one area where I feel that I’ve been most frustrated and most stymied.” It’s difficult to find any other area where conservatives have held back the progressive tide. The next president will be hard-pressed to contain the damage to our economy, our international interests, and our liberty.

Two competing narratives dominate the 2016 GOP nomination contest. The first stresses competence and experience. Obama, this narrative goes, came to office as a community organizer with no real-world experience and little political experience. He surrounded himself with ignorant young hacks, and has stumbled from one mistake to another. Thus we need to nominate an experienced administrator with a proven record as an executive: no more first-term senators.

The second narrative is that despite his inexperience, Obama has achieved his goals. He surrounded himself with ideologues. His vision and his will were all it took. Experience, according to this narrative, is overrated. We need a candidate who can inspire.

What if both narratives are wrong?

In fact, Obama has not achieved his successes through formal, Constitutional means, but through executive agencies and the courts. Those democratically-unaccountable institutions are comprised of people who share Obama’s vision and have largely been happy to stretch the boundaries of their institutions’ power and the law. The only arena in which Obama has been obliged to persuade, cajole, or fire is defense; even there, a culture of deference to elected civilian authority has made Obama’s job fairly easy. Otherwise, he just rode the Federal Beast in the direction it already wanted to go. He has been able to spend his days golfing, while the media — a cadre of progressive activists — has been there to cheer him on.

A Republican president will not have it so easy. Bureaucrats outwait elected officials, then outwit them with organizational jiu-jitsu, foot-dragging, and press leaks. Firing clandestinely insubordinate civil servants is no easy matter. Meanwhile, courts suddenly become skeptics of executive power when the executive in question is a Republican, and of duly-passed legislation passed by Republican majorities. The media will not give any quarter. Before the next president can achieve anything on his or her agenda, the ascendant unelected governing institutions must be brought under control. Containment is not enough; only rollback will do.

This will require both competence and vision. Competence and vision such as we saw in the last president who was determined to roll back an evil empire. Do any of the current candidates have that combination? A few give me hope. But even in the best of  circumstances, it will be a difficult and bloody battle. May God grant the Republican Party, and the United States, the wisdom to choose well — and the fortitude to stand for liberty.

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  1. Jules PA Member
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    like. very much.

    • #1
  2. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    I always wondered why after raucous campaigns so little changed when we had new governors or presidents.

    Then I watched Yes, Minister, and everything became clear to me.

    The first thing a Republican should do–and I wish GW had done it, particularly the CIA and FBI–is fire everyone. Of course, that is a luxury executives have in the private sector, not the unionized government offices.

    I also wish people would be patient with a new Republican president. It may take a year or two to see any spending reductions or tax relief.

    Republicans taking over an executive branch office from a Democratic Party administration often find unpaid bills and a lot of crumbling infrastructure.

    • #2
  3. Al Kennedy Inactive
    Al Kennedy
    @AlKennedy

    Thanks for an excellent and prescient post Son of Spengler.  It will be a very hard slog, but I think it is possible.  Some possible tools: zero-base accounting of federal budgets; eliminate federal public sector unions; change to a merit based personnel system from one based on seniority; and move responsibility for things the federal government should not be doing back to the states and fund with block grants.  I think several of the Republican candidates for president would be up to it.

    • #3
  4. Super Nurse Inactive
    Super Nurse
    @SuperNurse

    Great post, and agreed. It seems an insurmountable task. That said, it seems like, for once, we have candidates who say they want to do this and many even have a record of having done this. The REINS act would be a great first piece of legislation to staunch the bleeding.

    • #4
  5. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    I have been worried about the relative youth of the top candidates on the Republican side. But I have been reminding myself that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were in their midthirties.

    The one good thing that came out of the Fox “debate”–and it was hardly a debate–is that, because Trump was the focus of everyone’s attention, the other candidates had a chance to get a taste of what the rest of the campaign season would be like for them. Actually, in a funny way, Trump–not his intention, I’m sure–took some of the pressure off of the other candidates so they could get some valuable experience.

    • #5
  6. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    I don’t think Obama won so much as Republicans lost. I don’t look for that bunch of losers to change anything even if they gain the White House.  All they will do is figure out new ways to lose.  It’s what they do best.

    • #6
  7. Jules PA Member
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    The Reticulator:I don’t think Obama won so much as Republicans lost. I don’t look for that bunch of losers to change anything even if they gain the White House. All they will do is figure out new ways to lose. It’s what they do best.

    Then its Trump or Hillary, and is the question, “who will put us out of our misery sooner, rather than later?”

