The breathtaking audacity of the governor's order

Sunday, September 30, 2001

A priceless moment in the great war movie "Patton" occurs as George C. Scott, playing that great combatant, celebrates a conquest over wily foe Erwin Rommel, Germany's "Desert Fox." (No, I don't mean the scene where, having routed the German commander's tanks, he cries out gleefully, "Rommel, you magnificent b

, I read your book!") I refer to the French-speaking Gen. Patton who, invoking Frederick the Great, turned to another general and said, with a huge smile lighting up his face: "L'audace, toujours l'audace!" Translation: "Audacity, always audacity."

The uses to which audacity might be put aren't limited to warfare among military forces. Indeed, it is a certain former governor of Arkansas who, as president of the United States, instructed us yet again in the uses of audacity in the service of a certain leadership style. This was true throughout the Clinton presidency as Clinton trampled the Constitution, ignored precedents revered by all his predecessors, decimated his own congressional party forces and unleashed the power of government against his enemies, all the while claiming that he was under-appreciated.

His breathtaking and limitless audacity is, I submit, surely the single most striking feature of the Clinton leadership style. It is, in every important sense of the word, literally shameless.

During the Monica Lewinsky saga, the Wall Street Journal published a remarkable piece, asking the telling question: What if poor, old Richard Nixon had had, quite literally, no shame? What if, when visited by the late Sen. Barry Goldwater and other party leaders that grim first week of August, 1974, to be told his support had collapsed and he must go or be removed, Nixon had just dug in his heels and stayed? We pretty much had the answer during the 1998-'99 Clinton impeachment saga: You end up, as columnist Charles Krauthammer predicted early on in the Lewinsky scandal, with a scoundrel who might, very likely, just hang on: Think of it, Krauthammer said, as "O.J. in the Oval Office."

So the uses to which audacity can be put aren't to be underestimated. "L'audace, toujours l'audace!"

I'm reminded of all this when reflecting on Gov. Bob Holden's executive order unionizing your state government with the stroke of his pen. It is the most audacious act by any governor -- certainly in the memory of this writer -- perhaps in state history.

Consider: Since the late 1960s, the General Assembly has annually considered and annually rejected legislation that would institute collective bargaining for public employees. No such bill has ever reached any governor's desk. Through all these years, until this year, both houses of the Legislature were controlled by the Democratic Party. And still, no General Assembly ever passed it.

Then in June of this year, Gov. Holden signs an executive order. The order audaciously purports to do what had always been understood to require legislation passed by the elected representatives of the people, in whom the lawmaking power solely resides. "L'audace, toujours l'audace!"

As the Clinton years taught us, audacity in certain leaders, if not resisted, will corrode the very foundations of our constitutional government. So there has arisen a broad coalition of interest groups, joining this writer and a Democratic lawmaker, to challenge Gov. Holden's order, asking the courts to declare it void and unenforceable.

We are deadly serious about our lawsuit. Time will tell if we can preserve any semblance of a proper constitutional order.

Peter Kinder is president pro tem of the Missouri Senate.

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