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Comparing presidencies and the law

It is an interesting thought experiment to consider whether the Obama administration has less respect for the law than did the Clinton administration.

First, consider the Obama administration’s flagrant disrespect for the law that is his crowning achievement. As George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley has pointed out, the Obama administration has flagrantly ignored the law here. At the center of Obamacare is a set of minimum conditions for a medical insurance plan to be legal. After millions of people’s policies were canceled, Obama unilaterally even added a couple of years to the compliance deadline. He also made up new compliance dates for the employer mandate, added subsidies to members of Congress and their staff (despite the fact that Congress had clearly declined to do so), and exempted political allies from other Obamacare requirements. Eleven state attorneys general signed a letter protesting these illegalities. Overall, Jeffrey Dorfman of Forbes notes, he made more than 20 unilateral changes to the act.

Obama asked Congress to exempt certain illegal aliens (particularly children) in his proposed Dream Act. Congress refused to do it, preferring to protect taxpayers against the exploding welfare costs that would accompany an amnesty. Obama merely proceeded as if the Act had been passed and ordered immigration enforcement agencies to act as if it were in effect. He chose to ignore clear laws on minimum sentences for nonviolent drug crimes, a ban on internet gambling, and a constitutional prohibition on unauthorized appointments to his administration when Congress is in session. He even gutted the No Child Left Behind Act through waivers. The American system of laws doesn’t allow Obama to bypass duly passed laws whenever it suits his fancy.

Now a couple of these changes are long overdue. No one who cares about liberty, for example, supports harsh sentencing of drug criminals or criminalization of internet gambling. This, however, is beside the point as it is not his call alone.

Even the Obama’s administration’s attorney general is a criminal. In 2012, the House voted 255 to 67 to hold Eric Holder in contempt after his Justice Department failed to turn over thousands of pages of subpoenaed documents related to a gun smuggling operation (Operation Fast and Furious).

The Clinton administration had a more venal side. President Bill Clinton was impeached by the House for perjury and obstruction of justice. Sadly, the gutless Senate acquitted him, providing only 50 of the 67 votes needed to convict him on perjury. He was later found by a federal judge to be in contempt of court, fined, and had his law license suspended. Had Clinton not been the President, he would have been convicted. He followed that up by paying the woman who accused him of sexual harassment $850,000 to shut her up, but only after the IRS targeted her and the White House public relations machine did their best to destroy her.

The forking out of pardons to campaign donors and family, friends, and allies was crass even for the Clintons. The collective memory of Bill’s campaign shenanigans, sexual assaults (see, for example, Juanita Broaddrick and Kathleen Willey), and Arkansas influence peddling has been lost down the memory hole as he has recently reappeared to great acclaim. Nixon could have used a similar public relations makeover.

Chinese donors gave a boatload of illegal campaign contributions to the Clinton administration. All the major donors were convicted of giving money illegally. Conveniently, no one in the Clinton administration was convicted of taking it. This campaign grab was actually less sleazy than Bill and Hillary’s Arkansas deals involving land speculation, cattle futures contracts, and government influence and that’s saying something. Again, nearly every other major player involved in these deals was heavily fined or convicted while the Clintons skated free.

During both administrations, the IRS relentlessly targeted the administration’s enemies, thus showing that the Bill and Barack worship at the altar of Nixon, even if this would have horrified them in their younger days. The most disturbing illegality is that both started wars that were neither authorized nor funded by Congress. Clinton crushed Serbia through air strikes, Obama did the same to Libya. In doing so, both obliterated the notion that Presidents cannot go to war without Congressional approval. This will haunt future generations.

In the end, I have to give the nod to the Obama administration. The misuse of the IRS and the unconstitutional wars are a draw. The Obama administration’s large-scale illegality trumps the Clinton administration’s venal-and-crass illegality. Plus, the latter had more panache doing it. One has to wonder about people who make a big deal of the law in their classrooms, take an oath of office, or spend their days prosecuting people for silly crimes, and still voted for these guys. They’re lucky it’s not a crime to be foolish.

Stephen Kershnar is a philosophy professor at Fredonia State University. Send comments to editorial@observertoday.com