David Rodeback's Blog
Local Politics and Culture, National Politics,
Friday, September 27, 2013
Favorite Tactics of Tyrants
Some will wish to dismiss this accusation as naked partisanship or worse, but, folks, I've studied tyrants, and our president is a tyrant. I'm not saying he compares to the worst tyrants of history, but he does tyrannical things in tyrannical ways. A lot of Americans don't seem to mind, but that's not much of an excuse.
We need to talk about tyrants and their tactics.
There are different kinds and degrees of tyrants, and they are found in many different habitats. In our discussion here, we'll ignore the many petty tyrants who ply their evil trade at home, at work, at school, at play, and, I am sorry to say, sometimes at church. We'll focus on political leaders, but not nearly all political leaders -- just the ones who are tyrants.
First, let's refresh our memories as to the definition of the word. Tyrant has a complex and not always pejorative history, but in modern English it denotes a ruler who is cruel, oppressive, absolute, unrestrained by law or constitution, a usurper of legitimate sovereignty, or some combination of these.
The Worst of the Worst
Even among political tyrants, there is some variation in their choice of methods. The grimmest is wholesale slaughter, and the list of despots who have chosen it spans the world and most of the centuries of human history. Some of the best-known are Caligula, Nero, Tiberius, Herod, Ivan IV, Leopold II, Vlad III, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Tojo, Pol Pot, Ho Chi Minh, Idi Amin, Robert Mugabe, and Saddam Hussein. If the blame for chemical attacks in Syria is correctly placed, that nation's ruler, Bashar al-Assad, is now competing for a place in this dark league.
However, please understand: If I call someone a tyrant, here or elsewhere, I'm not comparing him or her to these butchers. Most tyrants don't play in that league.
Kinder, Gentler Tyrants
Fortunately, most political tyrants lack either the disposition or the opportunity to spill rivers of their own people's blood. Consider two prominent heads of state who have shared front-page news stories with Assad lately: Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama.
So far President Putin has shown no overwhelming genocidal or fratricidal tendencies (as long as you overlook Chechnya, which most of the world seems willing to do). For the most part, his version of tyranny is dolled up for modern sensibilities. He engages in various displays of personal machismo, saves a flock of endangered cranes, and scripts and spins every possible moment of his media coverage. While avoiding the bloodbaths some of his predecessors unleashed, Putin still does things most tyrants do. He systematically represses freedoms of speech and press, rigs elections, and tinkers with the laws in order to consolidate, perpetuate, and increase his power.
President Obama isn't genocidal either, as far as I can tell, despite some of his prominent supporters' tendency to wish aloud for the large-scale extermination of Israel, Republicans, the Tea Party, or white people, depending on the provocation du jour. But President Obama has as frequent recourse to the tyrants' playbook as any president we have ever seen.
Lawmaking by Executive Fiat
One of the most common tactics of tyrants who rise in societies with representative legislative institutions is to bypass the legitimate lawmakers. Typically, the justification is the legislature's reluctance or inability to act, its inefficiency, or its partisanship. Tyrants often invoke the will or welfare of the people to justify their unilateral acts. Necessity and emergency are near the front of their playbook for good reason.
President Obama signaled his disdain for Congress and our constitutional separation of powers from the very beginning of his regime, by appointing hundreds of "tsars" -- a telling word -- who did not require Senate confirmation, and who largely took over policy-making roles normally filled by officials who do require Senate confirmation. But that was only the beginning.
While denying it occasionally in speeches, President Obama has nevertheless claimed the right to suspend existing laws he doesn't like, to impose legislation of his own through executive action and regulation, and unilaterally to alter laws passed by Congress and signed by himself and other presidents. This goes far beyond the legitimate executive function of creating the regulations and processes which are necessary to implement the laws Congress passes. He goes much further, routinely supplanting or overriding the will of Congress -- which in our system is the official will of the people.
For example, President Obama has unilaterally decreed several major changes to ObamaCare, which no law, including that one, gives him the power to do.
He has implemented some parts of the DREAM Act (involving immigration and border control), which Congress has refused to pass.
Likewise, he has ordered the EPA to impose carbon emission limits which Congress refused to impose.
He has waived by decree, without Congressional action, work requirements contained in the welfare reform law Congress passed in 1996.
Last year he directed federal contractors violate the federal law requiring 60 days' notice before mass layoffs or plant closings, to push that notice past Election Day.
The list is much longer and growing, but these are some of the highlights.
