Tonight President Obama addressed the nation, and while the judgement of history will reveal if this is a mild exercise of executive power or an unbridled assumption of an imperial air by the president, one thing is certain: the president placed as much, if not more, emphasis on the moral case as the legal one. Yes, one may point out that he has only the loosest understanding of the biblical precedent he appealed to, and that he didn’t so much make a moral case as simply assert that his actions were moral, it remains that he couched his actions in the idea of “doing right”.
I think the best evaluation of whether doing “good” or following the law is preferable is this clip, from A Man For All Seasons;
The most important exchange;
William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
William Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!
Even if we are to grant that President Obama is acting in good faith (an uncertain position to be sure), his decision tonight will have consequences long after he has left office. Consequences that I think it very likely we will come to regret.