January 23, 2014

"If, in fact, I could solve all these problems without passing laws in Congress, then I would do so, but we’re also a nation of laws."

Said Obama, quoted in David Remnick's New Yorker article. That caught my ear — I was listening to the podcast — because 2 days into Spring semester, I've taught one class in each of 2 courses, and both courses begin with Marbury v. Madison.

Obama's statement resonated with a very familiar passage in the 1803 Supreme Court case:
The Government of the United States has been emphatically termed a government of laws, and not of men.
Compare the quotes. Key word variation: "also" versus "not."

70 comments:

SteveR said...

The law (meaning the Republican controlled House or anything passed before without his blessing)is very inconvenient, he consistently makes that clear.

CWJ said...

Wow, Great juxtaposition of those two quotes. If the "also" was carefully and purposefully chosen, that is revealing. Come to think of it, it's also revealing if casually chosen as well.

Bob Ellison said...

Most people are not aware of the distinction between "a nation of laws" and "a nation of men". Most Americans-- I'd guess >75% today-- make the opinions about government action with no concept of that distinction.

Obama's "also" makes me write "and he, a senior law lecturer!"

Maybe he could clean it up by changing "but we're also" to "and we're also". That sounds more inclusive.

Sorun said...

He means that we're a nation of laws as well as a nation of Obama.

traditionalguy said...

In time of war the Congress goes along with Czar/Caesar/Kaizer and the Court

Meade said...

"nation of laws"

Nation of laws? I thought we were a nation of free people with rights who practice self-governance with a government of power limited by a constitution. And in theory at least, these things make the United States qualitatively different from other nations.

Jimmy said...

Why is Obama always described as some brilliant Constitutional Law scholar, I have heard nothing from him to suggest that he has any real grasp of the subject.

Rob said...

The President's actual quote may have been truncated by The New Yorker. I believe what he actually said was, "We're also a nation of laws, which I in my wisdom can choose to modify, as I've done with the Affordable Care Act, or selectively enforce, as I've done with the immigration laws and the marijuana laws."

traditionalguy said...

... but not in time of peace.

So Caesar Obama declares War on trace gas CO2 and orders the end to effective citizens property rights until the war is over.

But since its a myth, the war is never over.

Meade said...

Unless, of course, you're a government executive who rejects the idea of American exceptionalism.

Bob Ellison said...

Rob, you may be right. It might instead be a loose paraphrase. Maybe he said "I'm gonna talk pretty for a minute, and pause a lot, in order to make you think I'm smart, and then I'm gonna say something really stupid, but it'll sound good."

They might have really loose rules about quotes at that magazine.

CWJ said...

Meade,

That horse may have already left the barn.

"A Republic if you can keep it."

But kind of like the late Roman Republic slipping into the Imperium. We'll retain the old forms and praise the old virtues in spite of their increasing irrelevancy.

Nonapod said...

I assume the phrase "a government of laws, and not of men" means that (ideally) laws have supreme agency over decision making rather than men. This is logical since human leaders are fallible and can't be trusted to always act in the best interest of the people, or to even know what the best interest of the people is in all cases.

Henry said...

At the moment I'm reading Marshall's The Life of George Washington, which should be titled "A lawyer's History of the United States". (I'm well into it and only up to 1650).

Over and over and over Marshall details the various compacts and charters the colonies created to govern themselves. His theme is very clear. Bad compacts and charters failed. Good compacts and charters evolved. Colonial self-governance resulted from the continued application of law.

The president is a bum.

rcocean said...

"American exceptionalism" = dumbest phrase ever. Who the hell thought this up, and did it become popular?

I don't remember hearing this until a couple years ago. I guess before then, most American's didn't have to reminded that we were exceptional. It was never even questioned.

Bob Ellison said...

Thinking about it more, I have to suggest that it's a typographical error. What Obama really said was "we're, alas, a nation of laws."

rcocean said...

