It’s the Information Age. We know 2014 is the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act, and February is Black History Month. We know Valentine’s Day hits mid-month, and Leonard Cohen sings “Hallelujah,” reminding us, “…love is not a victory march. It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.” And we know that Mr. Obama intends to use the dreaded executive order, the authority vested in him, “as President of the United States, by the Constitution and the statutes of the United States, and as Commander in Chief of the armed services,” to “git ‘er done.” I suppose that includes his feeble attempt to bring the minimum in line with a living wage.
Google it if you’re not sure.
The Net is still relatively neutral. Nobody really minds the NSA and every other corporation that has the resources to track your search and know where your mouse has been.
You might also realize that in Black History Month, on Valentine’s Day, or anytime at all, some folks consider the very thought of this particular president using executive orders tyrannical. I do find it amusing that many of those criticizing this president for his lack of leadership do so more loudly when he demonstrates some initiative. And, I’ve got news for those “Road to Serfdom” Hayek fans: Opportune inequality being what it is in this era of our corporate capitalist experiment, serfdom looks like a step up to many. Three hots, a cot, and a field to plow? Or three part-time shifts a day and a Happy Meal? Flip a coin.
Although executive orders are clearly within the constitutional powers of any president, I’ve got the same problem with excessive abuse of power shouted by this president’s critics. For instance, it wasn’t a great idea for Teddy Roosevelt to use his power to give lifetime federal appointments to his friends; or for Ulysses Grant to authorize Indian reservations; or for FDR to authorize Japanese internment camps. With a few years perspective, FDR’s E.O. 9066 would be termed the result of “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”
Do we really fear that history will judge raising the minimum wage for some contract workers as tyrannical and morally repugnant? Will it be a “failure of political leadership” similar to setting up internment camps or reservations? I doubt it.
Despite my gut feeling that any president acts more as a monarch than elected official when he signs an order, some E.O.s have stood the test of time. They are viewed now more as evidence of moral courage than tyranny.
In 1948 Truman signed Executive Order 9981, which states: “It is hereby declared to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services, without regard to race, color, religion or national origin.”
With a stroke of his pen, he desegregated the U.S. military.
In our post-racial society, we might think that order was met with a loud chorus of “hallelujahs!” General Omar Bradley’s initial response was slightly less enthusiastic. He said:
“The Army is not out to make any social reforms. The Army will (continue to) put men of different races in different companies. It will change that policy when the Nation as a whole changes it.”
Basically, his first response was to tell his Commander-in-Chief to shove it.
The stroke of Truman’s pen predated future steps, such as the education desegregation cases in the mid-1950s and early 1960s. According to some, it fueled future steps in the march to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and beyond.
Let’s not forget that Abe Lincoln issued the most infamous and beloved Executive Order. You may have heard of it: “The Emancipation Proclamation.” Again, “hallelujah!” for some and “pass the ammunition” for others.
I doubt any executive order of this president will carry the weight of Lincoln’s. But with Valentine’s Day here and the ongoing struggles of Moral March on the way, I’ll sing along with Mr. Cohen. At least to the line that reminds us: “Love is not a victory march, it’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.”