It was very interesting to see President Obama touring Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello with French President Francois Hollande last week. When Mr. Obama broke the tour protocol to view the estate from a private terrace he said - only half in jest - “I can do whatever I want.”
He said that as his administration announced yet another delay of Obamacare’s corporate mandate. The one-year delay in implementation of the so-called Affordable Care Act is nowhere permitted in law, but it is a prime example of arbitrary and capricious government. President Obama’s half serious comment is the rough English translation of the most famous quote of King Louis XIV. France’s Sun King was asked how he as an absolute monarch could justify a certain action. He responded: “L’état c’est moi!” (I am the State.)
The French Revolution promised but failed to end arbitrary and capricious government. As Mrs. Thatcher memorably said in 1989, the French Revolution ended in “a pile of headless bodies with a dictator standing on top.” Still, the revolution’s ostensible purpose was to replace a monarchy with a republic. Absolute monarchy is what the French revolted against.
It is especially ironic President Obama chose to make his pronouncement and to issue his diktat on Obamacare while touring Monticello in the company of a Frenchman. Thomas Jefferson was our second ambassador to France. He followed the illustrious Benjamin Franklin in representing our young republic in Paris. Asked by some French friends whether he was sent by Congress to “replace” Franklin, Jefferson memorably replied: “No one can replace him … I am only his successor.”
Young Mr. Jefferson was so enthralled by French architecture that he pulled down much of his mountaintop retreat and re-built it along the lines of what he had seen in Europe. And he brought back from France a lifelong aversion to concentrated power in the executive.
Jefferson, like most of our Founding Fathers, took many of his political ideas not from the French absolute monarchs, nor from Paris mobs, but from Montesquieu. The importance of Checks and Balances on the exercise of power was a central principle for that French philosophe. We can see the influence of these ideas in the carefully balanced powers allocated to executive, legislative, and judicial branches in that amazing charter of liberty, the U.S. Constitution.
Jefferson’s closest friend, James Madison, was a frequent guest at Monticello. As Father of the Constitution, Madison knew the importance of Checks and Balances. “If men were angels,” Madison famously taught us, “no government would be necessary.” Ambition must be made to counteract ambition, Madison explained in that classic of political science, “The Federalist Papers.”
All that is at risk today. President Obama is riding roughshod over two hundred twenty-five years of constitutional government. He is doing this in the name of health care coverage for all. That’s the stated goal of Obamacare. But it is a ruse. As the Wall Street Journal reports, millions have lost their coverage and tens of millions will lose their coverage under this oppressive bill: “Rebecca Stephens, an office manager from Wauchula, Fla., recently discovered there was only one health insurer offering coverage in rural, low-income Hardee County, and the midlevel plan she wanted to buy cost about $200 more a month than a similar plan in nearby Tampa. The silver plan sold by Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Florida would cost $637 a month for Ms. Stephens, who is 58 years old. In Tampa’s Hillsborough County, where Aetna, Cigna Corp., Humana Inc. and Florida Blue Cross & Blue Shield offer plans, the cheapest silver option for someone her age costs $460 a month. ‘That it costs me more for health insurance than someone in Tampa doesn’t seem equal to me,’ said Ms. Stephens.”
If this was all about health care, then we could never have justified blowing up the American system, the best in the world. Eighty-five percent of Americans told pollsters year after year they were satisfied with their health care coverage. Many of us could envision some improvements to the American system. But few among us could offer a total government takeover of health care that would improve matters.
Obamacare is not fundamentally about health care. It’s about control. It’s about amassing power in the hands of bureaucrats in a distant capital who think they can manage your most intimate ethical decisions better than you can. It’s about the arbitrary and capricious use of executive power.
On the eve of the first Fourth of July after the Obamacare bill was signed, in 2010, the National Archives breathlessly announced that they had discovered an early draft in Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. In his handwritten copy, Thomas Jefferson struck out the word subjects and inserted the word citizens. Excited, the archivists told us this the first time Americans described themselves as citizens.
Under Obamacare, we become subjects once again. And we all feel it. This is what Barack Obama meant when he promised to “fundamentally transform” this country. He is doing it. We are being transformed from freedom into despotism.
He actually thinks he can do whatever he wants.
Robert Morrison is a senior fellow at the Family Research Council.