President Joe Biden’s national vaccine mandate sparked a lot of debate and set political seismometers jumping even more frantically than usual. Most commentary has focused on two issues: Is forcing people to take vaccines a good idea, and will the courts sign off on the government’s authority to do so? Those are great discussions to have, though anything involving “forcing people” should be a non-starter by default. But another important question is raised by the president’s gambit to displace the Afghanistan fiasco from the headlines: How, in the United States, can one guy just impose his preferred policies, whether they’re good, bad, or indifferent?
To be fair, not everybody overlooked this point:
“There’s no authority for this,” former Rep. Justin Amash (L-Mich.) noted. “This is legislative action that bypasses the legislative branch. If you care about representative government—if you’re consistent regardless of who’s president—then it doesn’t matter that you like the policy; this mandate is an abuse of power.”
Since this is America in 2021, the replies to Amash quickly degenerated into arguments over the benefits of vaccines (or their allegedly nefarious side effects) and assertions that the courts will certainly rule for/against the move. But again, how can one person do this in a country with a Constitution that lays out the limited powers of the state, and provides for two other co-equal branches of government? It’s as if the president has become a king—and many people embrace the development, so long as they like the outcome. In fact, that’s a fair interpretation of the system under which we live, and the direction in which it’s evolved from the beginning.