Most people seem to be in favor of the Obama Administration bypassing the judicial process and simply commanding that BP pay whatever Obama and his aides deem an appropriate amount in damages for the Gulf oil spill. We’re talking about BP here — how could anyone disagree with that, right? This attitude reveals a horrible lack of understanding of basic principle. In days gone by, there used to be an expression, “It’s the principle of the thing.” You don’t hear that much anymore. With respect to what Obama has done to BP, it’s crucial not to bypass two important principles: rule of law, and separation of powers. What always distinguished the United States from dictatorships was the existence of different branches of government. The executive branch executes the law, but does not make it. The legislative branch makes the law (not through “deeming,” as Nancy Pelosi does, but through actual debate and legislative procedure). And the judicial branch interprets the law. Lawsuits and torts have always been decided not by the arbitrary will of a President, a Governor or a Senator — but through a judicial process (i.e. in court). This dimension of civilization existed even before the United States, and the United States, when it held to its Constitution, dramatically improved on it. Once a President is given the right to use his will to substitute the rule of law — including any notion of judicial process — then the need for any other branch of government becomes irrelevant. Before long, the need for any other President will become irrelevant. If Obama — or any President — is to have dictatorial powers in this situation, in defiance of the Constitution, then what is to keep him from having dictatorial powers in any situation — or in all situations? The unprincipled masses might reply, “But BP must pay!” At what cost? Establishing a dictatorship out of what was once the American system of limited government, based on separation of powers and rule of law?
The damage from the oil spill by BP, while tremendous, is temporary and limited. The damage by the Obama Administration to the cause of individual rights and the Constitution — to the United States of America as we have known it — cannot be measured.