Obama at Presidential Debate Continues Lincoln Obsession: But He is Nothing Like Honest Abe

Barack Obama owns the rights to Abraham Lincoln. He reminded us of this in the debate Wednesday night, saying “[A]s Abraham Lincoln understood, there are also some things we do better together.” 

This is merely the latest installment in the president’s Lincoln love affair, from his 2007 speech on the steps of the Springfield Capitol to his 2009 “train ride to history” from Illinois to the Oval Office. The Great Emancipator had returned — and with such fanfare.                                                     

Obama’s Lincoln toes the Democratic Party line. This Lincoln apparently stood for one thing: the expansion of federal power over large swaths of American life, both public and private. He set the stage for the growth of the administrative state — an endless list of federal agencies, bureaus, and commission too numerous to count. Today, Obama’s favorite citizen, Julia, lives a happy, healthy, and wholesome life thanks to Lincoln’s foresight. Who can argue with Honest Abe? 

Abraham Lincoln, for one. The Great Emancipator himself would oppose Barack Obama’s policies for the same reason he praised the American Founding and fought the Civil War: “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” 

Lincoln would look no further than the president’s two biggest achievements: Obamacare and Dodd-Frank. Nancy Pelosi was entirely truthful when she warned America that we have to “pass” Obamacare to “find out what’s in it.” She should have said the same thing about Dodd-Frank. In both cases, the laws empowered a force outside of Congress, beyond the President’s control, and foreign to the sovereign American people — the regulatory agency.                                                    

Both laws are little more than blank slates. In place of details and specifics, they created two new unelected bureaucratic agencies, the Independent Advisory Payments Board and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. These regulatory bodies are now charged with fleshing out the actual law, giving it substance and force, and interpreting it anew with the passage of time.

This is where the real Lincoln’s logic dies. Unelected regulatory agencies — IPAB and CFPB chief among them — are neither “of” nor “by” the people. And “for” the people? Try the exact opposite. 

Are IPAB and CFPB “of” the people? Not in the slightest. Elections do not affect them. “We the People” have no say in the workings and rulings of the bureaucratic board. Not even our representatives can change the bureaucracy’s mind. The agencies are “removed from the hurry and strife of politics” — a phrase which the administrative state’s architects meant as praise.     

Well, at least these agencies are “by” the people. Oh, wait. Not everyone can be a bureaucrat, it turns out. The only people who can are those men and women with the proper education and training.  These non-partisan experts have spent their lives preparing to enter the civil service. They’re basically bred for it. After all that training, why would they voluntarily suffer what Woodrow Wilson sneeringly called the “meddlesome influence” of an uneducated public?

Two down, one to go. If nothing else, IPAB and CFPB exist “for” the people.  They may not be elected, and the people may not have any say in what they do or how they do it, but at least the work that the agencies accomplish serves the people’s interests.

Hold on a second. How can a bureaucracy serve the American people when they have no means of telling it what they want? Bureaucrats must know what the people want and need better than the people themselves. For Lincoln, and for the small-d democrat, this relationship is parent/child at best — and master/slave at worst.  

The proof is in the environmental pudding. Right now, the Environmental Protection Agency wants nothing more than to regulate carbon emissions. It has a found a means to do just that: the loosely-worded content of the Clean Air Act. Never mind that the Clean Air Act, passed in 1970, doesn’t mention carbon dioxide. What good is a law if it can’t be constantly reinterpreted to fit the shifting sands of time? It’s full steam ahead for the EPA. 

IPAB and CFPB will be no different. Obamacare and Dodd-Frank are so vast in size and so broad in scope that they can be molded into any shape the bureaucracy pleases, whether the American people and their representatives want it or not.                                                                 

We know where President Obama stands on these issues. But Abraham Lincoln would not condone such blatant attacks on democracy and the sovereign American people. On the contrary, the Great Emancipator dedicated his life to abolishing slavery — even when slaveholders argued that their tyranny was for the slave’s own good.

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Stephen Ford

Stephen Ford is a communication director a D.C.-based government affairs firm.

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