JFMK School of Government
Thus far, the Obama administration has prided itself on the lack of scandals embroiling the president’s term in office, an achievement both notable and admirable given the size and aggressiveness of the government under this nation’s 44th leader. Political opponents have attempted to tie President Obama to misdeeds of Solyndra and Van Jones, but as of yet such endeavors have been futile. Unfortunately for both the president and the nation, this weekend’s big story that the Internal Revenue Service has unduly targeted Obama’s political opponents could and should leave an indelible mark on the president’s heretofore unsullied legacy.
In a slow news week that pales in comparison to its marathon predecessors, yesterday’s big news came from the White House—namely, that President Obama had filled the position of Secretary of Commerce with affluent campaign donor (and Chicago scion) Penny Pritzker. The position had been vacant since the summer imbroglio in which Secretary John Bryson fell victim to inexplicable seizures while operating a vehicle. The major headlines from earlier in the week focused on Anthony Foxx, the Charlotte mayor tapped to head the Department of Transportation in the second Obama administration. Even The Onion joined the Cabinet action, publishing a fictitious tale of the newly appointed Secretary of the Interior’s rapid ascent to the White House, after her antecessors in the line of succession succumbed to a calamitous and inexplicable hot-air balloon accident.
Three and a half months into Obama’s second term, it is newsworthy that so many of these positions still need filling. While Senator John Kerry’s quick appointment led to an easy way out of the effervescing Susan Rice entanglement, both the White House and the Senate are finding that stalling replacements for executive posts is a great way to play politics well after the November election. There are, of course, some benefits to this—was any American business really stifled by the 10-month vacancy in the Department of Commerce, a bureau with responsibilities so nebulous that it deals with not only business programs, but also with oceans policy, weather forecasting, and tourism? But, as much as it pains to me to utter, we do have a government for a reason; our elected leaders should be able to make sure it functions in the fashion it was designed.
By all accounts, President Obama’s address to the city of Boston at an interfaith service yesterday morning was poignant, expressing what amounted to a beautiful panegyric echoing the fact that, for various reasons, many Americans have a personal connection to the Cradle of Liberty. The speech was notable and appurtenant due to its invocation of Scripture and its appeal for prayers for those who lost loved ones in Monday’s horrific affair. The president was rightly praised for his call for resilience—few have any doubt Boston can and will “run again.”
While a prayer service is obviously not the place for politics or inadvertent fear mongering, something crucial has been missing from the government’s response thus far to the marathon bombing. Leadership. Answers. Truth in a time of unmitigated angst. While the president successfully brought the nation together to mourn, he has yet to provide any clues to the information we all desperately crave—what the hell is going on?
In his most recent column for The New York Times, David Brooks added interesting insight to the inveterate psittacism of elite opinion in the so-called gay marriage debate. His piece, aptly titled “Freedom Loses One,” does not place a normative value on the progression of gay marriage’s inevitability as a component of American society. Rather, it looks at the institution of marriage as a whole and recognizes that such an institution is inherently illiberal in the classical sense. “Marriage,” he writes, “is one of those institutions…that restricts freedom. Marriage is about making a commitment that binds you for decades to come. It narrows your options on how you will spend your time, money and attention.” Matrimony, in short, puts shackles on human liberty and forces two parties to surrender their personal freedom to the caprices of the government. While Brooks does not go so far as to condemn such capitulation (he instead cites Burke’s insistence “that men of intemperate minds cannot be free”), this oft-ignored truth is patently problematic. As such, freedom fighters and gay rights advocates alike should address the real issue—the government needs to stop meddling in the contractual institution of marriage.
Marriage is most certainly an institution, as every defender of “traditional marriage” will go through pains to remind you. But of what sort? Social conservatives will say it is a religious one, and such an assertion would not be untrue. LGBT activists will say it is a primarily government-sanctioned one of societal import, and this reading would also be correct. In American society, getting married comes with a host of tax breaks and the right to take care of children. Then again, so do civil unions. It is somewhat difficult to eloquently describe the value differential between marriage and civil unions, with the current prevailing argument being the rather compelling one that gap between the two is based wholly on discrimination in a two-tiered system.
Fans of liberty may have been disappointed with the results of November’s election, as the primary exponent of liberty, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, got walloped at the polls. For libertarians constantly disappointed at the creeping expansion of the government facilitated by both parties, this past week served as a consolation prize. First, a major party’s senator publicly championed civil liberties for the entire country to see. Subsequently, the senator’s act was heavily lauded—prime indication of a new groundswell of support for personal freedom.
Just a week ago, the concept of liberty seemed to be receding in the public eye. President Obama’s nomination for Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, John O. Brennan, was set to earn confirmation with overwhelming support, despite questions arising from his role as architect of the administration’s drone policy. While the initialization of the sequester signaled the type of reduced spending libertarians yearn for, pretty much everyone in the country would have preferred the government actually working out policy and governing in real time. Questions about the drone policy were repeatedly stonewalled, with little outlook of any progress in clarifying the rights American citizens maintain in the eyes of their government.