To Govern…Or to Rule?

Last week , Steve Skojec shared a moving video that juxtaposed President Obama’s pro-life rhetoric in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting with Obama’s support for the legalized killing of unborn children. The President’s words were moving because they spoke to the inviolable dignity of human life; coming from the most staunchly pro-abortion president ever, those words are also disturbing.

Last Wednesday was Religious Freedom Day, by proclamation of President Obama.  The proclamation reads almost like it was written by the USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Freedom. It speaks of religious freedom as our first freedom, a God-given right which, through the wisdom of the Founders, is enshrined and defended in the Constitution. “Because of the protections guaranteed by our Constitution,” the President insists, “each of us has the right to practice our faith openly and as we choose.”

King ObamOf course, these words come from a President who has used the authority of his office to define religious freedom more narrowly than any President in history and whose administration recently argued that Americans who operate a “secular business” cannot also claim a right to the free exercise of religion.

Surely the President must know how this sounds to the dozens of institutions that are currently suing his administration and to the millions of Americans who find his stance on religious freedom down-right dangerous.

Does the President not hear himself? Does he not grasp the contradictions? Is he really so obtuse? I don’t have an answer—although cynicism comes to mind—but I think I can point to the beginning of an answer.

Here’s President Obama in his first inaugural address, four years ago:

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics. We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things.

Morally mature and sophisticated people will agree that a healthy dose of benevolent grown-up-ness is just what we need to get down to the business of “progress.”

But the President knows full well that our deepest political divisions are neither petty nor childish: abortion, the nature of marriage, the waging of war, and a national debt so large it beggars belief. Here he is in his commencement address at the University of Notre Dame:

Understand – I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away. No matter how much we may want to fudge it – indeed, while we know that the views of most Americans on the subject are complex and even contradictory – the fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable. Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature.

Irreconcilable: that’s not a word one hears from president’s very often, at least not when speaking about differences between and among the American people.

On Monday, in his second Inaugural Address, the president returned to the theme of his first inaugural:

Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time – but it does require us to act in our time.

For now decisions are upon us, and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate. We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years, and forty years, and four hundred years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.

It doesn’t matter that our views of right and wrong are irreconcilable, or that American society is rife with moral contradictions. What matters is that we have a president who has deigned to rise above our childish and petty grievances. President Obama, believes himself to be a judicious and reasonable man, the Adult in the Room. Who but the petty and childish could oppose such a judicious and reasonable man?

To make matters worse, President Obama has a hard time distinguishing his own person from the office he holds.

Having a pedant in the White House may be annoying, but what is dangerous—and I don’t use that word lightly—is having a president who believes his job  is to use the force of government to settle “irreconcilable” disputes. I say dangerous, not because President Obama means the country ill, on the contrary. (We must not confuse arrogance with ill-will.) No, the President’s understanding of government is dangerous because it self-consciously places government ahead of the governed. A government that merely expresses the will of the people is not enough—Progress cannot afford the luxury of forbearance.

Government, as the President sees it, must lead the people to will what they ought, by force of law if necessary. And he, as head of the government, gives to government its direction. Such a vision of the presidency cares little for contradictions of principle because all principle ultimately yields to Progress.

And guess who defines “Progress.”

No matter how well-intentioned the President, a government that takes it upon itself to show us the way—“Forward!”—is not the kind of government Lincoln had in mind when he spoke of “government of the people.” It seems clear to me that under such a government it is no longer the case that the president governs but the people rule.

Stephen P. White is a fellow in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, DC and coordinator of the Tertio Millennio Seminar on the Free Society. The views expressed here are his own.


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  • Greg B.

    “administration recently argued that Americans who operate a “secular business” cannot also claim a right to the free exercise of religion.”

    Straw man alert!!!! That’s NOT what they argued. What they argued is that a company paying a portion of their employees’ health insurance premium is not a a religious exercise. Big, bid difference between reality and your desperate spin.

  • Chris R

    This president is a charlatan.

    • Russell Lewis

      Oh, in what way? And you might want to actually check the meaning of the word before you answer.

      • Chris R

        Russell, help me out with your wisdom. What word would you use to describe a sleazy politician who ridiculously tries to pass himself off as a Lincolnesque statesman?

        • Russell Lewis

          Well, I see your sarcasm, and raise you one.
          I would call him George Bush… pick the one you want.

  • Paulspr

    Doesn’t this website advocate for banishing gay people from protection under our civil marriage laws? Talk about ruling with an iron fist.

    It seems that laws that ban people from living their lives based on their beliefs is OK when you want to ban others from doing anything you disagree with.

  • Russell Lewis

    Completely inappropriate picture. Whenever your words don’t have substance, you resort to attacks and insults and way too many underhanded tactics. If someone had posted a picture of the Pope in a Hitler youth group uniform, there would already be 100 comments calling for the head of the person who posted it. You can make your point without belittling the man, who, like it or not, is the President of the United States.

    • Paulspr

      Agree 100%.

    • Joe M

      How is it underhanded when there is evidence that Obama wants to govern in ways that bypass the checks and balances of congress?

      Stephen just added the outfit that people who govern like Obama usually wear.

      • Russell Lewis

        If you don’t understand my whole point was about the picture. Then you think the picture is OK. You are obviously not even open to an honest discussion, you’ve made up your mind and I hope you enjoy yourself in your own close minded little world.

        • Joe M

          I did understand that your point was about the picture. I am open to honest discussion. Lets discuss!

          I think that portraying Obama as a king has merit on the basis that he has pursued multiple dictates outside of the checks and balances of congress. What is your counterargument to that point?

