The John Galt Plan

For the past month, there has been a lot of chatter about Republicans attempting to impeach president Obama. What is interesting about this idea is who is pushing it: Democrats.

Many on the right, including myself, have tried to tamp it down, until or unless until we find a real smoking gun implicating the White House directly in something like the IRS scandal.

So why are Democrats pushing the idea?

The initial theory was that they were trying to goad Republican into trying impeachment, on the (dubious) proposition that Bill Clinton somehow benefited politically from his embarrassing impeachment debacle. At the very least, they wanted to get some of the supposed political benefits of impeachment, such as using it to raise funds from their base, simply by talking it up so much that people think it’s already happening.

But in Washington, DC, the most cynical theory often turns out to be true. Democrats could be pushing talk of impeachment in order to make such a move seem motivated by pure petty partisanship—to prepare the ground for the president to do something that actually does warrant impeachment. The idea is to discredit impeachment pre-emptively, precisely because they know Congress might soon have cause to use it.

Here’s what they’re preparing for: a unilateral executive action that would grant de facto amnesty—including Social security numbers and work permits—to millions of illegal immigrants, bypassing Congress and basically disregarding its laws.

Charles Krauthammer provides a good overview of this proposal—so far floated in prominent trial balloons—and the justifications offered for the president’s supposed authority. It consists of a lot of sophistical arguments, and a small grain of truth. Because of the way we legislate now, Congress gives the president so much unilateral authority that it’s hard to tell exactly where it ends. But this latest move is designed precisely to push the boundary between the president’s discretion in enforcing the law and simple refusal to enforce it.

All of this comes within the context of a long-running talking point in which President Obama declares that if Congress refuses to act on a certain issue, he will.

In that context, it is the right, it is the duty of Congress to stop him cold. Otherwise, they might as well just go home because they have accepted their irrelevance.

I should note that I am a big liberal squish on the subject of immigration. I think that immigration is good for us, bringing in a flow of labor, talent, and entrepreneurialism—just as it did a century or so ago, when half of my forebears came over from Poland and Ireland.

Though I like immigration, I love the Constitution more. We can’t give the president a blank check to make up the law just because we like what he is doing.

Yet that is precisely the attitude of the Democratic Party, which is why impeachment is not a practical remedy. It runs up against two essential elements of the contemporary left’s creed: first, that no provision of the Constitution should ever be interpreted as an ironclad limit on government power; second, that race must always be used as a political issue against the right, with the corollary that every issue is a racial issue. So there is no way Democrats are going to stand against the president on this issue for mere constitutional principles.

What, then, is the remedy? Lawsuits are not likely to succeed, because the courts don’t like to get between the other two branches of government, and because the courts have no real power to enforce their judgment, anyway.

There is a better option. If President Obama tries to change the law by executive order, give him what he wants. If he wants to act without Congress, let him do so—on everything. Simply refuse to bring Congress back to session, or refuse to propose or pass any legislation. Congress should go on strike.

Or rather, Congress should “go Galt.”

This refers to the tactic, proposed by the hero of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, of undermining an authoritarian system by complying with it. If the regime denounces capitalists as exploiters, then they should shut down and stop exploiting everyone. Ayn Rand’s key insight is that the left usually wants to have its cake and eat it, too. They want to denounce the capitalists—but still have them around to produce goods.

Similarly, Obama wants Congress to continue meeting and debating and passing legislation—on every issue except the ones where he disagrees with them, in which cases he will overrule them. He wants to act like a dictator while retaining the form and pretense of representative government.

Obviously, Congress shouldn’t cooperate in this pretense. They should say: you want to rule without Congress, then do so openly. You need our cooperation to pretend that you’re still operating within the constitutional system, and we won’t give it to you. Then refuse to reconvene for anything until he rescinds his executive order.

That’s what Republicans would do, or threaten to do, if they had courage. As it is, I suspect that the Republican leadership sees that it is likely to regain a Senate majority in November, giving them control of both houses of Congress. Sensing this victory within reach, they will grow cautious and won’t want to do anything to rock the boat.

If so, they may get their legislative majority just in time for it to be irrelevant.

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