“A corrupt society has many laws,” observed the Roman historian Tacitus.

The Founding Fathers knew this aphorism, and their work reflects it, from the Articles of Confederation to the Federalist to the Tenth Amendment.  They designed these documents to save this country from the plague of “many laws.”  And the inaugural addresses of nearly all the first 15 presidents assured their countrymen that the federal government would usurp no powers not assigned to it in the Constitution.

All this changed with the accession of our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, now regarded by nearly everyone as the very model of a “great” president—in other words, a chief executive uninhibited by the mere letter of the Constitution.

By now time has wiped away the old scruples, so much so that we tend to forget that Thomas Jefferson seriously doubted that he had the authority to make the Louisiana Purchase (and by now it may be too late to set it right; what’s done is done), and even Lincoln himself doubted his power to free any slave.  (A plausible wartime pretext—punishing Southern rebels—had to be found; and this, too, may defy correction.)

How many American politicians now bother asking themselves whether the Constitution authorizes a given act?  Did Barack Obama give a moment’s thought to this when considering his national-healthcare scheme?  I would rather not ask; it seems almost pedantic now to raise the first questions that would have occurred to our forebears.  But I’m afraid we already know the answers.

We now consider it a duty to legislate, as if passing laws were a productive activity, like raising crops.  And Harry Truman spoke bitterly of a “do-nothing Congress,” as if declining to legislate were a dereliction of the legislator’s obvious duty to meet his regular quota of piping-hot statutes.

I found it amusing, when Teddy Kennedy died, that he should be lauded as a selfless public servant after a lifetime as a notoriously active roué.  His eulogists spoke as if his “legislative record” amounted to some sort of service to humanity.  Can’t we dispense with the fiction that politics, a famously venal calling, which has to be hedged with safeguards against bribery, graft, fraud, conspiracy, treason, and the like, has some natural affinity to altruism?  Have we all forgotten that the politician can only give to Peter what the tax collector has extorted from Paul?

Another aphorism I am fond of is Richard Whately’s: “He who is unaware of his ignorance will be only misled by his knowledge.”  A world of wisdom in those words!

Men in our age seem to have forgotten that the state can only keep its promises by force.  No wonder it promises so generously.  Obama, another selfless public servant, excels in this sort of bounty.

A century ago, as someone has quipped, we taught Greek and Latin in high school, whereas today we teach remedial English in college.  So much for progress in education.  And the pols promise to give us even more of this.

Our young President, so beloved by our intellectuals, identifies himself as a Christian and names among his favorite Bible stories the one about “Christians in the lion’s den.”  I gather that he was not speaking in jest.  Let us henceforth judge George W. Bush with clemency.  Lincoln, for all his faults and crimes, could never presume a population so ignorant and gullible.  It figures that Obama should be hailed as one of our brainiest leaders.  Well.  If we had to choose between him and John McCain, maybe his election can claim some slim excuse.

Actually, Obama has all the eloquence of a parrot, and a self-taught parrot at that.  Can anyone cite a single fresh thought or phrase we owe to him?  I can’t think of even one time when he has caused me to say, “Hmm, I never thought of that,” or even, “Well said!”  Obama has benefited from what Bush would call “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”  Yet his rooters talk of him as if they were discussing a new Cicero.

In the future, will Illinois boast on its license plates that it is the “land of Obama”?  The man partly credits his presidency to Martin Luther King, Jr., but surely King already has enough to answer for.

Can any rational man believe we might improve this country by passing even more laws, rather than by repealing thousands of them?  That depends on whether you consider Obama rational.  To spend more trillions on new entitlements argues a crazed conception of political reality that should give even the most reckless Democrat pause.  If termites could talk, no doubt they would call what they are doing to the house Progress.