Obama: The New “Tricky Dickie”?

American’s all love to hate Richard Nixon, the President who famously thought himself to be above the law. In the 1977 interview with David Frost he apparently said, when asked about the legality of his actions, “Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.”

Now, following a personal directive from President Obama, US Attorney General Eric Holder has announced that the Obama administration will no longer defend the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act in cases pending in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The details are everywhere on the web, but Fr Zuhlsdorf kindly gives the links (together with commentary by William Oddie and the CNS report of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ response).

One wonders if this deliberate intention not to defend the law which has been constitutionally passed by US Congress is not akin to Tricky Dickie’s own belief that “when the president does it…it isn’t illegal.” Does the US President indeed have the power and the right to fail to apply the law of his land? If so, then this would seem indeed to be tyranny acting at the very heart of democracy.

About Schütz

I am a PhD candidate & sessional academic at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia. After almost 10 years in ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. I worked for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 18 years in Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations. I have been editor of Gesher for the Council of Christians & Jews and am guest editor of the historical journal “Footprints”. I have a passion for pilgrimage and pioneered the MacKillop Woods Way.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Obama: The New “Tricky Dickie”?

  1. Stephen K says:

    I hope we’re not going to descend into right-wing hyperbole here. The decision not to defend certain cases in one level of the courts can hardly be exaggerated into something that may be and probably is, a prudential one that reflects how the current administration interprets the common good. Whether this decision is unconstitutional and impeachable is probably only arguable at best and a matter for lawyers, not pewside theologians. The President was never a Catholic so he was never in any obligation to mirror the Catholic position. And, in all seriousness, how can one possibly equate the paranoid mendacity of President Nixon with Obama? Let me put it this way: everyone will have their “least-evil” US leader. For my money, in a world where Armageddon is only a finger-press away, Obama and his team are a great improvement on the God-invoking global Sheriff, George W. and Cheney, Rumsfield et al.

    • catherine says:

      I do not advocate gay marriage, but I dont’ know how one can put a secular case against gay marriage. Heteros have done such a good job of degrading marriage all by themselves; saying gays will harm the institution of marriage is somewhat difficult to argue. Judging by the stats gay marriage will get the go ahead sooner or later as people, say 40 and under, are quite OK with gay marriage.

      Frankly, I don’t know how one can even argue a secular case against gays adopting kids. I would say it is better for a child to have 2 gay parents and be adopted , than to languish in a home. If I had a choice between a straight couple and a gay couple who were equally good, I would opt for the straight couple, but if noone wants to adopt a child other than the gay couple, I would let them have the kid. Research shows that the sexuality of the parents seems to have no impact on the child’s sexual orientation.

      I don’t have any time for Obama when he wouldnt support the Born Alive, infant protection Bill ( whatever it was called) or vote against partial birth abortions. I don”t follow much of American politics, but whatever the faults of George Bush he wasn’t pro abortion.

      • Tony says:

        The broader abortion picture is interesting here, Catherine. My understanding is that the total numbers of abortions in the states have been on a steady decline since the early 80s.

        It’s not a statistic that seems to be influenced by the avowed views of a particular president. In fact, I’ve seen some trend lines that show that there is a spike in Republican administrations.

        What is changing is that the proportion of poor women having abortions is increasing.

        See http://www.guttmacher.org/presentations/trends.html

        • Gareth says:

          Such analysis does not serve much purpose – let us ask oursleves as Catholics, do we genuinely care and pray about abortion and do we do something positive on a regular basis on a practitical and spiritual basis to stop abortion, the deliberate destruction of human life.

      • Schütz says:

        Dear Catherine and Stephen,

        You both assume that the definition of marriage as “between one man and one woman for life” is “the Catholic position” and that it is not possible to “even argue a secular case” for this definition.

        The irony here is that “the Catholic position”, as you call it Stephen, is and has been the position of societies for as long as there has been something called “civilization”. [Of course, the obvious exception is, of course, with regard to polygamy, a form of marriage which has been prevalent in non-Christian, especially tribal, societies for an equally long time. More on this in a moment.]

        The fact is that marriage, although regarded as a “sacrament” by the Church when it is contracted between baptised Christians, is in fact a secular estate. It’s nature is entirely dependant upon the true nature of human beings, not the dogma of the Church – that is, it is a reflection of anthroplogy rather than theology.

