Obama’s Actions are Unconstitutional: Redux

Long before our time, the customs of our ancestors molded admirable men, and in turn these eminent men upheld the ways and institutions of their forbearers.  Our age, however, inherited the Republic like some beautiful painting of bygone days, its colors already fading through great age; and not only has our time neglected to freshen the colors of the picture, but we have failed to preserve its forms and outlines.–Cicero

Catholic Vote Readers, thank you very much for the several responses to my piece yesterday regarding the possible impeachment (and I still highly encourage it) of the sitting president (though, of course, he’s calling in his war order from Brazil).  Please forgive yet another post on this–I’m on the road, and it’s much easier to post as a blog than as separate responses to the various comments.  We’re on the fourth day of spring break, two hours from our final destination (Cedar Creek, Texas) as I type this.  Additionally, my oldest child, Nathaniel has turned 12 today.  A great day for this young man who wants, at least at this point, to be a Marine and a priest.  Please pray for him.

But, again, please know how much I appreciate the responses, whether they agree or disagree, gently or not, with my own position.  Such spiritedness moves me greatly.

Several points.

First, and I’m not sure how this could be argued in any other way: the president is guilty of violating the constitution in the most grievous way.  A blockade of any kind–air or water–has been regarded as an act of war by the Law of Nations and by International Law for centuries.  Whether the sitting president has the support of allies or not, matters not in the least.  President Obama, as the chief executive of the United States, has brought us into conflict with a foreign people, itself torn by its own civil war.  Congress did not authorize this, nor has the president sought its recognition.  A president has absolutely no constitutional authority or right to bring us into war with a foreign people without a declaration of war from the U.S. Congress.

Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution states quite explicitly that the power to declare war is reserved to the Congress and the Congress alone.  This was not a decision made on whim by the Founders.  Only a sovereign legislature represents the people, and only the people have the right to declare war.  They should never do so for light reasons, but only for the greatest of causes.  Our president has been elected not by the people but by the electoral college.  He does not–nor can he without the consent of Congress–speak for the people as a whole.  Is our sitting president the first to violate the Constitution on this matter?  Of course not.  He’s no more or less guilty than the others.  But, he’s just as guilty.  The difference at this moment in time is this: the American people have elected a Congress with the specific intent of having it reign in the powers of the federal government.  The right to declare war, again, is reserved exclusively to the Congress.

If Congress is to be worthy of the American people, it should impeach the sitting president for violating the Constitution.  It matters not in the least whether a president is right, left, conservative, squishy, Republican, or Democrat.  All that matters is that he (or, someday, I assume, she) upholds his oath to defend the U.S. Constitution.  The current president has betrayed his oath and violated the founding document of this republic.

Second, the comments labeled me, variously, a shill for the Republican party, an ally of the left, an ally of whackos, and heated.  While I might very well be all of these things, I stand by my position.  And, if quoting the Constitution takes away from our arguments against abortion. . . . (no, wait, I have no reply to this comment, as I’m at a complete loss as to what the connection is.)

As an additional comment, when I was asked to contribute to CatholicVote, I was never told to conform to anything; that is, conform to nothing beyond giving my views on whatever subject as a Roman Catholic.  While I would never claim to be an expert on foreign policy, I can say with some confidence that I’m not only a straight-down-the-line JPII/B16 Catholic, I’m also a historian with an expertise of the American Founding and the first 100 years of the American republic.  I hope this doesn’t come across as arrogant–but it is factual, and I’ve been teaching courses on the western and American traditions for nearly two decades.

Should Josh Mercer, the editor, restrain me and my opinions, I will certainly acquiesce.  But, that I both praise Tom Crowe for his views and disagree with some of his specifics should not be seen as inconsistent.  I respect Tom immensely; if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have commented on him at all; I would have simply ignored him.

There is no litmus test–beyond being Catholic and being humane–for blogging at Catholic Vote.  I would think readers would appreciate that the several contributors are not always in agreement and that we’re not presenting some conformist, ideological viewpoint.  Should conformity ever happen, we’ll probably each go our separate ways.

Third, it should be remembered that impeachment is nothing more (as well as nothing less) than the House of Representatives giving a vote of “no confidence” on the sitting president.  It has no legal implications.  Up to this point in American history, Congress has acted in a very restrained manner when it comes to employing this right.  Presidents Johnson and Clinton were impeached for crimes much, much less serious than unilaterally declaring war against a foreign power.

