The Rule of Law

We are a nation of laws.  How many times have you heard that? I always used to wonder what it meant, but recently I have had been jolted into an awareness of what it is like to not be ruled by law but by the whims of a single individual.

In saying that we are a nation of laws and that all men (i.e., humans) are created equal, it means that laws—not officials or individuals—control our actions and interactions.  If you have a disagreement with anyone—from a homeless person to the President of the United States, you have the right to go to court and have the disagreement settled by laws.  The judge can’t say, “I feel so sorry for the homeless person that you lose.” Or, at the other extreme, “You are so unimportant next to the President that you lose.”  We all have the same laws that apply to us equally.

The situation is much different in many other countries.  For example, go to Cuba and try to sue Fidel or Roaul.  Go to Communist China and try to challenge the opinion of a high communist official.  Go to Venezuela and casually mention in a dinner conversation that you don’t think Hugo Chavez should be president.  Do it if you have a death wish, because death is a possible, if not likely, outcome.

Our laws control all sorts of interactions between people.  In business dealings, there are laws which clearly state what will happen if you embezzle money, if someone trespasses on your land, if you break a contract—the list goes on and on.  You may have to go to court to enforce your rights, but courts are there to be sure that people are dealt with according to laws, and not according to the whim of someone placed in a position of authority by birth or by force.

Until now.  Now we have a president that basically bypassed our legislative system and our legal system to impose a settlement with respect to Chyrsler.  How could he do that when we have laws that are supposed to be respected?  Because he is president.  If he were Citizen Obama or Senator Obama, no one would have taken his proposals seriously in the Chrysler situation.  He should have been Bankruptcy Judge Obama or Mediator Obama in an official capacity to have been listened to, where he would (or should) have been limited by the laws which control such transactions and ensure that all parties are dealt with equally.

Instead of letting the company go bankrupt so that the situation would be handled by the Judicial Branch appropriately according to laws made by our Legislative Branch, Obama used OUR office, the head office of We the People—the Presidency of the United States—to insert himself into the situation.  Sure, a negotiated settlement is legal, but who would have accepted the “deal” that President Obama proposed if he were anyone but the president?

The entities who had invested in the company with the knowledge that under the law they were first in line to collect what was owed them—the creditors and the stockholders—got shoved down the line to get anywhere from nothing to 29 cents on the dollar.  The UAW got shoved up from the bottom of the rights pile to get 43 cents on the dollar PLUS part ownership of Chrsyler.  A bankruptcy court could not and would not have come to the same solution because they would have more to guide them than what they personally wanted to see happen.  They would have had to follow the laws.  Our President used his position as our elected head of state to reward a political supporter, plain and simple.

After all, those big creditors are only big financial institutions and hedge funds–rich, corrupt, and greedy businesses.  The only problem is that behind those businesses are common people whose retirement money provided to Chrysler with the understanding that if something went wrong, they would be first in line to get their money back.  You can understand that—hasn’t your retirement funds been taking quite a dip lately?  How would you like the deal if your retirement fund had investments in Chrysler?  Now, teachers and police in Indiana are in a hard position because they belong to two of those rich and corrupt and greedy groups that were pushed from first to last in line in the Chrysler deal—the Indiana State Teachers Retirement Fund and the Indiana State Police Pension Trust.  I know what I feel like when someone pushes ahead of me in the line at the grocery store; I can’t imagine the feeling of being shoved back in a line like this.  What happens to price and service at Lowe’s once Home Depot has gone belly up?

Our government was set up with three branches—Legislative, Executive, and Judicial.  Each branch was set up with a distinct function:  The legislative branch makes laws (actually, strictly speaking, what they enact are statutes).  The Executive branch enforces laws, and the Judicial Branch interprets and applies the statutes.  The branches do have a certain amount of connections and control over other branches (for example, the Legislative Branch can impeach members of the Executive or Judicial Branch or the Executive Branch can veto legislation).  However, our founding fathers set up the government so that the great bulk of what each branch did was not subject to control by another branch.  They had seen or experienced the bad things that can happen when a single person or group had control over more than one of these distinct functions.  As James Madison said in Federalist Paper 47, “The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, selfappointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”

It used to be that the only tyranny that we had to worry about with infringement of one branch of our government over another was with the Judicial Branch.  When the Supreme Court speaks based on their personal preference and not on interpretation of the lawmakers’ intent, they are actually legislating. In the case of the Supreme Court, nothing short of a Constitutional Amendment can overturn some of their arbitrary rulings.  At least with the Supreme Court we are dealing with nine individuals, and you have to get some agreement for a decision.

Now, we are dealing with a single individual—our President—who seems to be consolidating functions on his own:  in the Chrysler deal, he made the rules, applied the rules, and will oversee their implementation.  I reiterate what Madison said: “The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, selfappointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”

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Published in: on May 23, 2009 at 9:42 am  Leave a Comment  
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