I’ve written before that President Obama seems shockingly ignorant of legal principles, including but not limited to constitutional law, surprisingly for a law school instructor who taught that specialty for over a decade.
But according to Victor Davis Hanson, writing this week on National Review Online, it’s not so much that Obama is ignorant about the law but that Obama believes the law is irrelevant.
Obama, Hanson writes, sees law as a fluid concept that can shape-shift as necessary to justify the outcomes Obama views as morally righteous:
Whether Congress is, or is not, in recess, or whether wealthy bondholders should be paid back before working-class union pensioners, or whether some company should or should not be allowed to drill in the Gulf — these and others are moral and political, but not necessarily legal, issues. To the degree that he can, on any given challenge Obama assesses the politics of favoring his constituency of the “poor” and “middle class,” and then uses the necessary legal gymnastics post facto to offer the veneer of lawfulness.
Hanson’s theory is well worth contemplating. I’m not sure I buy into it, at least not entirely. Or maybe I just can’t bring myself to embrace it – it’s just too frightening to contemplate a lawyer-president totally unfettered by respect for the law. Perhaps I’d rather believe Obama is legally ignorant, because at least there’s a cure for that.
In the end, though, Hanson and I are probably both right. If the law is irrelevant, why bother to learn it?
Proof of this came this week from an unlikely source: Jodi Kantor’s new book, The Obamas. Kantor describes an incident early in the president’s term demonstrating both Obama’s ignorance of the law and his scorn for it:
His first task was to pass a massive government stimulus program to kick-start the economy, and he was eager, hopeful, in the mood to brainstorm about it. He wanted a dramatic, innovative centerpiece for the stimulus: a moon shot–type project to demonstrate that Americans could still pull off ambitious public works. His favorite idea was to build an advanced smart grid to transport new forms of power across long distances—say, from wind farms in the Dakotas to the people of Chicago. Legally, though, the project was a nightmare: The government had no eminent domain power for electricity lines, so building such a grid would mean negotiating with every tiny municipality along the way.
I’m the president. Can’t I get this done? he asked his advisers.
Actually, no, they told him. The smart grid idea was scrapped.
Fortunately, Obama’s advisers knew the law, even if he didn’t.
But here’s the thing. How could Obama truthfully swear – as he did on January 20, 2009 – to uphold the U.S. Constitution, if he doesn’t know what’s in it? And how on earth did he ever pass the bar exam?