Laws to Punish Opponents, Exemptions for Friends
ObamaCare displays another tactic of tyrants. It's very common for a tyrant to impose draconian regulation on society at large, then exempt his friends. A long list of Obama-friendly companies and labor unions have already been exempted from ObamaCare. At least one friendly state has, too.
One of President Obama's favorite partners in crime is Attorney General Eric Holder. Holder has ordered that there be no investigations or prosecutions of voter fraud or intimidation where the victims are white. More recently, he has ordered US attorneys to withhold evidence when charging non-violent, non-gang-related drug offenders, as a means to evade mandatory sentencing laws. There is bipartisan interest in Congress in revising and relaxing mandatory sentences, and a proper president would wait for the process and might participate. But a tyrant does not need to wait, and neither, apparently, do his under-tyrants.
All of these are abuses of the rule of law. The problem is not simply the unequal imposition of bad or unjust laws. If the chief executive can rewrite duly constituted law at any time according to his whim, without recourse to Congress, the separation of powers and the legitimate legislative process are seriously degraded, with far-reaching effects. The law itself becomes a slippery thing, if it can be changed without due process. But shall we continue with our tyrant's resume?
Using Federal Agencies as Political Muscle
Another popular tactic of tyrants -- yet another abuse of the rule of law -- is using the apparatus of the government to obstruct or harass opponents. Every week or two, there is some news about the growing heap of abuses the Obama administration has perpetrated using the Internal Revenue Service. This is not a small thing; it is toxic to liberty and good government. It hardly matters whether the White House specifically ordered these abuses or simply established the culture in which they thrive. (Of which more next time.)
Internal Espionage and the Informant Culture
Remember all the terrible things the Democrats -- and, to be fair, the libertarians -- said about the Bush administration potentially using the Patriot Act against Americans not linked to terrorism? Some of those things may have happened under President George W. Bush, but they are rampant under the current Democratic president -- who was one of the people accusing his predecessor of those abuses. All the best tyrants use their government apparatus to spy on the people.
They encourage the people to spy on each other, too.
In Stalin's time, a certain Soviet schoolchild was hailed as a national hero for reporting his father's secret opposition to Stalin. His father was sentenced to a labor camp, then reportedly executed. The boy's family supposedly killed the boy in retaliation, thus making him a martyr.
We're a long way in the US from sending critics to concentration camps. But we're getting pretty close to ascribing heroism to snitches who report critics of the regime. And every so often, we hear a story of the Obama administration setting up a web site and encouraging people to report the identities of critics or encouraging federal workers to rat out critics they encounter at work -- not lawbreakers, just political opponents. (For further discussion of a recent initiative, google "insider threat program.") Generally, when such a story comes to light, the Obama regime publicly backs down, retracts the web site, posts a disclaimer, etc. It's simple enough to come back later with something similar, but called by a different name.
Encouraging a culture of informing on political opponents is something tyrants do, and and our chief executive and his many of his supporters are clearly willing to to do it. Even when his speech writers manage to get just the right American-sounding words on the teleprompter, which isn't as often as we might expect, the President's and his allies' instincts and actions are often tyrannical. They're surprisingly open about it, too, in many cases, as if they believe too few of us to matter will actually notice and be troubled by their tyranny.
Corrupting the Language
Political opponents generally (among others) tend to corrupt the language, but tyrants raise this exercise to a much higher level. In our time the global war on terror becomes "overseas contingency operations." And because the enemy must not be named or blamed or found on American soil, when a radicalized Muslim doctor murders numerous soldiers at Fort Hood, we call it "workplace violence."
A terrorist act becomes a "man-caused disaster."
A certain degree of most of the things I've mentioned is politics as usual. But we're far beyond that now. This is not just routine silliness, like the absurd naming of the Affordable Care Act, which damages care and isn't affordable. We're talking about a studied, continual effort to obscure the nature of things.
David Harsanyi's recent question is apt: "How can we deal with a problem if we're not even allowed to talk about it honestly?"
Tyrant Is as Tyrant Does
Using a tyrant's tools to do tyrannical things makes a man a tyrant, even if that man is the president of the United States.
Tune in next time, when I'll tie up some loose ends. This will include answering questions such as: Do I think President Obama should be impeached? Who was Pavlik Morozov? Is any criticism of President Obama automatically racially-motivated?
Meanwhile, keep watching. There's more tyranny to come.
Copyright 2013 by David Rodeback.