    • #7
  8. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    I am not so optimistic as to think the bureaucracy can actually be rolled back. There is almost no precedent in history.

    • #8
  9. TeamAmerica Member
    TeamAmerica
    @TeamAmerica

    Very good post. Question is- will any of our nominees have the convictions, character, political skills and stomach to carry this off. Walker and maybe Christie in my opinion; perhaps Cruz or Fiorina.

    • #9
  10. Oblomov Member
    Oblomov
    @Oblomov

    Excellent analysis. Agree 100%.

    However, no amount of competence and vision can produce rollback. Even if you could by some miracle find a President with the vision of Reagan and the competence of Eisenhower, it would not be enough. What is needed is fundamental constitutional reform to bring back some semblance of federalism, constitutional rule of law, checks and balances and fiscal sanity. This kind of reform cannot come from any of the branches of the federal government in Washington, though. It won’t come from the Supreme Court, which has abandoned legal reasoning and now functions as an unapologetic progressive super-legislature. It can’t come from Congress, which is corrupt and grotesque. And it can’t come from the Executive, whose metastasis is the main problem, and which is completely resistant to reform for reasons you identify, even in the extremely unlikely event that we get a good president. It can only come from the states.

    • #10
  11. Larry Koler Inactive
    Larry Koler
    @LarryKoler

    iWe:I am not so optimistic as to think the bureaucracy can actually be rolled back. There is almost no precedent in history.

    Newt’s tenure is the closest in recent years. Many people talk about Coolidge as being effective in this.

    • #11
  12. Don Tillman Member
    Don Tillman
    @DonTillman

    Super Nurse:Great post, and agreed. It seems an insurmountable task.

    As such, yes, it is an insurmountable task.

    The way to address such a task is not to actually do it, but to install mechanisms that do the work for you.  Some of Al Kennedy’s examples are along these lines.

    • #12
  13. TeamAmerica Member
    TeamAmerica
    @TeamAmerica

    Re comment 3- “move responsibility for things the federal government should not be doing back to the states and fund with block grants. ”

    A couple of years ago the WSJ had an article about an African-American man, an employee at a nursing home,  who dealt with a sewage problem that was a potential health hazard at this Washington, DC nursing home by sending it down storm drains, unaware that it was a violation of federal law. As a result, he now has a criminal record. The WSJ pointed out that the US once had three federal laws, and now has 4K or more. A Republican president should make a case for gov’t cutbacks and de-regulation, and humanize the argument by having someone like this gentleman by his side, and publicly pardoning him. This would provide everyone with an example of an actual victim of our administrative state, and living proof of the point of the book- ‘Three Felonies a Day,’ about how over-regulation makes obeying all our laws and regulations virtually impossible.

    • #13
  14. Could be Anyone Member
    Could be Anyone
    @CouldBeAnyone

    I agree that the culture is the main reason. Classical Liberalsim fell onto its back foot against progressivism in 1932 (this is roughly 30 years after progressivism began to influence politics on all levels of government in America) and has been struggling to gain the force needed to win consecutively ever since. This is a major issue because progressivism has maintained its cultural dominance ever since.

    Today many people think Medicaid is a morally right action or that government can create jobs or that the military industrial complex exists (terms of political debate have leftist undertones). This is a result of the long hard fought battle of progressives and the logistics they learned. They honed the statist arguments and used federal government regulation to their benefit in order to control markets from education to radios. Through this domination they have inculcated progressive philosophy into many facets of our culture and this yields their political support and media assistance.

    If we classical liberals want to win back our government, we will have to win most of the culture back from the progressives. This will yield conservative support culturally and legislation at all levels of government resulting in a natural resurgence. It will take many decades (as the it took the progressive decades) but our philosophy is superior and if we simply make the classical liberal case with conviction and debate those progressives with conviction then we will win America back.

    • #14
  15. John Hendrix Thatcher
    John Hendrix
    @JohnHendrix

    Awesome analysis, SoS!  Hat doffed.

    • #15
  16. John Hendrix Thatcher
    John Hendrix
    @JohnHendrix

    Son of Spengler: In fact, Obama has not achieved his successes through formal, Constitutional means, but through executive agencies and the courts. Those democratically-unaccountable institutions are comprised of people who share Obama’s vision and have largely been happy to stretch the boundaries of their institutions’ power and the law. The only arena in which Obama has been obliged to persuade, cajole, or fire is defense; even there, a culture of deference to elected civilian authority has made Obama’s job fairly easy. Otherwise, he just rode the Federal Beast in the direction it already wanted to go. He has been able to spend his days golfing, while the media — a cadre of progressive activists — has been there to cheer him on.

