French King Louis XIV believed that he had the right to do whatever he desired as the ruler of France. When asked to explain how he thought the king should interact with the rest of the government and the people, his reply was, "L’etat, c’est moi", or "I am the state", meaning that he was bound by no rules and had no limits.
Over the years, the expression became a catch phrase for those government officials who overstepped their bounds.
When America was created, the drafters of the Constitution carefully distributed the powers of the government among three branches to prevent any one branch or individual from acting as if there were no limits. This check-and-balance system was designed to keep everyone within pre-set boundaries.
So, for example, when the Office of Inspector General was created in 1978, for the purpose of allowing for independent audits of federal agencies and expenditures, the law specified that it would require the agreement of both the President and Congress to remove or transfer an Inspector General, and that the reasons would need to be set forth in writing at least 30 days before any action could be taken.
The intent of the law was clear. Auditors must be independent.
President Obama, however, has decided that this law does not apply to him. In the past month, he has single-handedly removed 3 Inspectors General from office, without following the established rules. In each case, the removed IG had been in the process of uncovering questionable activity in the course of the audit.
The 3 Inspectors are:
Gerald Walpin, who blew the whistle on the Mayor of Sacramento, causing his organization to pay back hundreds of thousands of dollars for misuse of federal community organizing funds. The Mayor has been given no penalty, but Mr. Walpin has been fired.
Neil Barofsky, tasked with watching over the financial stimulus spending. Mr. Barofsky was first denied access to Treasury documents he requested in the course of his audit, and then informed that he would lose his position in early July.
Judith Gwynne, in charge of the International Trade Commission, actually had documents forcibly removed from her office by ITC personnel. Less than 3 hours after a Senator complained about such actions, Ms. Gwynne was informed her contract, which expires in early July, would not be renewed.
Not one of the three IG removals was conducted in accord with the provisions of the Inspector General law. The message is clear – no questions are to be asked about how this administration conducts itself.
And although the particular issue here is financial, this is NOT a financial problem. It is a philosophical one. As the IG situation illustrates, we have a government that does not believe that it is subject to the same laws as the citizens. We have a government that believes that it is above any law.
We are not going to solve this philosophical problem with an accounting debate. Just like Jefferson and his counterparts, we need to understand that while unfair taxation is an obvious sign of tyranny – it’s tyranny itself that is the problem. Focusing on one symptom while ignoring the disease is like handing a person with pneumonia a bottle of Vapo-Rub.
King Louis may have believed that he was the state – but here in America, the state is "we the people". It’s time that we remind those in Washington of that reality.