BTW, it always pisses me off that a handful of Media and academic types seem to get together and start using some phrase, or strike some un-PC phrase from the language - and no seems to notice or protest.

Where'd that word go?

Illuninati said...

Obama is no ordinary politician, he is the light worker.
http://www.sfgate.com/entertainment/morford/article/Is-Obama-an-enlightened-being-Spiritual-wise-2544395.php

As the light worker, Obama is fully capable and willing to fix every problem that exists. The only explanation for the persistent problems is that someone is blocking his stupendous powers. That would be congress. Since Obama the light worker has arrived the argument that the US government is not a government of men is outdated. that is why he uses executive orders to void or change laws at will. However he is not ready to dispense with congress entirely since he needs an excuse when things don't go right. Thus the argument that the government is bipolar --Obama and Congress- so that when things go right Obama gets the credit, when things go wrong it is congress' fault.

Chris said...

I also see a difference between "nation" and "government", in the two quotes.

The contrast between the quotes makes it sound like government has subsumed the nation.

Wendy Davis isn't the only politician who could stand to be more precise with their use of language.

Sam L. said...

The prezy doth faintly protest too much.

PB Reader said...

It's so inconvenient that he is constrained by law. This guy really wants to be a dictator and really mess things up.

Anonymous said...

Didn't he say he had a pen to sign executive orders?
Did he lose his pen?

Michael said...

Yes, in addition to becoming a dictatorship we are ?also" a nation of laws.

Original Mike said...

"If, in fact, I could solve all these problems without passing laws in Congress, then I would do so,"

If I could, I would rule like a king, ...

"but we’re also a nation of laws."

...but since they'd throw me in jail, I guess I won't.

Bob Boyd said...

I wonder if really believes he possesses the knowledge and wisdom to "solve all these problems" and that the congress and constitutional law are the only obstacles to "these problems" being solved.
Does anyone?

Rob said...

Obama's theme song is "If I Ruled the World," but which version: Tony Bennett's or NAS's?

Meade said...

rcocean said...
"American exceptionalism" = dumbest phrase ever. Who the hell thought this up, and did it become popular?

de Tocqueville. Ever heard of him?

Think back - 5th grade American History class. There you go.



traditionalguy said...

By now anybody that still thinks Obama is an incompetant President but a good man with a loving smile is brainwashed.

Obama is a skillful enemy agent on a mission of sabotaging all middleclass American rights, the American Armed Forces, the American Strategic defense alliances and the US Dollar, as fast as he can.

The need to finish off destroying that much in the next 3 years is getting on his nerves...faster...faster.

Brennan said...

NBC has announced that after President Obama is termed out of office he will star in a new television series, "I Dream of Dictator".

Brennan said...

I wonder if really believes he possesses the knowledge and wisdom to "solve all these problems" and that the congress and constitutional law are the only obstacles to "these problems" being solved.
Does anyone?


Yes. He does. He said the same things in Illinois as an elected official just after voting "present".

He doesn't like the will of the people. He prefers the will of the elite. Except with campaign donations. He's cool with the will of the people on sending him their money.

Bob Boyd said...

If knows how to solve these problems then why doesn't he propose the solutions to Congress? Maybe they would see his great wisdom and enact his proposals.
Tell us, Obama! Tell us what to do!
Why do let us suffer? Why has thou forsaken us?

Why doesn't Remnick ask him what he wants to do?

rehajm said...

Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some... farcical aquatic ceremony.

You can't expect to wield supreme executive power just 'cause some watery tart threw a sword at you.

rcocean said...

"Although the concept of American exceptionalism dates to the 1830s the term was first used in the 1920s. The phrase "American exceptionalism" originates from the American Communist Party."

"The phrase fell into obscurity for half a century, until it was popularized by American newspapers in the 1980s to describe America's cultural and political uniqueness"

rcocean said...

I would love to see some Nexus search on the phrase, I doubt it was used by much by the pundits or the politicians until the 21st Century.

Bob Ellison said...

Goethe said, "Amerika, du hast es besser..."