    This “federal beast” is also known as “The Deep State.”  Examples of the Deep State include Lois Lerner, Wisconsin prosecutors’ John Doe probe into Scott Walker’s campaign, SCOTUS’ Obergefell v. Hodges decision, and so on.

    • #16
  17. John Penfold Member
    John Penfold
    @IWalton

    Can we fire the top half of every bureaucracy?  Should we?  Yes to both. Send popular programs to the states with a reduced and declining budget.  Provide the fired employees with 3 to 6 months to learn how to find a job.  Many will be hired by the states who will have to staff up.  The State Department does this already  FSOs not promoted after a certain number of years, must leave but get 3 months of paid time and help to find a  job.  What doesn’t work is a hiring freeze which leaves problem employees in place and doesn’t allow for new blood accountable to new leadership.    If we don’t do this nothing will change, the monster will grow, the stagnant economy will continue because it isn’t just the tax code, it’s the dead hand of all Federal government regulations.   Social Security for instance is just a tax and transfer program, the only real harm it does is give the false impression to people and the nation that they have savings when they and we don’t.  Welfare does great harm by creating dependency,reducing the work force, destroying families.  Healthcare does major damage especially to small and new business, as does Dodd Frank, OSHA, Labor, EPA, pretty much all of them do far more harm than good, if in fact there is any good that comes out of them.   We know how it all ends if we don’t cut dramatically.

    • #17
  18. Nick Stuart Inactive
    Nick Stuart
    @NickStuart

    Well stated Son of Spengler .

    Must admit the first thought that popped into my head was “Of course. This explains why the topic du jour is whether Kelly was unfair to Trump, or Trump was rude to Kelly.”

    Our problems are too critical to waste time on fluff like Kelly v Trump.

    What I think would be doable is for a Republican President to get the Justice Department prosecuting Lois Lerner, and yes Hillary Clinton.

    Also undertaking to rebuild our defense, and the probably impossible task of mending fences with our allies.

    And maybe putting the brakes on our rocket-propelled descent into financial apocalypse.

    • #18
  19. civil westman Inactive
    civil westman
    @user_646399

    Excellent analysis. I’m afraid the only way it can be rolled back is a catastrophe of some kind. Take your pick – natural catastrophe (several exist), a devastating act of war (EMP, successful electrical grid cyber attack), monetary/financial collapse due to debt, or something nobody has thought of.

    • #19
  20. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    civil westman:Excellent analysis. I’m afraid the only way it can be rolled back is a catastrophe of some kind. Take your pick – natural catastrophe (several exist), a devastating act of war (EMP, successful electrical grid cyber attack), monetary/financial collapse due to debt, or something nobody has thought of.

    Agreed. It cannot happen during the normal course of events. The Federal Beast is too large and too expert at maximizing itself to be subdued merely by elected officials. See Yes, Minister.

    • #20
  21. civil westman Inactive
    civil westman
    @user_646399

    iWe:

    civil westman:Excellent analysis. I’m afraid the only way it can be rolled back is a catastrophe of some kind. Take your pick – natural catastrophe (several exist), a devastating act of war (EMP, successful electrical grid cyber attack), monetary/financial collapse due to debt, or something nobody has thought of.

    Agreed. It cannot happen during the normal course of events. The Federal Beast is too large and too expert at maximizing itself to be subdued merely by elected officials. See Yes, Minister.

    Long ago, George Will said the job of administrative agencies is to metastasize. Eventually, metastatic cancer kills the host. It is not just a parasite which at least knows when to stop.

    • #21
  22. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    John Hendrix: This “federal beast” is also known as “The Deep State.” Examples of the Deep State include Lois Lerner, Wisconsin prosecutors’ John Doe probe into Scott Walker’s campaign, SCOTUS’ Obergefell v. Hodges decision, and so on.

    I hadn’t heard this term before, and am curious to know more about where it came from.

    • #22
  23. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    John Penfold:Can we fire the top half of every bureaucracy? Should we? Yes to both. Send popular programs to the states with a reduced and declining budget. Provide the fired employees with 3 to 6 months to learn how to find a job. Many will be hired by the states who will have to staff up. The

    Say yes to term limits for bureaucrats.

    • #23
  24. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Al Kennedy: and move responsibility for things the federal government should not be doing back to the states and fund with block grants.

    Block grants just turn the states into administrative agencies of the federal government and destroy any remaining sovereignty they might use to resist the feds.

