The Evil Pen
On August 23, Frank J. Murray presented an exhaustive special report
in the Washington Times on the subject of executive orders. Early
on, he quotes Paul Begala, 5-star general in President Clinton's
personal army. "Stroke of the pen, law of the land. Kind of
cool," says Mr. Begala.
During the early 1980's, on a concert tour of Hungary, I found
myself commenting to a friend about the general easing of the political
atmosphere, plenty of food, people saying more frequently what they
really thought - all in stark contrast to other colonies of the
Soviet Socialist Russian Empire, such as East Germany or Czechoslovakia.
"Don't be fooled," my friend retorted, "the pen
that can wipe out a man's very existence is still there. Right now,
the pen is held by a more decent hand, that's all."
One of the many ways of defining fundamental differences between
socialism and America is to point out that the U.S. Constitution
does not provide such a pen to any individual.
Nevertheless, Mr. Murray's research shows generous use of just
such a pen by all recent presidents. While presidents Kennedy and
Carter hold a comfortable lead, President Ford is not far behind,
and Bill Clinton's average falls between those of presidents Reagan
So why the sudden concern?
Because the pen is now held by a hand that is unrestrained by any
of the considerations which informed and guided American presidents
since George Washington. The hand is attached to a body whose heart,
brain, and other parts have made mockery of the oath the mouth had
recited - not once but twice - before taking office.
A review of executive orders currently in force cannot fail to
alarm the most placid and trusting soul among us. "They include,"
writes Mr. Murray, "vast powers to seize property, commodities,
fuel and minerals; organize and control the means of production,
including compulsory job assignments for civilians; assign military
forces abroad; institute martial law and force civilian relocation;
seize and control all forms of transportation and restrict travel;
seize communications and health facilities; regulate operation of
private enterprise; require national registration through the postal
service, or otherwise control citizens' lives."
True - many of these were first issued by others and only confirmed,
renewed and consolidated by Mr. Clinton. But the end result is that,
for all practical intents and purposes, Mr. Clinton can declare
himself dictator of America with yet another stroke of the pen.
He can choose to do so at, say, 3:00 a.m. so that we wake up to
a country of which we are no longer citizens, but prisoners.
The reality, of course, is that no sane person would have thought
past presidents - such as Carter, Reagan or Bush - capable of imposing
their personal rule upon the United States of America.
But it is also a reality that no sane person could think Mr. and
Mrs. Clinton incapable of imposing their personal rule upon the
United States of America.
No one before presumed to say that the American people cannot be
trusted to make proper use of the money they had earned.
No one before has placed an ever-growing circle of fortifications
between the People and the People's House.
No one before has populated an entire administration with purely
political appointees. Unlike the age-old system of patronage, as
practiced by both major parties, a cadre of operatives now runs
the executive branch. Their primary qualification is the contempt
they share with the presidential pair - contempt for the American
People and their Constitution. Previous administrations expected
loyalty. The present one requires obedience, even from legislators.
The result is a commissar mentality, making its way throughout
society. We find it already in our schools, we find it in "human
resource" departments, we find it at airline counters. Forty
years ago, when I arrived in this country, no one had even heard
of a driver's license with a photograph and persons in the service
industry were, well, of service. Today, baggage handlers have been
given federal authority to demand - government-issued - identification.
"Security" personnel standing around metal detectors,
scarcely able to speak three words in English, have the power to
The practice of giving police powers to one citizen over another
is an import from the worst regimes in this, or any other, century.
In a heartbeat, it can turn decent, ordinary Americans into commissars.
All of the above is happening because we are letting it happen.
Congress lets it happen. The courts let it happen. The Founders
Yet many in our midst will recite the mantra according to which
"a lot of time has passed since the Founding..." "They
didn't even have electric light, knew nothing about moon shots -
how could they have foreseen the world for which they were providing
guidance..." "We must treat the Constitution as a living-breathing
document and change it as needed..."
But the miracle of the American Founding was precisely that they
knew. Without electricity, without computers and space flights,
they knew. They wrote provisions so one person could not dictate.
They made certain America's future would not depend on whether "the
hand" was decent or not. They had seen how quickly rulers become
They knew the mortal danger of the evil pen.
Apparently, we don't.