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Jewish World Review Jan. 25, 2000/ 18 Shevat, 5760

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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Stroke of the pen, law of the land: Clinton's Camelot -- PAUL BEGALA, the erstwhile Clinton aide whose head turns as if his neck has bolts during his lower-functioning CNBC talk show with Ollie North, once regaled the wonders of the executive order, "Stroke of the pen, law of the land. Pretty cool."

Mr. Begala, like his former White House employer, sees wielding power as the goal. Constitutions, checks and balances, and wisdom aside, those of his political ilk want their way.

This crowd takes the Camelot analogy a bit far. Kings mandate by fiat, not presidents, especially ones from the back woods of Arkansas. If a mythical female did emerge from the waters to hand Mr. Clinton the sword of power, I am certain he hit on her first.

As the days of his presidency wane, Mr. Clinton and his executive branch are emboldened. Not possessed of the skills, fortitude or vision of a leader, Mr. Clinton is a classic bureaucrat hell bent on micro-managing every emotional issue that buys him camera time. The Clinton pen fires off law even as the legislative branches, the elected representatives of the people, stand by stunned by the chutzpah.

With the acquiescence of his Interior Secretary, Bruce Babbitt, Mr. Clinton seized a million acres in Arizona with a national monument proclamation thus precluding commercial development. Stroke of the pen, rights and land are gone.

Norma Cantu, Clinton's undersecretary for civil rights in the federal education bureaucracy, has declared that any college or university heeding the constitutional prohibition on preferences will lose federal funds. Ms. Cantu dictates that race-based admissions continue. She also seeks to invalidate SAT and ACT testing programs because of racial impact. Stroke of the pen, and college admissions are under the control of the federal government.

Andrew Cuomo, Clinton's HUD secretary and Hillary-for-Senate booster, withdrew $60 million in federal funds from New York City because he didn't care for Guiliani's homeless program. Mr. Cuomo did so without input or accountability. Indeed, Mr. Guiliani has a program of dignity for the homeless that finds them with jobs, homes and a drug-free existence. Stroke of the pen, results are gone.

This unchecked political power and influence peddling that surround the regulatory pen are dangerous.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has halted the construction of a school and hospital in San Bernardino county because 8 New Delhi Sands flies, the only fly on the endangered species list, were found near the construction site. The county has spent $4,000,000 thus far to relocate the flies and faces default on the project bonds ($42 million) because the Feds will not clear construction. Environmentalists and regulators have moved from ranchers, loggers, goshawks and spotted owls to city slickers and flies.

The sheer brute force of the mighty regulatory pen is a formidable opponent for democracy. Regulations are at once oppressive and ineffectual.

A spaghetti bowl of federal edicts ineffectual in silliness and overpowering in detail chokes daily life. For example, every food item now has that goofy nutrition label with the various food pyramid grams. One can understand the importance of knowing the fat grams in Pringles who even knows what's in Pringles? But, in the ultimate rebuke to creationists, apples require federal food disclosures because, land o' Goshen, apples have fiber. Since the implementation of this nutritional information edict, intended to bring full disclosure to a tubby public, the nation's girth has grown.

Pre-regulation (1991), 46% of the adult population were overweight. Thanks to regulation, that figure is 54% with the obese category creeping up from 15% up to 23%. Stroke of the pen, poundage up.

Auto air bag regulations illustrate the iatrogenic phase of the federal pen: new regulations to curb the harm of earlier regulation. Air bags were a mandated federal passive safety device. Then the air bags decapitated children sitting in the front seats of cars. Now federal regulations require auto disclosure labels of the air bag hazard for children. One may doubt the wisdom of a mandatory safety feature that requires a warning about its lack of safety. Now parents must put their children in the back seats of their vehicles which renders front seats useless which means they need bigger cars, i.e., SUVs, which the federal government now seeks to regulate because of supposed safety issues which are that folks in SUVs fare better in accidents than folks in GEOs. Stroke of the pen, mess.

From the number of gallons in a flush of your toilet (1.6) to the environmental surcharge on your dry cleaning, the federal pen is omnipresent. The Labor Department nearly invaded the homes of telecommuters with ergonomic regulations. Hooted down, now the Clinton Labor Department proposes taking state unemployment compensation funds to pay parents taking leave under the Family Medical and Leave Act, even as state administrators protest the depletion of that resource needed for inevitable economic downturn. Seizing the funds and lives of citizens everywhere. Stroke of the pen, law of the land. Pretty frightening.

JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.


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© 2000, Marianne M. Jennings