Fourth, I agree–Gaddafi is a murderer, and I’ve despised him since I was in my first year in high school in 1983.  My comments in the previous blog or this blog have nothing to do with the rightness of war (or not) against Gaddafi.  It should be remembered that the U.S. allied itself with the second greatest mass murderer of all time during World War II.  We’ve butchered Mexicans as well as Indians.  We annihilated the one pro-western, Catholic city in Japan in 1945.  It would be nice if we always fought for the humane and the just.  We clearly have not.  My point is that war–which will involve the killing of American citizens and other persons, each made in the image of God–should not be decided by one person or one person and his cabinet.  It MUST be decided by a people as a body, and this can only be done by a sovereign legislature.

So, as an American, a republican (yes, that’s a small “r” republican), and a Roman Catholic, I willingly call our current president unconstitutional, arrogant, and corrupt.  He does not–nor can he by the powers of the U.S. Constitution–speak for the American people on matters of war without the consent of the U.S. Congress.

If the members of the House have any backbone, they will begin impeachment proceedings as quickly as possible.  While President Obama is not the first to abuse his role as chief executive. . .  it would be good to stop his power before it does becomes a permanent tradition.  The republic is greater than one man or one generation or many generations.  What we do here and now might very well affect thousands of years of republican virtue, liberty, and order.

[image above from: http://www.richgibson.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/obama_war.jpg



  • Teep

    I see the overall context of your argument a bit more clearly now. I take it you are, therefore, also against entangling alliances of any kind, the U.N. for example? NATO? These agreements seem to unnecessarily move our hand when it comes to international raids like the current “tomahawking” of Libya. That is, by being one of the largest players on the security council, we wind up being the one committing militarily, to a degree usually far greater than this current action. I don’t disagree with you that there is something unconstitutional going on here, but the US congress shot it’s own foot in 1973. Whether or not you think the war powers act is licit under the constitution, it still remains as the door through which executive prerogative finds its entry in these invasions. You want to blame someone? Blame the legislators for passing the war powers act despite Nixon vetoing it at one point. Your claim is well taken, fairly supportable and classically (Lockean) liberal in its outlook. However, the Thomas Paine approach of desiring impeachment is, I think, a non-starter. The legislature itself opened the door, even if the crack it opened was not meant to let in any little excuse for a ‘police action’. Understand, I don’t, in principle, disagree. Perhaps I have too much Cesare Borgia-like shrewdness in my IR realism to agree with your conclusions.

  • tom dugas


    Now you’ve gone to far. Your fourth point is an insult. As you say, “During WW2 we alied ourselves with the second greatest mass murderer of all time.” So what should we have done. Ally ourselves with Nazi Germany, the first greatest mass murderer of all time? I think, and you will probably agree, that we should have stayed neuteral, as we had INTENDED to. But when your back is against the wall you need to take action. The Soviet Union was nothing compared to Germany. I’m sure the actions of the Soviet Union during and after the war were atrocious, but holding northern Asia against the Japanese and Germans was necessary. Then you say, “We’ve butchered Mexicans as well as Indians.” Ok, I am against the past actions of Custer and Chivington. I think that the big egotistic WASPs who moved the Indians off of their land were wrong. But where do you come off saying that we’ve killed Mexicans? Three incidents; the Alamo, Pancho Villa’s invasion of Colombus, New Mexico, and the drug wars are perfect examples of Mexicans killing more of our people than we have theirs’. And finally you say, “We annihilated the one pro-western, Catholic city in Japan in 1945.” I’m going to put an end to this illusion. Japan was a socialist country at the time. Catholicism was there, but not thriving. As in every city in Japan Nagasaki was not exempt of millitary presence. Nagasaki was not the original target. The city of Kokura was the original target but there was a storm over it, making it impossible to reach. So the B-29 was ordered to proceed to the nearest city, which just so happened to be Nagasaki. Plus the casulties caused by the atom bombs were not even half of the deaths caused by the Japanese millitary in the Pacific. The bombs were terrible, yes, but they were intended for nothing else except to end the war, and certainly not to kill Catholics in particular. I usually don’t bring up this subject, seeing as how Japan is our friend and ally nowadays. Before mentioning all this, you talk about how bad Gaddafi is, making your fourth point an “if the boot fits” paragraph. Please! All of that is in the past. We’ve had our humble pie and we’ll probably have some more once we end abortion and get rid of liberalism. But believe me, we have fought for the right side a lot more often than you know. Pray for our troops and our country. Regards, Tom

