November 17, 2013

Bob Woodward seems so mealymouthed, but he might be a genius at saying everything, anything, and nothing.

Today, on Fox News Sunday, George Will took a staunch position about Obama's IYLYPYCKYP fix:
And I do think this is a constitutional scandal. Suppose the next Republican president and there will be another Republican president, comes into the press room someday and says, "You know, I really think the capital gains tax does not serve the national interest, so we're just, as an act of executive discretion, going to quit enforcing that for a few years."

That's not the rule of law.
Bob Woodward broke in and said something — in the slow, strangely over-restrained manner he has — that made me laugh out loud:

It is in a way, but as you know, there is a strong other side on that. And we're at the moment here where people have to make decisions and this is an implementation issue. And the pre -- I think people are going to give him discretion.
On re-listen, I laughed again. And then the third time, I said: "Actually, he's right"... if you understand what he's saying.

Now, trying to write this post, I'm not sure whether "It is in a way" meant "In a way, it is the rule of law" or "In a way, it is not the rule of law." When I laughed, I assumed the latter, the "is" being an affirmation of what Will had said, so Will's "not" was implied in Woodward's "is." I laughed because Will had been so firm, and Woodward seemed to agree, but with the weaseling "in a way." Then he added an acknowledgement of the "other side," which he called "strong."

And I'm not sure whether the "strong other side" was meant to oppose the statement that what Obama did is consistent with the rule of law or to oppose the statement that it is not the rule of law. You'd think reading the remainder of what Woodward said would clear that up, but as I read those next 2 sentences, I'm not sure whether they are meant to articulate the "strong other side" or whether he's moved on to another point.

Woodward might be brushing off the legal question and saying, whatever you and I might be able to say about the law, it doesn't much matter because the "people are going to give him discretion." That is: Obama is going to get away with it.

Or he might have meant to explain the legal issue: The question is whether the President is executing the law, and there's plenty of room for discretion in a President's decisionmaking about the scope of what is involved in implementing a particular statute, and most people, faced with Obama's implicit assertion that he's only executing the law, not writing new law, will see him as acting within the range of his discretion.

Or he might have been channeling the sort of legal attitude that says the rule of law is what you can get away with.  Another way to say that is:

25 comments:

TosaGuy said...

We are no longer a nation of laws. We are a nation of ruling personalities. Everything is okay as long as my guy does it.

TosaGuy said...

We are no longer a nation of laws. We are a nation of ruling personalities. Everything is okay as long as my guy does it.

Rusty said...

The rule of law is now, "who sent you?"

rehajm said...

You'd think reading the remainder of what Woodward said would clear that up, but as I read those next 2 sentences, I'm not sure whether they are meant to articulate the "strong other side" or whether he's moved on to another point.

Less Nixon, more Clintonian. Your confusion was the successful, intentional result.

Bob Boyd said...

"we're at the moment here where people have to make decisions"

We're always at a moment where people have to make decisions. The question is who gets to decide.
The rule of men will always trump the rule of law if the men can get away with it. Historically, the US has been pretty good about not letting them get away with it.
But the times they are achangin'. Woodward talks that way because he has rubbed his tongue raw wetting his finger.

Meade said...

Frost: But when you said, as you said when we were talking about the Huston Plan, you know, "If the president orders it, that makes it legal", as it were: Is the president in that sense—is there anything in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights that suggests the president is that far of a sovereign, that far above the law?

Nixon: No, there isn't. There's nothing specific that the Constitution contemplates in that respect. I haven't read every word, every jot and every title, but I do know this: That it has been, however, argued that as far as a president is concerned, that in war time, a president does have certain extraordinary powers which would make acts that would otherwise be unlawful, lawful if undertaken for the purpose of preserving the nation and the Constitution, which is essential for the rights we're all talking about.

© 1977 by The New York Times Company.

elkh1 said...

I said: "Actually, he's right"... if you understand what he's saying.

If you think you understand...

I bet Bob tried to avoid a phone tap and a tax audit. He spoke like a politician. What he said meant entirely different things to different people.

NotquiteunBuckley said...

While I agree, and would be stupid not to, the staunch position was taken, I have concerns as my stupidity doesn't allow me to be free to express ideas I think pertain to "staunch" but don't encompass what I really think, more deeply*, what staunch is hereby meant?

https://www.google.com/search?hl=en&output=search&sclient=psy-ab&q=staucn&btnG=Submit&oq=&gs_l=&pbx=1#hl=en&q=staunch&spell=1

"For you know sometimes words have two meanings." - Zeppelin, Led

*undescribed heretofore

EDH said...

As I understand it, the statute that passed congress included a broader grandfathering of existing plans, it was in the HHS rule-making that it became restrictive.

So, does an admininstration have greater discretion to amend it's own rules?

Instapundit links to Megan McCardle:

Obamacare’s Creative, Or Illegal, Rule-Making.