That might be one of the beginning famous statements of American exceptionalism.

Pogo is Dead said...

Obama is lying. Again.

He only says things like this because there yet remain people foolish enough to believe his words over his actions.

AJ Lynch said...

The reporter could have responded to Obama by asking "Give me an idea of how you would solve three of our biggest problems....unmarried black mothers, the federal deficit and the enormous size of the federal govt."

Anonymous said...

The destruction of law as an expense of "solving problems" is a fast rout to lawlessness and chaos.

Only a very unwise, and very unthoughtful 'statesman' would suggest such a thing.

Mark said...

"I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren't for those pesky Tea Partiers."

Virgil Hilts said...

Obama forgot to add: ... and also a nation of new platonic guardians whose decisions I do not want to be challengable. http://www.volokh.com/2014/01/19/ninth-circuit-hear-challenge-obamacares-platonic-guardians-january-28/

JRoberts said...

AJ Lynch said...
The reporter could have responded to Obama by asking "Give me an idea of how you would solve three of our biggest problems....unmarried black mothers, the federal deficit and the enormous size of the federal govt."

Obama's response would have been:
"Those aren't bugs, those are features"

Hagar said...

"...a government of laws, and not of men."

Actually, I have never liked this phrase. To see why, just think of school districts and "zero tolerance" policies.

"The law is a ass," said Mr. Bumble.

"A republic - if you can keep it," infers "men" using their heads also to exercise common sense.

DanTheMan said...

As a kid, when somebody said or did something you thought was crazy or insulting, a very popular response was "It's a free country."

It's been ages since I've heard anyone say that.

Lydia said...

The totalitarian temptation is heady stuff, not for Obama alone, but for much of the left. Who can forget Tom Friedman singing the glories of China a few years ago:

"One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century."

Pogo is Dead said...

"Actually, I have never liked this phrase."

Me, neither.
We're a nation of Lilliputian laws, restraining free men.

DanTheMan said...

>>"policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century"

In, perhaps, A Great Leap?

Been there. Done that. Got the genocide.

mccullough said...

We're a nation of countless laws, regulations, ordinances, internal agency policies, administrative and judicial interpretations, and selective enforcement. It is the job of the judiciary to defer to what the administrative branch says the law is today.

pm317 said...

Yeah How is that healthcare.gov doing?

Unknown said...

It's as if the Ford CEO had said "If, in fact, I could make all our cars get 500 MPG without violating the laws of physics, then I would do so"

Meaningless verbiage spewed by a stupid, small man.

It's HIS JOB to work with Congress.

Gahrie said...

William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!

Rusty said...

Meade said...
"nation of laws"

Nation of laws? I thought we were a nation of free people with rights who practice self-governance with a government of power limited by a constitution. And in theory at least, these things make the United States qualitatively different from other nations.

How quaint.

The law is whatever this administration and Eric Holder say they are.

A law like the ACA would have never have passed in a constitutional republic of free people.

khesanh0802 said...

If Obama spent as much time with the leaders of the House and Senate as he does in interviews with the liberal press he might actually accomplish something.

n.n said...

So, Obama is a dictator in waiting. I wonder what other dreams fill his waking hours. Also is a resigned acknowledgment that his control is not unlimited.

In theory, America is not a democracy; but, neither is it a monarchy or similar. It was founded on a set of unalienable rights, and a government was erected to, again, in theory, provide oversight and preserve those rights.

AustinRoth said...

"If, in fact, I could solve all these problems without passing laws in Congress, then I would do so..."

..except there is not enough capacity in the US penal system for me to incarcerate everyone who dares oppose me. I know, because I had Eric Holder check.

Michael K said...

""Actually, I have never liked this phrase."

Me, neither.
We're a nation of Lilliputian laws, restraining free men."

Most economic historians agree that prosperity, like that we've seen since the Industrial Revolution, depends on several things. One is contract law. Another is private property. The third is a set of laws that establish individual rights that are not arbitrary or ephemeral.

