Thanksgiving Peace In the Midst of Turmoil

by Burt on November 25, 2014

“A historic power grab!” “A naked political move to win over Hispanics!” “Unprecedented seizure of power!”

These are some of the alarmist cries that have filled the air waves after President Obama signed his executive order to legalize millions of illegal aliens. Pat Buchanan, an expert on presidential politics, called Obama’s power play the “beginning of the end of the United States as one nation.” Baloney.

Today, we also see the destruction in Ferguson, Missouri. Activists such as Al Sharpton are rushing there to express opinions. Sharpton often acts as though he speaks for America, even though he still owes $4.5 million in back taxes.

Will President Obama’s power grab – and Sharpton’s posturing – endure? What does history tell us?

Other leaders in our lifetimes have launched somewhat similar power grabs and all have failed–or at least have not dented America’s constitutional separation of powers.

First, President Franklin Roosevelt, basking in his landslide reelection in 1936, launched an effort to pack the Supreme Court–to add six new justices whom he would appoint. FDR wanted Supreme Court justices who would protect his New Deal programs from legal scrutiny. Throughout 1937, critics warned of executive tyranny, that FDR “the dictator” was carving up the Constitution. Gallup took a poll asking if voters thought we were headed toward dictatorship. Even as FDR offered key senators juicy subsidies for their states, Congress held firm and denied the president his new justices. Court packing was dead forever.

Second, FDR during World War II issued his infamous executive order to violate the constitutional rights of tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans and incarcerate them in relocation centers. He got away with it for over two years, but his cabinet demanded that it stop after FDR was safely re-elected in 1944. It was no precedent. It has never happened again, and in 1988 Congress granted $20,000 in reparations to each surviving Japanese-American citizen. Congress then denounced FDR’s actions as “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”

Third, President Truman challenged the constitutional separation of powers in 1952 when he seized control of the nation’s steel mills and declared them under operation by the federal government. Truman did this because he wanted more steel output for the Korean War, and he was angry that the steelworkers union was threatening to go on strike and halt all steel production. Reporters and columnists fumed at Truman’s power grab, and some said it was the end of separation of powers in the U.S. But the Supreme Court rose to the occasion and struck down Truman’s decision in Youngstown Steel and Tube vs. Sawyer.

That result is likely to occur with President Obama’s effort last week to usurp power for his political ends. We Americans should give thanks this week for the enduring separation of powers in our legal system that has withstood repeated onslaughts by aggressive presidents. We still have a legal process that endures. The due process of law was followed in the Ferguson case. We are still a blessed nation.

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