        Apart from the Church’s particular teaching on sacramental marriage, the so-called “Catholic position” is entirely argued on an anthropological, secular basis. People of the major religions (and Catholics are particular) are convinced that marriage is God’s good gift – a secular gift – to human society. It is the basic building block of the family, and hence of society as a whole. The Church’s arguments for retaining the traditional definition of marriage are in fact entirely secular. The Church – and other major religious traditions – are concerned about marriage because they are concerned about the well being of secular society. In the Catholic tradition, the notion of “natural law” has been especially developed to address issues of morality from a non-religious, that is, secular, point of view. This is because we are convinced that marriage is a universal good, and not simply a good for Catholics. The Catholic position on birthcontrol, abortion, euthanasia and a host of other bioethical issues, are based on this conviction, not on any particular biblical verses or Christian dogma. [This in fact distinguishes Catholic ethics from Protestant ethics, which is rather more heavily based upon positive declarations of Scripture.]

        To come back to the one exception, polygamy, the Christian – and also Jewish probably under the influence of Christianity but possibly not – objection to polygamy appears to have been equally based on an upon an anthropological understanding of the nature of man and woman, each having equal dignity in society. Polygamy, wherever it has existed, has always been in the form of one man and multiple wives, thus repesenting an inequality and imbalance between the anthropological understanding of the nature of humanbeings as both male and female. The fact that even Muslims and Mormons – two traditions which have traditionally allowed polygamy – forego their tradition in Western civilizations shows that they too recognise value in the “one man one woman” definition.

        • Gareth says:

          Hi David,

          I realise this is a really really touchy and personal issue and in no way in bringing up the issue I am having a go at anyone, buT I do take issue with some of which you write.

          You write that marriage, although regarded as a “sacrament” by the Church views it (in your own words) as a ‘secular estate’.

          It therefore would follow, acoording to my own logic, that the Church would view all secular marriages with the utmost respect.

          However, this is what I take issue with and where I am not fully understanging of the Church’s position.

          The Church will declare invalid and let a person re-marry if it is found they enetered into a previous marriage to a Catholic outside of the Church.

          I know of a few examples of person, who by mere co-incidence married a non-practising Catholic outside the Church and then years later were allowed to re-marry.

          This follows that in the Church’s eyes, (some would argue arrogantly), anyone that doesnt follow its own logic of marrying inside a Church is actually committing adultery and there marriage is actually competly null and void.

          It follows that thousands of people across the globe married in these circumstances (we all know that person who couldn’t be bothered getting an annulnment and entered a second marriage regardless) are considered by the Church as living in adultery.

          Getting back to my original question: how can one argue that the Church views marriage as a secular estate and treat all marriages, natural and sacramental, with respect on one hand, yet on the other hand it views thousands of secular marriages across the globe as invalid???

          The logic doe not make sense to me.

          I am sorry to bring this issue up again and I repeat I mean no intention to have a go at anyone who has found themselves personally involved in such circumstances, I just generally do not see how some of the Church’s takings on marriage makes any sense.

          • catherine says:

            Gareth, for once I agree with you, The whole annulment business is pretty dodgy. No offence intended to anyone who has an annulment. I am delighted that people can remarry, but find it ” interesting ” the technicalities that some people can get out ofa marriage on, yet other people won’t be granted an annulment, yet I would consider they were far more deserving.
            Gareth I am sure the Church would argue that a catholic knew they had to marry in the Church, so themarriage was void from theoutside because they knew better and yet chose not to marry in a Church.Whereas those other people (be theye.g.agnostics, atheists) who had secular marriages married in good faith thinking they were as married asthey could be, and thats why they don’tget a get out of jail free card.

            • Gareth says:

              Thanks for agreeing with me Catherine.

              The issue I have with the Church’s position on the matters is once you put an exception on any ruling (e.g. re-marriage is not permitted, BESIDES) this inevitably leads to inconsitiencies as you pointed out and people asking themselves why is something permitted in one case, but not another.

              I would be very careful though saying one is happy that people can re-marry. Remember as Catholics we have to be faithful to the Lord in everything and whether we like it or not, His public statements on the issue is very, very stringent (Mark 10:2-12) (Luke 16:18).

              In fact, I would say that it is one clear issue where we are left with absolutely no doubt what so ever on what God’s laws are.

              As Catholics, the Lord Jesus if any one would want to be his follower, we must take up the cross and follow him. A bit of consistency on behalf of the Church would not go astray when it comes to following Him in the matters of marriage

            • catherine says:

              Gareth if the Church says people can have annulments then they can. You can quote Mark and Luke, but in the old testament God let people get divorced, and I am sure we all know of marriages which were doomed from the start, therefore it seems fair enough annulments are permitted.
              I do not have a problem with annulments per se, congratulations and good wishes to anyone who has one:). I
              just object to the legalism of the whole thing. I have friends who married ” idiots” and ended up divorced and have remarried outside the Church as they wont put themselves through the annulment process and somehow believe it would make their children illegitimate. I would be delighted if they get an annulment but I cant convince them to try for one.

