05/02/2012 01:40 pm ET Updated Jul 02, 2012

Attack on Antiquity

The House Republican majority recently passed the "Preserve Land Freedom for America Act" which would severely restrict President Obama's statutory authority to establish conservation-oriented national monuments.

In case you didn't notice, the bill's title inferentially pits "America" against Mr. Obama. This is in keeping with the Republicans' subliminal message that they have been disseminating from the start of Obama's term. In virtually every confrontation with the president -- and there have been plenty -- the Republicans' insinuated narrative has always been the same. Obama is different, his father was Kenyan, he was raised in Indonesia, he is sort of foreign, and yes, at the end of the day, faintly un-American.

It makes no difference that since 1906, fifteen previous presidents of all political persuasions enjoyed unfettered freedom to designate 128 national monuments (including the Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks) to preserve unique natural resources on federal lands. This is a case of Republicans yearning to separate Obama from previous White House occupants in a pejorative way as part of their political vendetta against him.

It is true there is nothing new about Congress' periodic push back against unilateral presidential authority to create national monuments. Lawmakers in the past have considered sweeping measures to limit that authority, but none have ever passed (until now), and the latest attempt is unlikely to survive the Senate. Nor have lawsuits succeeded in invalidating the 1906 Antiquities Act, having failed at every level of the court system.

Nevertheless, the "Preserve Land Freedom for America Act" introduced by Rep. Virginia Foxx, (R-N.C.), fits snugly into the Republican narrative. It would prohibit Obama from creating any national monument without first obtaining permission from the state in which the monument is to be located. Rest assured that in Western states with Republican governors, permission would be denied absent guaranteed broad access to the industrial ventures of the GOP's corporate political allies.

Foxx's bill not only has provided House Republicans with a public opportunity to display their determination to prevent Obama from engaging in "arbitrary and capricious land grabs". The legislation also is consistent with the Republican majority's strong States Rights orientation.

House Republicans did not strip Obama completely of monument designation authority since some future GOP president might need to utilize that statutory prerogative. In fact, a Republican president has created the largest national monument to date. George W. Bush invoked the Antiquities Act to establish four large marine preserves encompassing some 214 million acres in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Hawaii, and with nary a peep from his Party.

Like some past Congresses, the current Republican majority has experienced frustration at the principle of being excluded from presidential decisions to create national monuments. But unlike past Congresses, there is something more than political angst at work here, something personal.