The system works

President shouldn't try to evade Founders' checks and balances

Barack Obama’s words have said one thing about his views on presidential power. His actions have said another.


As a presidential candidate, the former constitutional law professor decried President George W. Bush’s exercise of power.

“You don’t want a president who’s too powerful or a Congress who’s too powerful or a court that’s too powerful,” Obama said in 2008. Bush can either sign or veto legislation, Obama noted, but not interpret it however he likes. “That’s not part of his power.”

Obama called Bush’s actions “his effort to accumulate more power in the presidency. ... This is part of the whole theory of George Bush that he can make laws as he’s going along. I disagree with that. I taught the Constitution for 10 years. I believe in the Constitution, and I will obey the Constitution of the United States.”

An increasing number of observers and experts are concerned, however, that Mr. Obama is doing just what he said he would not do: bypassing Congress by executive order, and enforcing and ignoring laws as he sees fit (such as ignoring immigration, drug and marriage laws and unilaterally changing key aspects of the health-care law, including decreeing delays to such things as the employer mandate).

A panel of academic experts recently expressed alarm at a U.S. House hearing over Mr. Obama’s expansion of executive powers and Congress’s abrogation of its own.

“He’s becoming the very danger the Constitution was designed to avoid,” Jonathan Turley, professor at George Washington University Law School, told Congress.

This isn’t about Mr. Obama particularly. Bush and Obama issued nearly the same number of executive orders in their first five years. And Turley noted that the troubling expansion of presidential power occurred under Mr. Bush as well. It no doubt has been building over multiple administrations.

All the more reason to believe we’re in uncharted waters.

“Is Barack Obama an imperial president?” asks a headline at the Christian Science Monitor.

If Mr. Obama has a shred of the respect for the Constitution he once proclaimed, he will stop threatening to bypass Congress even more, as he and his charges have been doing recently with a promised “year of action.”

“Where Congress isn’t acting, I’ll act on my own,” he said.

We’re frankly dumbfounded that a constitutional law lecturer could have such a dim view of the Constitution and its vital checks and balances. They are the very heart of our system of government. These checks and balances are there to protect the citizenry, as well as other branches of government, from one branch that gets so strong that it imposes its will on the others.

This system also requires presidents and members of Congress to build coalitions and consensus. That makes them better, and makes for better governance.

Nowhere in either the writing or design of the Constitution did our Founders express the notion that, where “Congress isn’t acting,” a president should act on his own. Quite the opposite.

Moreover, it’s quite possible that one man’s “not acting” is another man’s way of disagreeing with a proposed action. Unilateral action by a president is tantamount to banning disagreement with the chief executive.

We’re also nonplussed that a congressman or senator of either party would sit by and watch the legislative body’s role diminished so and its work product treated with such disregard and disdain.

The American government is designed beautifully to frustrate its top managers. It’s intended to be somewhat plodding – some would say “deliberative.” That’s not a weakness that gets in the way of one man getting his way; it’s a strength that gets in the way of one man getting his way.



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