Both political pundits and the general public often compare presidents to one another, usually in order to help defend or attack presidential actions. For example, just about every major political scandal since 1973 has been given “gate” at the end of it in recognition of the Watergate scandal that destroyed the Nixon presidency. While absolute comparisons are clearly impossible to make—each President is faced with different contextual circumstances, after all—nevertheless, some similar actions and responses can, and should, be noted. If the caveat of context is kept in mind, these comparisons are useful, easy, and quick ways to help explain discontent or satisfaction with a presidential administration.
The current administration is no different. When President Obama was first elected in 2008 newspapers and other publications went to great lengths in the attempt to describe the Illinois Senator as the second coming of FDR and Lincoln all rolled into one. Whether President Obama can be compared to both Roosevelt and Lincoln is debatable (and depends on how positively or negatively you see Lincoln and FDR), yet there is a better—if somewhat surprising—historical comparison that can be made with the Obama administration, that of Charles I, the king of England from 1625–1651.
When side-by-side comparisons between the two are made, the similarities are quite stark. Here’s is a quick list of several of the more striking comparisons between the two.
1: Both embraced political ideas that were alien to the country they ruled:
Charles I embraced the Divine Right/Absolutism idea of Monarchy, which held that Monarchs were God’s chosen ruler of the people and must, therefore, be absolutely obeyed. Englishmen of the period had long rejected the idea that the Monarch and his/her rule was absolute. Rather, they embraced an idea that their constitutional system was predicated on customs and rights that dated back since “time immemorial.”
President Obama has embraced a Marxist/Extreme Progressivism, which essentially tries making the state all-intrusive and powerful. Although Americans have accepted certain statist elements in their system for around a century, they nevertheless still profess to accept the basic tenets that the government should be limited by constitutional proscription.
2: Charles and Obama have little respect for dissenting religious beliefs.
During Charles I reign, his Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, persecuted various dissenting sects—those protestant branches that did not conform to the Church of England—with the Puritans, Presbyterians, and Quakers being the most famous of his victims. This persecution, which was intense and often violent, was one of the causes for the growth of the New England Puritan colonies in the mid-17th century, as well as a driving cause behind the English Civil War and Charles’ military conflict with Scotland.
While President Obama has not engaged in such an obtuse scheme, his administration has displayed a shocking lack of respect for religious freedom and thought by attempting to force religious-affiliated hospitals, schools, and businesses, such as Hobby Lobby, to embrace and pay for activities that they consider morally repugnant. On top of that, there is increasing evidence that the Obama administration is persecuting Christian military chaplains who refuse to endorse homosexual marriage or couples.
3: Both force individuals to pay taxes without Legislative Consent.
In 1629, Charles I dissolved Parliament when that body did not grant him the funds he desired for a war. For eleven years, known as the “Personal Rule,” Charles governed England without Parliament. When he needed funds, he simply taxed his subjects without Parliamentary consent. The most famous of these taxes was the “Shipmoney Tax,” used to help pay for ship building in wartime. The tax had been moribund for three centuries when Charles I resurrected it. When Englishmen objected on the grounds that the King could not raise taxes without Parliament’s consent, Crown-Appointed Judges sided with Charles I in the famous case of Rex v. Hampden.
President Obama’s signature piece of Legislation, the Affordable Care Act, also mandates that people pay a fee if they do not enter into insurance policies as part of the measure. While a large portion of the American people rejected the notion that the American federal government could ever mandate the public to purchase anything, or otherwise face a fine for failing to do so, the Obama Administration, just like Charles, had a friendly court to rule otherwise. In fact, in his stunning 2012 opinion Chief Justice John Roberts argued that the fee was actually a tax that had to be paid if the person was opting out of the ACA since the dollar amount associated was not burdensome, even though Congress did not pass the measure as tax (as an aside: the ACA now legally being a tax raises another constitutional question since the measure originated with the Senate and not the House, as the Constitution commands). As if the ACA and the court’s decision were not enough to threaten liberty, recently the Obama administration has floated the idea of having the FAA raise taxes on cell-phone users without Congressional approval.
4: Both make extensive use of Secret Courts.
If opponents of Charles I became too vocal, they would often find themselves hauled before the infamous Star Chamber court to face Sedition (treason) charges. These courts possessed no juries—one of the bedrocks of liberty—and made decisions based upon the flimsiest of evidence. Archbishop Laud used the courts to tremendous effect during this persecution of religious dissidents. When Parliament finally reorganized after the Personal Rule, one of its first actions was to abolish the Star Chamber.
Obama has his own secret court. Its responsibility is to oversee the various domestic spying surveillance agencies used by the Obama administration. To be sure, this court was created before his Presidency and was also used by his predecessor. Nevertheless, under President Obama those functions have increased dramatically, and it is unclear what, exactly, that information has been used for.
5: Rampant disregard for the rule of law and constitutionalism.
Charles I had little regard for English constitutionalism. Despite paying lip service to England’s Ancient Constitution, by considering himself God’s agent he scoffed at any real limitation upon his authority. Rather, he sought to make his will the constitution. The entire purpose of the Personal Rule was, of course, to promulgate law at his own discretion without Parliament’s input, aid, or assistance. There would be no rule of law; his will would be the rule of law.
Obama has demonstrated a remarkably similar disregard for constitutional norms. In 2009, he ordered Chrysler to disobey well-established bankruptcy laws for a system of his own preference—which, of course, was to pay off his Auto Worker Union supports. More recently, Obama unilaterally suspended the implementation of elements of the Affordable Care Act without any legal authority to do so. When asked by what authority he did this, he cited none (because he had none) but mentioned the Republican control of the House of Representatives. His administration has also granted 1,800 waivers—or exemptions—to businesses regarding the Affordable Care Act. The recipients of these waivers do not have to participate in the implementation of the law. The equal application of the law, one of the foundational aspects of the rule of law, means little to nothing if a President can arbitrarily decide to whom the law applies and to whom it does not.
The list of comparisons could go on, but these are five of the most obvious and constitutionally serious ones. The next time you consider comparing presidents to one another, also consider looking at other historical examples. Very often, those comparisons can be quite illuminating, if not more than a little disturbing.