Barack Obama, the government's chief executive, is seizing powers that belong to the legislative branch. He's not the first president to do so; not by a long shot. That's also part of the ambivalence problem. Obama fits an accepted historical mode of abuse exemplified, for example, by the even more dictatorial FDR. Meanwhile, as Obama's defenders correctly note, Obama, having issued 168 "decrees," ranks on the low end among modern presidents. What distinguishes Obama's fiats in our time, however, as Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, told CNSNews.com, is that Obama "has repeatedly made use of executive orders to change statute, to change law, to change legislation enacted by Congress."
A president can't do that. The crisis exists because the legislative branch is letting him.
The crisis is compounded because most of the media supports these seizures of power. The New York Times' take on the State of the Union address (Rush Limbaugh calls it the "State of the Coup,") is typical: "Taking the offensive by veering around Congress isn't new for the administration, but it is more important than ever."
"Veering around Congress" is a neat phrase for serial abuse of power. During a December hearing before a House Judiciary subcommittee on "The President's Constitutional Duty to Faithfully Execute the Laws," liberal law professor (and onetime Obama voter) Jonathan Turley stated: "The problem with what the president is doing is that he's not simply posing a danger to the constitutional system. He's becoming the very danger the Constitution was designed to avoid."
The president is quite open about his intentions. "Wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation ... that's what I'm going to do," Obama declared in his State of the Union. The line received vigorous applause from Democrats in the House chamber. Yes, they support the president's agenda, but weren't they also applauding their own superfluity?
That's what I thought before I heard Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, say that writing executive orders for the president to sign -- not writing legislation for Congress to vote on, mind you -- should be "our No. 1 agenda." The 10-term congresswoman, while launching the new and Soviet-sounding "Full Employment Caucus" at a recent press conference, promised to "give President Obama a number of executive orders that he can sign with pride and strength."
This is the formula for one-party rule. As such, it is outrageous, but it is just more static.
To be sure, some conservative Republicans -- Sen. Mike Lee, as well as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, for example -- are speaking out against what Cruz calls the "imperial presidency." But will their impassioned voices become static, too?
What to do with a president who rewrites his own laws, enacts legislation that has failed (repeatedly) to pass into law, and creates legislation through executive agency regulation? Obama has done all of the above, and more -- for example, rewriting parts of Obamacare, implementing much of the repeatedly rejected DREAM Act, and creating cap-and-trade carbon restrictions, also rejected by Congress, through a web of EPA regulations. He promises to raise the minimum wage for federal workers, and is reported to be exploring how to unilaterally lift sanctions on Iran. Just this week, head-spinningly, Obama lifted a ban on aliens who supported terrorists, thereby permitting them to enter the country. As for his promise that if you like your doctor, you can keep you doctor, that, we know, was pure fraud.
The boldest proposition on the table so far -- not moving, I will add -- is for Congress to stop funding executive orders that upset the Constitution's "balance of powers." This is an obvious "check" to restore "balance." Fine. Yes. Go for it.
But Obama's systematic assaults on constitutional governance require more than defunding, and more than static. They require, first and most urgently, a full airing. Impeachment, which may begin with an impeachment inquiry, is the means the Constitution provided us. It offers the way "forward," as the president might say, to re-establish that America is a nation of laws, not men.
Otherwise, it's not.