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What Part of the Constitution Do Liberals Still Support?

What Part of the Constitution Do Liberals Still Support?

By Frank Donatelli - August 23, 2014

With every passing day, President Obama uses his pen and his phone to expand his power and unilaterally change immigration, health care, energy, and tax laws. These actions have met with the approval of liberals everywhere. This is not a new attitude. Liberals have always been in favor of the “imperial presidency” from Roosevelt to Johnson to Obama, conveniently skipping Richard Nixon, of course. Liberal scholars have long championed the need of chief executives to meet modern exigencies as defined by liberal priorities—so long as a Democrat was in the White House.

Curiously, while liberals believe the chief executive can unilaterally modify laws passed by Congress, they do not accept many constitutional limits on Congress’ legislative jurisdiction. The Constitution specifically delegates certain enumerated powers to the legislative branch, yet the last Congress run by Democrats governed as if it had plenary powers to legislate on any topic. Who can forget the bemused look of then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi when she was asked to state the specific congressional power that authorized Obamacare? So while Congress can legislate on any topic, their actions are subject to unilateral revision by the chief executive.

Of course, in the liberals’ telling, the Supreme Court has no jurisdiction over any of this. The court should not review anything Congress does—even on a straight, party-line vote—because there are no limits on congressional authority. Also, according to the Justice Department, the high court has no power to rule on any of Obama’s unilateral actions, either. The justices might as well take permanent vacations given this view of judicial review. Is there just a whiff of self-interest in this theory of separation of powers?

However, what is most radically different about the Obama liberals’ interpretation of the Constitution is its neutering of the Bill of Rights. To be sure, liberals never had much good to say about the Second, Ninth and 10th Amendments, but now they’re striking at other amendments, even those they once revered.

This president has claimed authority to use drones to kill American citizens. He is copying the last administration here, though this time liberals are untroubled by any Fifth Amendment concerns.

The last vestige of American liberty is certainly the First Amendment’s core guarantees of freedom of speech and religion. Yet, liberals have been cutting back on free expression for years, especially with college campus “speech codes” that outlaw statements deemed offensive to any groups that might feel aggrieved. Rigorous debate and the free expression of ideas are jettisoned in favor of a pop psychological imperative to make groups and individuals feel good about themselves.

This assault on free speech continues with a constitutional amendment proposed by a several Democratic senators that would authorize Congress to regulate “the raising and spending of money and in-kind equivalents with respect to federal elections.” Imagine this language in the hands of acquisitive federal bureaucrats looking for wrongs to correct and matters to regulate and control.

If you doubt that, just check out how the bureaucrats are interpreting Obamacare and religious liberty. Though not specifically required by Obamacare or any other law, Department of Health and Human Services bureaucrats working with legal abortion absolutists, have issued regulations mandating that every business provide coverage for “morning after”-type contraceptive devices and drugs in their medical plans.

The Obama Justice Department argued that such an edict promulgated by bureaucrats trumped the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act of 1993, as well as the First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom. Fortunately, plaintiffs prevailed in the Supreme Court (Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores), but only by one vote, with four liberal justices siding with the bureaucrats. In a related case, the Obama administration is attempting to force the Little Sisters of the Poor to adhere to the dictates of HHS regulators. Apparently, even the core guarantees of the First Amendment must be sacrificed for the Greater Good.

Ironically, the only constitutional provision to limit government power that liberals still champion is the right of “privacy,” which of course is found nowhere in the Constitution.

In recent years, many Democrats have sought to rebrand “liberalism” and “progressivism.” This is not just a cosmetic name change. Liberals of a generation ago accepted limits on government action, especially those limits contained in the Bill of Rights. Progressives, by contrast, have always found limits on their power to be inconvenient. Note Woodrow Wilson deriding the Senate’s relatively minor objections to his League of Nations a century ago. If progressive government in this administration has taught us anything, it is that liberties that run counter to great progressive ambitions are in serious danger.

Be afraid. Be very afraid. 

Frank J. Donatelli, a veteran conservative activist, served as White House political director under Ronald Reagan and deputy chair of the RNC in 2008. He is currently chairman of GOPAC.

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