If those things had existed, say in 100 AD, we might have had the Industrial Revolution in the Roman Empire. Joel Mokyr has several good books on this, including this one.

What seems to be developing is a weakening of these factors and Obama and the Democrats are contributing. Ask Chrysler bond holders.

Skeptical Voter said...

Well he talks the talk. But Obama's promises and oaths to enforce the laws of the United States are written in water and have the half life of a stray neutron.

Marty Keller said...

Yet another revelation of the Obama many of us warned about in 2008: it's shocking that anyone is still shocked. Lord Acton's famous warning about the corruption of power is even more salient when it is granted to a generation of narcissists and the Dear Leader Light Worker Subsider of the Oceans and Post-partisan Healer.

I fear CWJ is correct in his/her observation about our slow republican suicide after the manner of the Roman Republic. Perhaps several centuries hence a new group of people determined upon mature self-government can use some of the things we Americans did in the hundred years or so when founding principles held sway.

Chef Mojo said...

C'mon, people.

It's obvious Remnick screwed up. The transcription should be, "(...)but we're also a nation of flaws"

In that context, it makes total sense, and totally consistent with his beliefs.

Rodger Morrow said...

"Aristotle, Livy, and [James] Harrington knew what a republic was…. They define a republic to be a government of laws, and not of men."

—John Adams, Novanglus Essays, No. 7 (1775)

somefeller said...

"But that's OK. If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator."

--George W. Bush (but he was just kidding around, of course)

Hey, while we're on the topic of laws, how about that indictment of Dinesh D'Souza today? Nation of laws, people, remember that!

Naked Surfer said...

Going to publish this laser enema text flood here for Obama instead of ruining the peaceful new café.

“Make the study of science intrinsically rewarding instead .... It's better to love exactly what you are doing,” ( Ardor for Water).

Here’s where I’m in danger of losing my mind.

Because I agree so wholeheartedly with this sensibility that I cannot step back and evaluate. Plus I’m having an affair with the word - intrinsic. “Intrinsic, intrinsic, intrinsic.” Such a dirty word. Boring too. Boring - in ‘intrinsic’ for properties of torque or the spin of angular momentum in physics. Boring - in ‘intrinsic’ in biology for properties of tissues inside organs. I’m lying. It’s not boring. I get off on this stuff.

The word, ‘intrinsic,’ is making me such an unashamed whore that I’m almost intrinsically in love with the idea that the U.S. is intrinsically a nation of laws and not of humans. Or as Meade would, a nation of freedom.

Or maybe I just love the idea that it could be?

There is relief. Because I drew Sarah Silverman yesterday as my getting-high-mate. Since I’m already ready to marry Sarah anyway, I’m thinking all the world is right and intrinsically perfect. My karma finally got it right. Then, today, I remembered Sarah’s interview (somewhere: I cannot find this interview or a link) where she describes her bouts with clinical depression and how she must sleep 20 hours a day and get away from other people and be all alone so she can recover from feeling others’ intrinsic feelings, and so, Sarah sleeps all alone for 20 hours a day. Until she’s okay to practice wicked comedy. Because she loves it. No other justification needed.

There’s nothing more intrinsically tragic than Sarah Silverman sleeping alone.

I know I can rescue her.

Intrinsically.

So I come here to Althouse. To get away from the madness. Only to have my intrinsically pleasant dreams of Sarah Silverman interrupted (pun intended) by a facial shot of Hillary Clinton whose moon-face intrinsically reminds me of Ursula the Sea Witch in the “Little Mermaid,” the moon-faced Hillary-Ursula who trades in the not-so-free market of helping “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” – “and do I help them? - yes, indeed!”

Hillary’s moon-face morphing in and out of Ursula’s is not enough. I see here Obama’s Ursula singing his song about – helping “poor, unfortunate souls.” Cue Obama’s Ursula, “now it’s happened once or twice, someone couldn’t pay the price ... yes, I’ve had the odd complaint, but on the whole, I’ve been a saint.”

