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Mark Steyn

Steyn on the World

Elections Matter?

"Elections matter," declared President Obama in his 2012 victory speech. "Elections matter," he reiterated shortly before the 2014 midterms.

But it turns out they don't. Not to him. You gotta hand it to the guy: It would be hard to devise a more open expression of contempt for the will of the people than what he's just done. An election was held. His party lost, badly. And, without waiting for the new guys even to take their seats, in the so-called "lame-duck session" (an unnecessary carbuncular proceduralism most developed nations manage to do without), the President tells the - oh, what's the word? - "citizenry", "Hey, thanks for taking the trouble to drive to the polling station the other day. Leave your name at the desk and if we need you for cheering extras at my photo-op we'll get back to you." You can change legislators. Meanwhile, he'll change the legislation.

I'm getting weary of the monarchical comparisons, which are a bit of an insult to real monarchs. The Obama model seems to owe more to Judge Dredd, the popular comic-book figure with the power to arrest, convict, sentence and execute as he does what's necessary to bring hope and change to a dystopian megalopolis. Likewise, President Dredd: "He is the Law, and you'd better believe it!" A contempt for the people and for constitutional and legal restraints is what ties the President's actions on Thursday night to Eric Holder's corrupt justice department to Lois Lerner's corrupt revenue agency to Jonathan Gruber's corrupt health commissariat (merely to skim the surface of the most recent additions to the unending Obama-scandals document dump).

To express common-or-garden contempt for the will of the people, Obama could have simply repealed another handful of inconvenient paragraphs from Obamacare or made Lois Lerner Attorney-General, but the form of contempt he chose is especially exquisite: "legalizing" millions of foreign law-breakers and setting them on the path to US citizenship. The chief of state has heard the voice of the people and his message to them is: "Yeah, whatever, I can always get another people. Hey, here comes five million or so right now, plus another ten million in chain-migration relatives down the road..."

He is the Law, and you'd better believe it! And, even if you don't, what are you gonna do about it? Obama has made a bet that in the end a Republican Congress will have no more get-up-and-go than a chronic invalid dependent on armies of undocumented bedpan-cleaners. It has been suggested that Boehner should tell America's new ConLawProf-in-Chief to go give his State of the Union somewhere else. It would be a symbolic gesture, but symbols are important. In a contemporary North American context, it is not unknown for parliament to assert itself against the head of state: the chippy separatists of Quebec's "National Assembly", as part of their make-believe nation-building, have denied the Queen's viceroy the customary right to give the Speech from the Throne (the Westminster equivalent to the State of the Union) for four decades now. Down the road in Ottawa, in a particularly petulant outburst, Jean Chrétien, the Canadian Prime Minister, denied the Queen herself the opportunity to give the 2002 Speech from the Throne in the federal parliament for no other reason than that he felt she hadn't given him a good enough seat at her mother's funeral earlier that year. In actual monarchies, the subjects flip the finger at the sovereign all the time. Yet in a supposed republic of citizen-legislators for the people's house to assert its authority to the head of state by telling him to take a hike on the State of the Union would be an act of lèse-majesté too appalling even to consider. It would be entirely unreasonable to expect the legislature of the American republic to defend its lawful powers - and those of the people it represents - with the assertiveness of a provincial parliament in Canada.

Au contraire, it's the least the citizens who sent them to Washington are entitled to expect. The very least. And it would be constitutionally clarifying.

~At almost exactly the moment President Obama was proclaiming his unilateral redrafting of his nation's laws, an unprepossessing man bearing the striking name of Mark Reckless was being declared the winner of the Rochester & Strood by-election in England. He thus becomes the United Kingdom Independence Party's second MP at Westminster. Immigration was a big factor in his victory. I chanced to be passing through London on Thursday night and caught a faintly surreal edition of the BBC's "Question Time" in which spokespersons from the so-called "mainstream" parties plus the pundit Yasmin Alibhai-Brown whined that the growing popularity of the beastly Nigel Farage and his ghastly Ukip had forced the Tories and Labour into tagging along and going with the flow on the subject of immigration.

It's true. They have. The Labour spokesman on the panel sounded far tougher on immigrants than not just your average Democrat but your average Republican, too. He doesn't mean it, of course, but Nigel is regarded by those inside the Westminster bubble as some sort of Pied Piper of Xenophobia whose appeal to the knuckle-dragging yokels is so potent that Labour and Tory alike are obliged to pick up their penny whistles and try peddling a few new tunes of their own. They're not quite there yet. The "understandable concerns" about mass immigration are said to be the product of post-2008 "economic insecurity". But, in Britain as in America, I don't think that's it. My sense is that, even if the economy was going gangbusters and even if the much vaunted "economic benefits of immigration" were true, people increasingly regard the cultural transformation of their country as too high a price to pay.

It's also - as I write in my new book The [Un]documented Mark Steyn, personally autographed copies of which make a charming and thoughtful Christmas gift in this approaching holiday season ...where was I? Oh, yes: It's also part of the resentment, as I write in the book, that European electorates increasingly feel toward a closed political elite that felt it could settle all the important questions among itself. Or as I put it in when previously commenting on Ukip:

The Tories in particular might be better off thinking seriously about Ukip's appeal: If you reckon things are grand just as they are, having a choice between three indistinguishable "social democrat" parties — as Farage calls Labour, Liberal, and Conservative — is fine. If you don't think things are grand, then it seems increasingly strange and, indeed, unhealthy that not one of the three "mainstream" parties is prepared to support policies that command the support of half the electorate (EU withdrawal) and significantly more than half (serious border enforcement). Underneath the contempt for UKIP lies a careless assumption by the antiseptic metropolitan elite that their condescension is universally shared...

A good example of that cropped up this week and ended the career of a rising Labour star. Emily Thornberry, the shadow Attorney-General, Tweeted out a photograph of a house in the Rochester constituency with a white van parked outside and English flags hanging from the windows. The subtext was clear: Good grief, what ghastly people, no wonder they go for Ukip...

She was gone before the end of the day. Somewhat amazingly, Ed Miliband forced her to resign from his shadow cabinet. You can see why: Once upon a time, the patriotic working class was a Labour consituency - or at least one to be fought for. The "C2" demographic group is what delivered the country to Mrs Thatcher throughout the 1980s. Now, though, to that metropolitan elite, men with vans and flags are a joke. Miss Thornberry - or Lady Nugee, to use her married name - Tweeted her Tweet because, as I wrote in that Ukip piece, she assumed that her condescension was universally shared.

It's not, not yet. And so Ukip's victory on Thursday was a loss not just for the Tories but for Labour, too. America has a rigid two-party system, and good luck ever changing that. But in Britain the antipathy toward the political "mainstream" is such that in the general election in May not only is it now all but certain that no individual party will win a majority but it's increasingly unlikely that any two-party coalition could form a government, either. Nigel himself may never make it to the top of the greasy pole, but he's made it a lot greasier for everyone else.

Which is why, as Yasmin Alibhai-Brown complained, every party that wishes to remain electorally viable is now talking at least pseudo-tough on immigration.

Apparently, elections still matter in Britain - if not, alas, to Barack Obama.

from Steyn on the World, November 22, 2014

 

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