I’ve heard him say it more than twice now, and I’m starting to think there is something to it. I’m not a paranoid conservative. Nor do I hate liberals. I prefer, like Reagan, to think my liberal friends merely suffer from some sort of mental illness. But now I’ve heard the President say it on at least two occasions and it made my heart tick just a flash quicker, my head turn to the television, and my body freeze while I listened deeper into the meaning of his words.
On at least two occasions the President has used as an excuse for his inability to achieve his policy goals the fact that he isn’t an Emperor or Dictator. He’s used both terms. The implication of the argument is that if he were an Emperor or Dictator, he would be able to achieve all his campaign promises and policy goals. All he needs, like Kirk from the bridge of the Enterprise, is more power.
Part of me wonders, based on the way he says it, if he laments the restraints of his office. I’m not sure how else to interpret the response as to why he hasn’t been able to achieve policy A or Z when he begins with “The problem is…” and ends with “that I’m not an Emperor.” It sounds like the President finds our constitutional structure a real nuisance.
If not de jure Emperor, I think the President may be trying to be de facto Emperor. The Roman Emperors had a grand tradition of buying loyalty from the masses by giving them stuff. There was free grain from the city’s bins. Gold and silver plunder from Rome’s enemies. Circuses and gladiator fights to entertain. And of course redistributing the land and homes of the political opposition when convenient.
Many of the President’s policy objectives seem Romanesque efforts geared toward buying political support. Here are some of the basic programs: take money from people at one end of the income spectrum to give to political supporters at the other; expand citizenship to unauthorized immigrants in hopes they will become political supporters; force healthy citizens to buy health care so that the proceeds can be used to provide free or subsidized health care for political supporters; increase the ease of obtaining welfare benefits; extend the length of time a person can stay on welfare. All of these things seemed designed to attract and reward loyalty.
The latest proposal is to allow young people (a key Democratic target group) with student loans the option to pay off only part of the loan and walk away from the rest of it after giving it the old college try for a few years. Current law says that if a student makes minimum payments for 25 years, the remainder of the loan will be forgiven. This went into effect during the Bush years, so both men should be blamed for failing to teach college graduates the obligation one has to pay off borrowed money. But the Obama proposal reduces that payment horizon from 25 to 20 years – and here’s the best part – it reduces the payment obligation to only 10 years if you go to work for a non-profit agency or the government. In essence, if you side with the right faction the Emperor will wave off an entire decade of student loan payments. Go to work for an accounting firm or an oil company in the nasty private sector, be prepared to pay for an additional decade!
Our Founding Fathers loved Roman history because in those colorful stories of the Gracchi, Sulla, Marius, Julius Caesar, and countless others were the lessons as to why the Roman Republic lost its freedom. Our entire constitutional system was designed as a refutation of the Roman experience. The fact that the President isn’t an Emperor isn’t the problem, it’s the solution.