          • Russell Lewis

            And just exactly which checks and balances are you speaking about. Now leave out anything which is legal, like executive orders and tell me what he has done that is, illegal.

          • Joe M

            Executive orders are not automatically legal. Typically, when they are not, someone challenges them when they are implemented and some time later, the courts rule them unconstitutional.

            The Obama administrations acts in Libya, the HHS mandate, refusing to enforce immigration law, refusing to enforce DOMA and gun control proposals are all legally questionable.

            And as if to answer your question without me, we just heard in the news that Obama’s NRLA appointments were unconstitutional:

          • Russell Lewis

            Amazing, you are talking about several completely different issues.

            You should check your information about executive orders or provide some info about which ones have been ruled unconstitutional.

            Paragraph 2 has absolutely nothing to due with the subject of executive orders, save those for another another discussion. It is nice to see you have, however, damned the man for “proposals” things which have not even happened… yet.

            And yes, you did hear news of appointments, for the moment, being unconstitutional. The Supreme Court is however the final arbiter of the merits of unconstitutionality. However, on that note, may I assume you are concerned about the office of President and not just Mr. Obama appointing during a recess… If you are, here is a little information for you; “According to reports from the Congressional Research Service, during
            their time in office President Ronald Reagan made 240 recess
            appointments, President George H. W. Bush made 77 recess appointments,
            President Bill Clinton made 140 recess appointments, and George W. Bush
            made 171. Obama’s first term has seen a paltry 28.” You seemed to have missed that relevant bit of info while on your diatribe against the President.

            If you don’t like the man, just say so and we can end this discussion instead of you pulling up all sorts of misinformation and misguided discussion topics. That or come a little better armed to a discussion… say with relevant information and facts.

          • Joe M

            What is amazing about bringing up multiple issues? Obama and his administration has sought to work around the checks and balances of congress in multiple ways. Thus, portraying him as a king has merit.

            Legality is not the barometer of whether or not someone is trying to shirk the checks and balances of congress. Even if it were, I’m not sure why you feel justified in that regard. For example, parts of Obamacare were ruled unconstitutional. Remember that Obamacare was passed via a procedural trick, claiming that it was a budget bill in order to avoid the normal rules under which it would not have passed congress.

            The subject isn’t executive orders. The subject is Obama acting like a monarch rather than respecting the divided authorities of our government. All 3 of my paragraphs were in regard to that subject.

            The constitution gives the president the power to make appointments during THE recess. The word “the” is important here. It is a reference to the time between when congress is in session. Obama’s monarch-like behavior was entirely different. He tried to pass off a moment when members of congress weren’t in the building as being “the” recess referred to by the constitution. A third-grader can understand the difference. Yet, Obama and his cohorts definition of playing by the rules is “whatever the public lets us get away with.”

            I don’t like what Obama stands for. How could I? I’m Catholic. I also don’t like that he’s shown a willingness to over-step the authority of his office in order to accomplish his goals. It only serves to further divide our country by disenfranchising the citizens that his opposition in congress represents.

            I have answered your questions with specific, relevant references and logic. You claiming that I need to be “better armed” is a couple points shy of making an actual counterargument.

          • Russell Lewis

            Idiot. You will justify anything in your own mind. Your “logic” doesn’t make sense at all.

            And “I’m Catholic” is just plain dumb, plenty of Catholics like him.
            At least you had the balls to admit you don’t like the man… even if your reasons don’t make any sense.
            It’s obvious you have deluded yourself into believing only what you want to, seeing what you want and making up the rest.
            Discussing anything else with you will obviously be futile. Don’t even bother replying, I’m done reading anything from you… at least on this thread, I’m sure you’ll say something equally stupid on another subject.

            Have fun in your deluded, paranoid world… and enjoy the next 4 years knowing you couldn’t come up with a better candidate to try and indoctrinate the American voters with.

          • Joe M

            What part of my logic doesn’t make sense to you? I’m happy to clarify.

            Obama stands for many things that are in conflict with Catholic principles: gay marriage, abortion, forced funding of contraception. Are you doubting that Obama stands for those things? Or, are you doubting that Catholic principles are opposed to them?

            I will not try to insult you as you have insulted me. I hope that you can re-consider and see that I have reasons for my position and have given them to you in a civil manner.

    • Greg B.
      • Russell Lewis

        Just as much as I think the picture of the President is wrong, this picture is just as inappropriate.

        • Greg B.

          Which is exactly why I posted it.

          • Russell Lewis

            Ahh, then you ARE just being an asshole and not presenting any viable information or valid opinions.

        • Msgr. Charles M. Mangan

          J.M.J. I concur most heartily, Mr. Lewis. Neither picture is useful in the long run.

      • Msgr. Charles M. Mangan

        J.M.J. Greg B., This really is very offensive. And not for a moment did I express delight in the picture of our President that was previously posted.

        • Greg B.

          Yet you didn’t feel compelled to post a comment criticizing the author for the Obama picture. Thank you for proving my point.

          • Msgr. Charles M. Mangan

            J.M.J. That’s unfair, Greg B.

          • Greg B.

            So is using your religious preference as an excuse to target a segment of the population for persecution and discrimination. So is disparaging the marriages of people you don’t know by putting the word in quotes. But you do both. I guess the Internet is an unfair place.

          • Msgr. Charles M. Mangan

            J.M.J. Having a discussion with you is impossible. Your lack of charity towards others doesn’t allow for it. Get rid of your anger, and then let’s visit.

          • Greg B.

            You misinterpret my strong position for anger. If you expect your anti-gay agenda to be met with “charity”, you’re in for a lot of disappointment.



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