            • Gareth says:

              Catherine –

              Jesus is very, very clear on the matter. In fact, there is not many other issues that He is not any more clearer.

              If you don’t believe me, read His own words on the matter.

          • Schütz says:

            Don’t let Catherine phase you, Gareth – listen up both of you.

            The Church recognises the validity of “secular” (ie. non-sacramental marriage). Secular marriage takes place in all kinds of cultures and societies around the world. It is an age old established part of society.

            When two validly baptised Christians – not necessarily Catholic – are validly married, that’s a “sacramental” marriage, because it is a sign (by virtue of baptism) of the covenant between Christ and his Church. Because of this, sacramental marriages are binding and permanent, just like Christ’s covenant with the Church.

            Secular, non-sacramental, marriages are not permanently binding. They may be “dissolved” by the authority of the Holy Father “in favorem fidei”, ie. if, after the break down of the marriage, one or the other partner seeks to enter into a new marriage with a Catholic. (That is what happened with my wife’s first marriage: her first marriage was not annuled but dissolved, because he was not a baptised Christian. It was dissolved in favour of her marriage to me, a Catholic).

            In addition, Catholic Christians (ie. for legal purposes, anyone baptised Catholic or received formally into the Church) are obliged to marry according to Canon Law. If they do not observe Canon Law in the contraction of marriage, that marriage is deemed unlawful by the Church and therefore invalid.

            I hope this clarifies things a bit for you, Gareth.

      • Gareth says:

        Catherine: Heteros have done such a good job of degrading marriage all by themselves;

        Gareth: Based on that argument, I would say you have much of a case either seing you have proposed to seriously make the institution of marriage even worse.

        I think you will find that the secular case for homsexual marriage is found wanting.

  2. Jim Ryland says:


    The two examples given in your posit reflect a spiritual model that we often fail to explore. One example is an act of commission and the other, one of omission. Often, the latter can be the greater offense.

    I think that the motivation in the Obama administration, encouraged by cabinet members and consultants, is rather blatently based on vote-gathering. The move simply plays to what they see as an ever-growing block of voters. Withdrawing support by the administration is seen by its members as a win-win situation as it also mirrors the personal public stance of many individuals involved in the process.

    I don’t recall the last election in the U. S. where voters were not simply faced with the task of selecting the lesser of two evils. A “Better the devil you know…” selection process.

  3. Harry says:

    The bottom line is that President Obama is just looking for votes in the 2012 election.

    • Schütz says:

      Certainly his position seems popular, if the New Yorker poll is anything to go by. But popular is not always right, and one would think that the President’s job is to defend justice and right in his society.

      • catherine says:

        Hi David,
        The thing is that many people say 45 and under would consider that it was the just and right thing to give homosexuals the right to marry. Again, I do not advocate gay marriage , but if I was not a Catholic, I would probably be more in favor of it.
        Now there are some gay and lesbians who are very sincere and genuine in their desire to marry. I have personally met some of these people who are in long term, stable monogamous relationships andwish to marry and would have to say they have made a better go of a long term relationship than some heterosexual married couples I Know.

        Those advocating for gay marriage would argue that the sky is nor going to fall in if gay marriage is legal. Personally, I doubt that the sky will fall in if gay marriage is made legal. The legalization of gay marriage will confer a stamp of approval on gay relationships and have implications re adoption of children etc, but it looks like gays and lesbians are getting those rights anyway.

        Will the heterosexual divorce rate increase if gay marriage is legalised? Will more people choose to adopt gay and lesbian lifestyles if gay marriage is legalised ?From what I read where gay marriage has been made legal not many gay and lesbian people actually get married

        what do you think will happen if gay marriage is legalised?

  4. Vin says:

    Selective enforcement of the law by the Executive Branch isn’t new with Obama — before signing a bill into law, GW Bush used to produce a “signing statement” detailing which parts of the new law he would enforce and which ones he would ignore. Also unconstitutional. And this stuff wasn’t new with W.
    The human, therefore political, world is full of “Tricky Dicks”.

  5. Vin says:

    BTW folks, I’ve noticed that comments in this section are not confined to comments on this post. It seems to me that it is bad manners to come to a discussion about Obama: The New “Tricky Dickie” and then immediately hijack the whole thing in order to start going on at length about whatever else.
    All I’ve got is one stupid comment about Obama, and that is buried underneath tons of stuff about homosexuality and Gay Marriage. There’s a thread for that argument — why argue it here?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *