Politics

George Will: Obama cut classes the day they taught ‘separation of powers’ at Harvard Law

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Jeff Poor
Media Reporter

On NPR’s “Morning Edition” on Wednesday, Washington Post columnist and Fox News contributor George Will attacked President Barack Obama for what seems to be his view of the U.S. Constitution’s separation of powers, saying he must have “cut class the day they got to the separation of powers because he seems to consider it not just an inconvenience but an indignity.”

In an interview with National Public Radio’s Steve Inskeep, Will explained that the sort of impasses plaguing the federal government like the budget shutdown are part of what he called “the Madisonian scheme,” which intentionally makes moving the federal government in one direction difficult.

“This is the Madisonian scheme,” Will said, referring to former President James Madison, who has been called “the father of the Constitution.”

“Each institution shall be the jealous asserter of its prerogatives and try to maximize its power,” Madison continued. “I sometimes think that when he was at Harvard Law School, Mr. Obama cut class the day they got to the separation of powers because he seems to consider it not just an inconvenience but an indignity. Although he got 270 electoral votes and therefore gets to be president, he didn’t get everything. The Madisonian scheme is for the government to be hard to move. It’s supposed to be. People look at Washington and say, ‘Oh gosh this is so difficult.’ It’s supposed to be difficult.”

Inskeep said that although that is the Madisionian scheme, detractors of the current Republican efforts to defund Obamacare by using the purse strings as leverage are short-circuiting a system that has seemed to approve of Obamacare based on the last presidential election. But Will disagreed, noting the argument that Obamacare is the “law of the land” neglects to realize a lot of other bad laws were once laws of the land.

“How does this short-circuit the system?” he replied. “I mean, I hear Democrats say ‘the Affordable Care Act is the law’ as though we’re supposed to genuflect at that sunburst of insight and move on. Well, the Fugitive Slave Act was the law. ‘Separate but Equal’ was the law. A lot of things were the law and then we changed them. And this is part of the bruising, untidy, utterly democratic technique for changing laws.”

He added that using measures as the Republicans are doing is not unprecedented, as two prominent congressional Democrats had tried in the early 1970s.

“It’s been tried — something like that,” Will replied. “In 1973, as I’m sure you know, the debt ceiling came up and [Democrats] Ted Kennedy, Walter Mondale attached a campaign finance scheme to the debt ceiling. It didn’t work. This is not novel.”

Will did admit that the strategy as it is currently being implemented by congressional Republicans won’t give the political win in this battle. But he explained that Speaker of the House John Boehner was forced to go this route by a very active constituency. He also pointed out that the Congress flexed its muscle in a similar way in 1970 when former President Richard Nixon ordered the invasion of Cambodia, but was stripped of funding by the passage of the Cooper-Church Amendment.

“This is why Madison, my hero, emphasized where you put the power of the purse,” he added.

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