A founding principle of the United States, as distinct from the thoughts of old Europe's royalty, is the concept that "no man is above the law." High or low, American laws are supposed to be applied equally and justly to everyone.
Of course this doesn't always work out perfectly in the real world; we've all seen rich people get off by hiring expensive lawyers. Even there, though, justice usually catches up with them eventually as OJ Simpson found out.
President Nixon believed that "If the president does it, that means it is not illegal." He was wrong, and though perhaps he didn't pay as much of a penalty as he should have paid, he definitely didn't get off scot-free.
Since then we've gone far downhill, from Sandy "Burglar" Berger who stole classified documents and got a handslap where anyone else would be serving hard time, to the never-ending corruption of Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters. Most Americans are coming to realize that there are, in fact, two Americas - the country class of normal people to whom the laws apply, and the ruling class elites who do as they please and answer to nobody.
This has, alas, been true at least since Nixon. What's relatively new is that the arrogance is blatant now - our elites no longer even pretend to follow the rules.
Last week Michelle Obama dropped in to an Illinois polling place to get her vote in early. No surprise there, voting for yourself or your spouse has been a traditional presidential photo-op for years.
But then, according to the Drudge Report:
After finishing at the machine, Obama went back to the desk and handed in her voting key.
She let voters including electrician Dennis Campbell, 56, take some photos.
"She was telling me how important it was to vote to keep her husband's agenda going," Campbell said.
According to a pool reporter from the CHICAGO SUN-TIMES at the scene, the conversation took place INSIDE the voting center, not far from the booths.
Illinois state law -- Sec. 17-29 (a) -- states: "No judge of election, pollwatcher, or other person shall, at any primary or election, do any electioneering or soliciting of votes or engage in any political discussion within any polling place [or] within 100 feet of any polling place."
This is not an obscure law. We have not ourselves visited this particular polling place, but every single polling place we've ever voted in had a prominent sign explaining the law and forbidding electioneering. Some of them even have markers 100 feet away saying "No Electioneering Beyond This Point." As a Harvard lawyer and veteran of many campaigns, it's inconceivable that Ms. Obama doesn't know this; and even if somehow she forgot, presumably she can read.
As one might expect, the left is saying it's all lies, that she was careful only to encourage voting in general while inside the restricted zone. Maybe somebody has a tape or testimony; otherwise we'll probably never know the true facts of what went on.
What's much more interesting is the reaction of "A top Illinois State Board of Elections official" as quoted in the Drudge Report - that is, a person whose job it is to enforce polling laws and election fairness.
"You kind of have to drop the standard for the first lady, right?" the official explained late Thursday. "I mean, she's pretty well liked and probably doesn't know what she's doing."
Read that again. What this official is saying - this man who is sworn to uphold the law believes - is that in his opinion, holding high office puts someone above the law. A normal person should be arrested and fined or imprisoned for violating election law - but the First Lady, well, she is special.
This is precisely the attitude that our Founders fought a war to end. Whether Ms. Obama did or did not break this particular law, there's no doubt that her husband holds this attitude - witness his blatant violations of the campaign-finance ban on foreign donations and his hypocritical and false accusations against his opponents of doing what he himself did. He behaves as if the law is a weapon to be wielded against normal people and his enemies, but not something that should get in his way.
As disgraceful and un-American as this attitude is, don't think that Mr. Obama is alone. Much of his cabinet, his advisors, large chunks of Congress of both parties, and probably the majority of the people he meets every day believe themselves to be special and the law to be beneath them. Long before anyone ever heard of Mr. Obama, Congress routinely explicitly exempted themselves from onerous regulations enforced on everyone else.
You could argue, and many do, that term limits would solve this problem. Others believe that this stunning level of arrogance is caused by too many lawyers elected to office, or by electing too many Democrats. Those may be contributing factors but they're not the root source.
Our ruling class may like to behave as kings and princes, but they really aren't. A king is born to rule. An aristocrat in chains is still an aristocrat; many French nobles went to the guillotines with their heads held high, confident to the end in the knowledge that regardless of circumstances, they were still "better" than their executioners and always would be.
Politicians are not. The Kennedys may have a famous name, but they still had to win their elections, they still had to answer to the masses. Teddy could win; Carolyn couldn't, and though a nominal member of the elite she has no power. Al Gore felt himself entitled to the Oval Office and so did all his rich and powerful friends, but he never got there.
In America, all power comes from the people. To put it another way, nobody has any power that We the People don't choose to give them. It's easy to forget this, and goodness knows the elite don't want us to think like that, but it's true nonetheless.
As long as elections still take place and are reasonably free and fair, Americans have the option to dump our arrogant ruling elites and replace them with decent, humble, rational fellow Americans who consider high office to be a deep privilege not an entitlement.
We just have to actually do it. In three weeks we'll find out if we will.