    • Brad Birzer

      Hi Tom, thanks much for this–believe me, it is well received. At least by me. I pray for our country and our troops daily, and I will continue to do so. I’d also like to write–as I assume is obvious–that I certainly can and often do write, speak, etc. with a bit of an “over the top” quality. My failing. But, I don’t think anything I wrote in this blog was untrue. I worried about making the fourth point, only because I knew it would distract from the rest of the argument. But, let me please make two points here, and I’d very much like to know your reaction. 1) I worry that we carry a strong legacy of extreme violence as a people–against the Indians, against the peoples of northern Mexico (I’m thinking specifically of the 1847 campaigns in Mexico itself), against the the Filipinos (in the early 1900s), against Japanese Americans in WWII, etc. Have we also been the most charitable nation in the history of the world? Absolutely. So, for me, it’s not an either/or. At the same time, as Americans, we have to be proud of what we’ve done as well as remorseful what needs and deserves remorse. 2) A question is right based on right, not on numbers. I won’t argue with you that overall more Mexicans have killed more Americans than Americans have killed Mexicans. I don’t know if this is true, but I’ll take your word for it. Regardless, it doesn’t make our killing of Mexicans or anyone else good. If we don’t stop our current president (and, frankly, I don’t care if he’s a democrat, or a republican, or a libertarian, or a socialist) from claiming, unilaterally, the right to bomb another country, we’re playing into the very negative side of our history rather than the very good side of our country. Again, Tom–your patriotism is much, much appreciated. Yours, Brad

      • tom dugas

        Ok, Brad,

        I understand more thoroughly now that you are a very cool headed fellow American. Your humble and I very much respect that. Although my pride comes from being an American my humility comes from being a Catholic. I believe you’re right about President Obama’s rash decision. He should have consulted Congress first. Not to mention we have our own problems, and another war to attend to. I am proud of my American heritage and when I hear other Americans deny that heritage because of her history it is sadly offensive. If you and I uphold that heritage, we can set a good example for the U.S.A. and for the world. Thank you and God bless, Tom Dugas

  • Pz1

    Where were you when we we went to war in Afghanistan or Iraq? Neither of these wars involved an explicit declaration of war, which makes them unconstitutional as well.

    • Amanda

      I think this blog only started 5 years ago, so it would have started after we already had operations going on in Afganistan and Iraq. However I’m sure if you google it you will find a lot of people felt Bush shouldn’t have done this either. In fact any time a president wants to declare “war” most of the time at least one party or another is saying it is wrong and unconstitutional. But since the President is in charge of the military, he can send them where he wants to, and normally Congress is behind the President when that happens.

    • Patrick

      Well, Brad wasn’t blogging for CatholicVote then, but as he’s mentioned a few times, the inaction of our congress on the failures of earlier presidents does not excuse, nor allow them to be silent this go around.
      “While President Obama is not the first to abuse his role as chief executive. . . it would be good to stop his power before it does becomes a permanent tradition.” From above

    • Brad Birzer

      Pz1, I’ve been opposing foreign interventions of this nature since the early 1990s. I just had a much smaller audience then. I agree with you regarding the unconstitutionality of Afghanistan and Iraq, and I openly opposed the unconstitutional process of each. What about you? Where were you?

      • Greg Smith

        Dear Brad – Do you oppose “foreign interventions” or only ones where congress hasn’t voted a declaration of war? From my perspective, President Bush the Younger should have, after 9/11, gone to congress and ask for a delaration of war against Afganistan. I wouldent have touched Iraq. What would you have done if you were president then? ~ Best regards, Greg Smith

        • Brad Birzer

          Dear Greg, I’m extremely worried that we’re developing habits of empire, and very quickly moving toward the last days of the republic. It saddens me deeply, as a republic is rare and precious, and it demands constant attention. I’m certainly not a pacifist and the Marines and the Catholic Church are my two favorite institutions. I do, however, generally think foreign interventions are unwise. But, some, of course, are absolutely necessary.



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