The Evil Pen

Washington Times 8.31.99
Balint Vazsonyi

On August 23, Frank J. Murray presented an exhaustive special report in the Washington Times on the subject of executive orders. Early on, he quotes Paul Begala, 5-star general in President Clinton's personal army. "Stroke of the pen, law of the land. Kind of cool," says Mr. Begala.


During the early 1980's, on a concert tour of Hungary, I found myself commenting to a friend about the general easing of the political atmosphere, plenty of food, people saying more frequently what they really thought - all in stark contrast to other colonies of the Soviet Socialist Russian Empire, such as East Germany or Czechoslovakia.

"Don't be fooled," my friend retorted, "the pen that can wipe out a man's very existence is still there. Right now, the pen is held by a more decent hand, that's all."

One of the many ways of defining fundamental differences between socialism and America is to point out that the U.S. Constitution does not provide such a pen to any individual.

Nevertheless, Mr. Murray's research shows generous use of just such a pen by all recent presidents. While presidents Kennedy and Carter hold a comfortable lead, President Ford is not far behind, and Bill Clinton's average falls between those of presidents Reagan and Bush.

So why the sudden concern?

Because the pen is now held by a hand that is unrestrained by any of the considerations which informed and guided American presidents since George Washington. The hand is attached to a body whose heart, brain, and other parts have made mockery of the oath the mouth had recited - not once but twice - before taking office.

A review of executive orders currently in force cannot fail to alarm the most placid and trusting soul among us. "They include," writes Mr. Murray, "vast powers to seize property, commodities, fuel and minerals; organize and control the means of production, including compulsory job assignments for civilians; assign military forces abroad; institute martial law and force civilian relocation; seize and control all forms of transportation and restrict travel; seize communications and health facilities; regulate operation of private enterprise; require national registration through the postal service, or otherwise control citizens' lives."

True - many of these were first issued by others and only confirmed, renewed and consolidated by Mr. Clinton. But the end result is that, for all practical intents and purposes, Mr. Clinton can declare himself dictator of America with yet another stroke of the pen. He can choose to do so at, say, 3:00 a.m. so that we wake up to a country of which we are no longer citizens, but prisoners.

The reality, of course, is that no sane person would have thought past presidents - such as Carter, Reagan or Bush - capable of imposing their personal rule upon the United States of America.

But it is also a reality that no sane person could think Mr. and Mrs. Clinton incapable of imposing their personal rule upon the United States of America.

No one before presumed to say that the American people cannot be trusted to make proper use of the money they had earned.

No one before has placed an ever-growing circle of fortifications between the People and the People's House.

No one before has populated an entire administration with purely political appointees. Unlike the age-old system of patronage, as practiced by both major parties, a cadre of operatives now runs the executive branch. Their primary qualification is the contempt they share with the presidential pair - contempt for the American People and their Constitution. Previous administrations expected loyalty. The present one requires obedience, even from legislators.

The result is a commissar mentality, making its way throughout society. We find it already in our schools, we find it in "human resource" departments, we find it at airline counters. Forty years ago, when I arrived in this country, no one had even heard of a driver's license with a photograph and persons in the service industry were, well, of service. Today, baggage handlers have been given federal authority to demand - government-issued - identification. "Security" personnel standing around metal detectors, scarcely able to speak three words in English, have the power to arrest you.

The practice of giving police powers to one citizen over another is an import from the worst regimes in this, or any other, century. In a heartbeat, it can turn decent, ordinary Americans into commissars.

All of the above is happening because we are letting it happen. Congress lets it happen. The courts let it happen. The Founders knew better.

Yet many in our midst will recite the mantra according to which "a lot of time has passed since the Founding..." "They didn't even have electric light, knew nothing about moon shots - how could they have foreseen the world for which they were providing guidance..." "We must treat the Constitution as a living-breathing document and change it as needed..."

But the miracle of the American Founding was precisely that they knew. Without electricity, without computers and space flights, they knew. They wrote provisions so one person could not dictate. They made certain America's future would not depend on whether "the hand" was decent or not. They had seen how quickly rulers become corrupted.

They knew the mortal danger of the evil pen.

Apparently, we don't.