The Audacity of Cynicism
This column by ACRU Senior Fellow Robert Knight was published April 27, 2012 on The Washington Times website.
Barack Obama’s 2006 best-seller, The Audacity of Hope, gave us a number of clues as to how he would govern based on his worldview. We can’t say we weren’t warned. Amid the graceful prose, we see underlying hostility toward the idea of revealed truth (apart from his own). We also see an understanding of the Constitution as a sort of referee between interests instead of a binding fetter on government power.
In the book, President Obama describes his view as
“one that sees our democracy not as a house to be built, but as a conversation to be had. … What the framework of the Constitution can do is organize the way by which we argue about our future. All of its elaborate machinery – its separation of powers and checks and balances and federalist principles and Bill of Rights – are designed to force us into a conversation.”
I guess that’s what he meant when he appointed a couple dozen “czars” without Senate consent and made recess appointments when the Senate wasn’t in recess. That started quite a bit of conversation.
So did the Justice Department’s running hundreds of guns illegally across the Mexican border in an attempt to frame American gun sellers. And let’s not forget Mr. Obama’s National Labor Relations Board ordering the Boeing Co. not to build a new plant in South Carolina, or having the Justice Department crush voter-fraud prevention laws in South Carolina and Texas and sue Arizona for enforcing immigration law. There’s much more, but it all adds up to contempt for the constitutional separation of powers.
It makes more sense as you thumb through Mr. Obama’s Audacity book. On Page 93, he says, “If there was one impulse shared by all the Founders, it was a rejection of all forms of absolute authority.”
This would be news to George Washington, who kept a prayer diary in which he wrote, “[I] humbly prostrate myself before thee. … Holy Lord God, who art the King.” It would also be news to Thomas Jefferson, who grounded our government’s authority on “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”
Mr. Obama goes even further in the next paragraph: The founders were unified around “a rejection of absolute truth.”
It’s certainly true that the founders were deeply suspicious of men’s motives, especially when entrusted with power, but that doesn’t mean they rejected the concept of absolute truth.
The Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”
If there is no absolute truth or Creator of absolute truth, those rights can be violated at a ruler’s whim. Constitutional limits and responsibilities can be ignored, including Article II’s requirement that the president “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” Why, a president unbound by scruples or the Constitution could do such things as refuse to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act and then issue executive orders that directly violate it.
Many founders made clear where they thought real authority lay: Roger Sherman wrote that “the Old and New Testaments are a revelation from God and a complete rule to direct us.”
John Adams also rejected moral relativism: “The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were … the general principles of Christianity … as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God.”
Constitution signer James McHenry wrote that the “Holy Scriptures … can alone secure to society, order and peace.”
According to Mr. Obama, however, the founders deplored “the infallibility of any idea or ideology or theology or ‘ism.’ ”
This is in line with one of Mr. Obama’s guiding lights, Saul Alinsky, whose 1972 book, Rules for Radicals, describes the proper outlook for a community organizer:
“To the questioner, nothing is sacred. He detests dogma, defies any finite definition of morality. … He stirs unrest. As with all life, this is a paradox, for his irreverence is rooted in a deep reverence for the enigma of life, and an incessant search for its meaning.”
Reverence for an enigma? Translation: It’s fine to search for truth, as long as you don’t find it. Here’s another snippet from Alinsky’s book:
“He knows that life is a quest for uncertainty; that the only certain fact of life is uncertainty; and he can live with it. He knows that all values are relative, in a world of political relativity.”
In such a world, a leader might be sorely tempted to equate might with right and allow ends to justify the means, especially without a critical press to keep him honest. He even might deliberately violate religious conscience just to see how far people will let him go.
The Audacity of Hope cites the founders’ reliance upon God, but assigns caveats. For instance: “The Founders may have trusted in God, but true to the Enlightenment spirit, they also trusted in the minds and senses that God had given them. They were suspicious of abstraction … which is why at every turn in our early history, theory yielded to fact and necessity.”
Mr. Obama’s words tell us little about the true fathers of our country but a great deal about Barack Obama. He has projected his own Marxist-inspired cynicism onto some of the noblest and most brilliant thinkers in the history of the world – and acted accordingly.
He claims their mantle even while kicking the stuffing out of the Constitution and exponentially expanding government power and the national debt.
William Penn said, “Those who will not be governed by God will be ruled by tyrants,” and Patrick Henry warned, “It is when a people forget God that tyrants forge their chains.”
It happens when the people are kept busy worshiping an audacious enigma.