    I wrote about this for the member feed back on July 7:  Governor Rick Perry and Block Grants.

    • #24
  25. John Hendrix Thatcher
    John Hendrix
    @JohnHendrix

    The Reticulator:

    John Hendrix: This “federal beast” is also known as “The Deep State.” Examples of the Deep State include Lois Lerner, Wisconsin prosecutors’ John Doe probe into Scott Walker’s campaign, SCOTUS’ Obergefell v. Hodges decision, and so on.

    I hadn’t heard this term before, and am curious to know more about where it came from.

    I first noticed the phrase “The Deep State” when reading about Turkey.  The Wikipedia article on the Deep State gives a decent description:

    The deep state (Turkish: derin devlet) is alleged to be a group of influential anti-democratic coalitions within the Turkish political system, composed of high-level elements within the intelligence services (domestic and foreign), Turkish military, security, judiciary, and mafia.[1][2] The notion of deep state is similar to that of a “state within the state“. 

    Essentially the phrase “The Deep State” alludes to how the bureaucrats and employees of the government can influence govt actions so as to advance their preferred ideological objectives.

    To be clear, the Turkish Deep State described in the Wikipedia article is not a perfect description of the American Deep State because I regard neither our military nor the mafia as part of the American Deep State.

    That said, I also regard the MSM as part of The Deep State because it appears at least half of them are Democratic operatives and activists with a byline.  Our GOP Elites, for example, probably would have the guts to shut down the federal govt in an confrontation with Obama if they didn’t have to withstand the week after week of being falsely blamed by the MSM for shutting down the govt–Obama should get half the blame too.  Now I am as annoyed as anybody by the GOP Elites’ passive, Pelosi-whipped behavior but my ire is mitigated by understanding that they have a limited amount of political capital, which weeks of stories solely blaming the GOP for a govt shutdown can significantly reduce.

    • #25
  26. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    John Hendrix: Essentially the phrase “The Deep State” alludes to how the bureaucrats and employees of the government can influence govt actions so as to advance their preferred ideological objectives.

    Thanks.  That does sound like a useful term and the Turkish example is a good point of comparison.

    • #26
  27. Don Tillman Member
    Don Tillman
    @DonTillman

    Don Tillman:The way to address such a task is not to actually do it, but to install mechanisms that do the work for you.

    John Penfold:Can we fire the top half of every bureaucracy?

    Can’t do that.

    But what you could do is adjust the rules so that it is bureaucratically easier to fire someone than to hire someone.  Over time, mission accomplished.

    • #27
  28. Z in MT Member
    Z in MT
    @ZinMT

    civil westman:Excellent analysis. I’m afraid the only way it can be rolled back is a catastrophe of some kind. Take your pick – natural catastrophe (several exist), a devastating act of war (EMP, successful electrical grid cyber attack), monetary/financial collapse due to debt, or something nobody has thought of.

    This is what I was going to bring up. The only way for our institutions to change is to be forced to by external events. I don’t think the public has the will to make changes before a true systemic collapse. Even demagogues require fertile soil in which to mature.

    • #28
  29. John Penfold Member
    John Penfold
    @IWalton

    Don Tillman:

    Don Tillman:The way to address such a task is not to actually do it, but to install mechanisms that do the work for you.

    John Penfold:Can we fire the top half of every bureaucracy?

    Can’t do that.

    But what you could do is adjust the rules so that it is bureaucratically easier to fire someone than to hire someone. Over time, mission accomplished.

    time works against us as the default position is growth, budget increase, expanded reach all of which weakens the economy and feeds back on further growth.  Why can we not cut?  We end programs the people go with them.

    • #29
  30. Don Tillman Member
    Don Tillman
    @DonTillman

    John Penfold:

    Don Tillman:

    But what you could do is adjust the rules so that it is bureaucratically easier to fire someone than to hire someone. Over time, mission accomplished.

    time works against us as the default position is growth, budget increase, expanded reach all of which weakens the economy and feeds back on further growth. Why can we not cut? We end programs the people go with them.

    Well, currently it’s easy for a government agency to hire someone and nearly impossible to fire someone.  So unless a suggestion like mine is implemented, it’s a predictable mechanism of exponential government growth.

    Okay, so you’re asking for something more short term.  Fine.  Short term solutions and long term solutions need to work together; one without the other isn’t very effective.

    Short term solution: Require each government agency to provide a cost/benefit analysis.  Make them justify their own existence.  That would serve as documentation to counter the emotional arguments for their funding.  Worst case, it would align the goals of the government agency towards accomplishment.

    • #30

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