“The administration is already too reliant on creative rule-making to make the law work, such as their decision to delay the employer mandate even though it’s pretty firmly set into law. But now they’re reaching the limits of this strategy. There is always discretion in the implementation of any law, but that discretion is not infinite. . . . That’s leaving aside the civic problems with having an administration that simply waives by fiat any rule that gets in the way of their grand designs. President Obama, who used to be so sharply critical of George W. Bush’s use of executive power, is now pioneering his own expansive views of what the president may do. The White House seems to believe that they are allowed to shinny around any rule, as long as they wrote it. I’d argue that this is exactly backward: They have an especial duty to uphold the laws that they themselves constructed, because if they don’t, why should the rest of us go along?

wildswan said...

Maybe "It is in a way" referred back to George Wills point "And I do think this is a constitutional scandal". Then Woodward says: "It is in a way" [a constitutional scandal] but it's the President implementing law so he will get away with it.
But I don't think the President will get away with it. As others have pointed out all the President really said was "I am not going to charge the insurance companies with breaking the law." But others could bring civil lawsuits - state insurance commissioners, individuals whose premiums rise because of the "Fix."

In my opinion this fix is just as brilliant as Obama not letting the Republicans postpone the launch. In other words, a mess the Republicans were about to own by passing their If You Like Your Plan law has become Obama's mess by the Fix. I initially thought the insurance companies could just reissue plans which they had just cancelled. But that isn't so. There's regulatory hoops in all fifty states, all different. Obama has just put the insurance companies in the position of trying to emulate the healthcare.gov website as a model of planning. He's told the insurance companies to just rush at things, don't plan, don't allow enough time to get the job done, don't check viability. Don't understand your business. If they do it there will be obvious grotesque mistakes which will lead to the insurance companies being sued - they aren't the government and they can't just come out and be contrite and talk about a 'fumble'. So now instead of the Republicans doing this, Obama has done it.

This mess is like the La Brea tarpit. It looks like a beautiful stretch of water and it will engulf anyone who goes near it. The only thing to do is repeal the law.

betamax3000 said...

Re: "I think people are going to give him discretion."

By People, He Means People at the New York Times and Washington Post. And CNN. And ABC. And NBC. And MSNBC. And Oprah. And....

Rockport Conservative said...

I watched that this morning and thought that Bob Woodward had been taken to the woodshed and schooled in the proper DC speak, that would be obfuscate when you can.

PB Reader said...

Bob needs to reacquaint himself with the definition of "rule". They're not guidelines.

Gahrie said...

What kills me is that if Woodward were 30 years younger, and Obama was a Republican, Bob would be leading the investigation into the president's lies, not trying to excuse them.

Hagar said...

Have you all forgotten about Obama, Holder, and Arizona?

And that is not all. It is a pattern with this administration; they will decide which laws to enforce and how, or at all.

Sam L. said...

Obviously, why we ever thought well of him, has passed.

jacksonjay said...

WaPo Bob hasn't forgotten the scolding he received for his sequester "reporting!" The takedown by Wunderkind Ezra put the Old Sage in his place!

Elise Ronan said...

The Constitution isn't concerned with fixes, politics nor personalities. It is the rule of law, governing document, what makes America, America. Once we lose the Constitution we lose the United States. People should not be so easily swayed over "insurance policies." Sadly there are even bigger issues at stake with the President's "fix" then the average person's pocketbook or keeping your doctor.

Zach said...

I think the "other side" is just the Democrats. They don't want a legislative fix, so they'll let Obama get away with it.

In theory, Congress is the most powerful branch of government. In practice, it is seldom united enough to exert that power, because half of Congress is strongly aligned with the President.

ken in sc said...

If this is allowed to stand, we will have become just another American semi-republic. Every four years, we elect or re-elect a new dictator.
At least we won't have a King, at least for a while.

Michael K said...

Woodward's books are known for treating gently the people who leak to him and savaging the others.

I think it occurred to him that he was liable to similar strategy by the Obama clones. His statement sure sounded like it.

eric said...

I'd vote for the next Republican Presidential candidate who cited Obama's way of ignoring certain laws, like the ACA requirements, and then said he's going to do the same with the capital gains tax.

Throw it right back in their face.

cokaygne said...

So, in January 2017, the POTUS will say, based on my predecessor's precedent, i am delaying the Obamacare mandates, employer and individual, through the remainder of my term.

Maybe some candidate could win on that promise.

AustinRoth said...

Worry not, everyone. Holding the President to his Constitution limits and to the law is but a fad; like all fads it comes and it goes with the times.

It is simply a coincidence that the fad seems much more prevalent with Republican Presidents than Democratic Presidents, but rest assured knowing that as soon as we have a Republican President again, the fad will be in vogue yet again.

Michael The Magnificent said...

It is simply a coincidence that the fad seems much more prevalent with Republican Presidents than Democratic Presidents, but rest assured knowing that as soon as we have a Republican President again, the fad will be in vogue yet again.

As well, the press will return to being the fourth estate, rather than the fifth column they are now.