Pretending the law is his sympathetic intrinsic bond-partner. Or law his hindrance. Whatever intrinsic spin of angular momentum he needs.

Ohm my god. It’s enough to make me want to stick with my intrinsic love of science and my “ardor for water” and pure discovery - discovery which stays pure for 30 seconds. Until politicians take over with the intrinsic spin of politico.

Spin really isn’t the problem. It’s just there. Spin is an intrinsic property. The problem is how they love it so.

I want to hear Satchmo singing, “it’s a wonderful world.” But, Obama’s voice just doesn’t feel like Satchmo’s. And never did.

And then, I realize it’s the shit that I really love – intrinsically – that fucks me up. For good. And ill.

It’s enough to make me wish that apathy was a biologically intrinsic property.

But then, there’s Sarah Silverman.

Cliff said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cliff said...

It's an intersting sentiment to take issue with when one has spent the last year refusing to comply with a law.

Hammond X Gritzkofe said...

Key word variation: "also" versus "not."

OK, so Obama is a a lawyer who has no respect for the Law. Nothing new there.

Does not speak well for the agencies which regulate licensing of lawyers.

Paul said...

Obama is close to trying to become a Caesar.

But unlike Julius Caesar, Obama is NOT loved by the military. In fact it's quite the reverse.

So skippy can just keep making his speeches and waving his pen till after mid-term elections. Once they happen I suspect he will be in a real pickle of his own making.

Paul said...

BTW...

As for the law, I am fimly of the opinion that the doctrine of 'EQUAL PROTECTION UNDER THE LAW' also means EQUAL ENFORCEMENT of the law.

That is you cannot be equally protected if the ones that enforce the laws only enforce what laws they choose.

See laws, by their nature, tend to harm or help specific classes of individuals and to fail to enforce all laws open you to discrimination of whole classes of people by not enforcing those laws that Congress passed.

Not only that but the President swears upon entering office to 'faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States' and that includes enforcing the laws.

And that is just one ground for impeachment they will have if the Republicans win super majority in the Senate in the mid-term elections.

Hope for change in 2014.

William said...

I'm about half way through the Remnick article. It's quite lengthy. It's not quite hagiographic, but if Obama has any faults, Remnick is not the man to notice them. He and Obama share the same opinion on most subjects, and this is proof of Obama's extraordinary intelligence.......I wonder how long it took for people like Remnick to stop marveling at Stevenson's shining genius and deprecating Eisenhower's dull torpor.

Fen said...

Yup, thats what tyranny is - make everything illegal, then enforce the laws only against your enemies

John Constantius said...

Yup, thats what tyranny is - make everything illegal, then enforce the laws only against your enemies

That's pretty much how it works in Russia these days. And sadly it's starting to work that way in the US. We were great once, but no great nation has ever lasted forever -- it was foolish to think America would be different.

As a kid, when somebody said or did something you thought was crazy or insulting, a very popular response was "It's a free country."

It's been ages since I've heard anyone say that.

I've often thought that the fall of the Soviet Union was the worst thing that ever happened to freedom in the US. When I was growing up, governmental overreach (even at the minor, petty bureaucratic level) could frequently be defeated by holding up the mirror of the USSR and asking if that was the kind of country we wanted to be.

We've lost that now and the political class has taken full advantage.

damikesc said...

Yup, thats what tyranny is - make everything illegal, then enforce the laws only against your enemies

Seems funny that Progressives are totally different than Nazis, Communists, Fascists, etc --- yet pursue many of the same policies with many of the same tactics.

It's getting down to the whole walking and quacking like a duck thing...

Hey, while we're on the topic of laws, how about that indictment of Dinesh D'Souza today? Nation of laws, people, remember that!

Yes, that equal enforcement of the law thing. Powerful stuff there.

Funny, no "random checks" seem to turn up Progressive "law breaking". Hell, Corzine can rob over a billion and Holder can't fight anything illegal...