The last gasps of Obama’s imperial presidency
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In a series of controversial moves, President Obama has defied the will of local and state governments and the American people, flexing the power of the executive branch in his final weeks in office.

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On Dec. 20, Obama announced the federal government would formally block most oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Ocean and in 21 underwater canyons in the Atlantic Ocean. According to a report by The Hill, an estimated “27 billion barrels of oil and 132 trillion cubic feet of natural gas” sit below the Arctic.

 

The decision to block access to millions of acres of potential energy resources drew significant praise from environmentalists, but Republicans in Congress and President-elect Trump condemned the moves, arguing they unnecessarily prevent energy companies from expanding operations, which they say will create more jobs. Although most Americans support protecting the environment, the vast majority also seem to support increasing domestic drilling operations, with 68 percent of voters saying they support offshore drilling in a 2014 poll conducted by Harris Interactive (on behalf of the American Petroleum Institute).

Because there is no precedence of reversing offshore drilling bans under the 1953 federal law used by the Obama administration, and because there are no provisions within the law itself about reversing bans, some scholars believe the incoming Trump administration will not be able to alter the ban without passing a completely new law.

Also in late December, Obama, using a 113-year-old law, announced the federal government would designate 1.35 million acres in southeast Utah as the Bears Ears National Monument, protecting the land from future development. Utah elected officials and the people of Utah, who voted overwhelming against Obama in his two elections and against Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonValadao unseats Cox in election rematch Trump says he'll leave White House if Biden declared winner of Electoral College Federal workers stuck it out with Trump — now, we're ready to get back to work MORE in November, have expressed their extreme displeasure with the decision since it was handed down, and many are hoping the Trump administration will be able to reverse the designation when he takes office on January 20.

Earlier in December, the Army Corps of Engineers, under significant pressure from Obama, announced it would not approve an easement needed for the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline, a $3.8 billion project that aims to transport 171 million barrels of crude oil annually to U.S. consumers, continuing the president’s legacy of opposing domestic oil and natural gas development.

When Obama hasn’t been busy fighting against the jobs-creating energy industry or unjustly preventing development on millions of acres of land, he’s been pardoning or commuting the sentences of more than 1,300 convicted criminals, including 395 who were serving life sentences. In 2016 alone, Obama pardoned  more than 1,000 people, and on December 19, he broke the record for most clemencies granted by a president in a single day, when he shortened the sentences of 153 convicts.

By pardoning and commuting the sentences of more than 1,300 people who were found to have broken the law, Obama has effectively undermined the justice systems of the states and disregarded the will of the people who voted for representatives who enacted the laws used to convict these criminals. The large number of pardons/commuted sentences also puts Americans’ lives and property at risk.

These destructive actions made by the Obama administration not only cause harm, they make a mockery of the rights of states and local governments. For the president, it doesn’t matter whether local people want the Bears Ears National Monument, more affordable energy prices, or people who have broken the law to remain behind bars; all that matters is what Obama wants and believes to be right. It is, in essence, a form of federal imperialism, and discussions about the positive/negative effects of any of Obama’s recent executive power moves should always exist with that overarching theme in mind.

One of the reasons the founding fathers created a federalist government is because the independent sovereign states would never have agreed to form a national government under any other circumstances. States wanted to maintain significant control over their own affairs. This wasn’t simply a matter of preference, however. Americans in the 18th century understood local governance is good governance—not necessarily because local governments always make the right decisions, but because those decisions are more likely to resemble the will of the local people than laws imposed by a centralized national government. 

Times have changed, but those foundational principles remain as true as they have ever been. Obama, operating as his progressive predecessors Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt did, disagrees, instead seeing the role of the national government as similar to a father who must watch over young, foolish children. If left to our own devices, Obama reasons, we’ll destroy the planet, ruin the economy, and greedily lie and steal from one another. Only a well-meaning paternal figure can save us.

Of course, what Obama and like-minded power-grabbers won’t tell you is government has been the greatest destroyer of liberty in world history. Governments have murdered, stolen property, discriminated, and selfishly put themselves over and above the needs of their people on a scale even the vilest of corporate fat cats couldn’t imagine. Despite the assertions made by self-proclaimed “democratic” socialists—such as Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersIn defense of incrementalism: A call for radical realism Thomas Piketty says pandemic is opportunity to address income inequality Trump will soon be out of office — but polarization isn't going anywhere MORE (I-Vt.), and arguably Obama himself—American progressive governments have been some of the greatest enemies of human rights.

Progressive governments banned Americans from consuming alcohol, threw tens of thousands of American citizens in concentration camps because of their race (during both World War I and World War II), deliberately gave guns to violent drug cartels, confiscated property without obtaining a conviction, and even poisoned Americans’ alcohol.

Americans elected Trump because they reject these policy ideas as fundamentally in opposition to the liberty that has always been promised in the United States to all its citizens. Hopefully, Trump will use in time in office to advance the cause of liberty by, in part, working to undo the many anti-liberty actions made by the Obama administration, including his most recent destructive efforts. 

Justin Haskins (jhaskins@heartland.org) is executive editor of The Heartland Institute.


The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.