If Obama does win, 2013 could possibly bring something approaching a constitutional crisis. With the House and perhaps the Senate in Republican hands, Obama’s clerisy may be tempted to use the full range of executive power. The logic for running the country from the executive has been laid out already. Republican control of just the House, argues Chicago congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr., has made America ungovernable. Obama, he said during the fight over the debt limit, needed to bypass the Constitution because, as in 1861, the South (in this case, the Southern Republicans) was “in a state of rebellion” against lawful authority. Beverley Perdue, the Democratic governor of North Carolina, concurred: she wanted to have elections suspended for a stretch. (Perdue’s office later insisted this was a joke, but most jokes aren’t told deadpan or punctuated with “I really hope someone can agree with me on that.” Also: Nobody laughed.)
The Left’s growing support for a soft authoritarianism is reminiscent of the 1930s, when many on both right and left looked favorably at either Stalin’s Soviet experiment or its fascist and National Socialist rivals. Tom Friedman of the New York Times recently praised Chinese-style authoritarianism for advancing the green agenda. The “reasonably enlightened group” running China, he asserted, was superior to our messy democracy in such things as subsidizing green industry. Steven Rattner, the investment banker and former Obama car czar, dismisses the problems posed by China’s economic and environmental foibles and declares himself “staunchly optimistic” about the future of that country’s Communist Party dictatorship. And it’s not just the gentry liberals identifying China as their model: labor leader Andy Stern, formerly the president of the Service Employees International Union and a close ally of the White House, celebrates Chinese authoritarianism and says that our capitalistic pluralism is headed for “the trash heap of history.” The Chinese, Stern argues, get things done.
A victorious Obama administration could embrace a soft version of the Chinese model. The mechanisms of control already exist. The bureaucratic apparatus, the array of policy czars and regulatory enforcers commissioned by the executive branch, has grown dramatically under Obama. Their ability to control and prosecute people for violations relating to issues like labor and the environment—once largely the province of states and localities—can be further enhanced.