On recent occasions we have noted that several of President Obama’s public actions reflect a disdain for the traditional American view of the governmental process. Most stunning perhaps was his threat to the Supreme Court that it had better come out his way on Obamacare, or else. Having steamrolled the legislation through Congress (urging, it will be recalled, violations of longstanding procedures if necessary) he issued his challenge to the Supreme Court despite its constitutional duties to pass on the law’s constitutionality.
Similarly, in July 2009, the president surprised many with his comments about an incident in which Harvard historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who is African-American, was confronted by police outside his home after a neighbor notified them that someone was trying to break into a nearby home.
The door had jammed and Mr. Gates was pressing against the door to try to force it open. The officer asked for proof from Mr. Gates that he lived there and Mr. Gates showed him his ID, which satisfied the officer. However, Mr. Gates then insisted that the officer identify himself and they came to words, after which Mr. Gates was arrested.
President Obama conceded that he didn’t really know the facts, but went on to say that the police “acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home.” And he proceeded to offer a discourse on race relations in America.
Nearly three years later, after the fatal shooting in March of Trayvon Martin, a black teenager, by a white member of a neighborhood watch group, Mr. Obama spoke out – even though the facts were (and still are) far from in on what actually happened – and seemed to allude to race as a factor. He spoke of the “absolute…imperative that we investigate every aspect of this and that everybody pulls together, federal, state and local, to figure out how this tragedy happened.”
He went on to say, “You know, if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon…. All of us have to do some soul-searching to figure out how does something like this happen. And that means that we examine the laws and the context for what happened as well as the specifics of the incident.”
Again the facts were not in and there certainly should have been a presumption of innocence for the shooter, but that is not the way this president operates.
There were these and other, less dramatic, episodes. But it all came together in a lengthy article that appeared on the front page of Monday’s New York Times. The piece, “Shift on Executive Power Lets Obama Bypass Rivals” confirms that President Obama does not share traditional notions about our country’s political process. Here are some revealing excerpts:
One Saturday last fall, President Obama interrupted a White House strategy meeting to raise an issue not on the agenda. He declared, aides recalled, that the administration needed to more aggressively use executive power to govern in the face of congressional obstructionism.
“We had been attempting to highlight the inability of Congress to do anything,” recalled William M. Daley, who was White House chief of staff at the time. “The president expressed frustration, saying we have got to scour everything and push the envelope in finding things we can do on our own.”
….Branding its unilateral efforts “We Can’t Wait,” a slogan that aides said Mr. Obama coined at that strategy meeting, the White House has rolled out dozens of new policies…. Each time, Mr. Obama has emphasized the fact that he is bypassing lawmakers. When he announced a cut in refinancing fees for federally insured mortgages last month, for example, he said: “If Congress refuses to act, I’ve said that I’ll continue to do everything in my power to act without them.”
Aides say many more such moves are coming. Not just a short term shift in governing style and a re-election strategy, Mr. Obama’s increasingly assertive use of executive action could foreshadow pitched battles over the separation of powers in his second term, should he win and Republicans consolidate their power in Congress.
The article goes on to describe an incident in January 2012 involving the issue of presidential power to make recess appointments when the Senate is not in session. The president was intent on installing several people in jobs that needed Senate confirmation, but whose nominations had stalled. As the Times described it:
….Mr. Obama bypassed the Senate confirmation process to install four officials using his recess appointment power, even though House Republicans had been forcing the Senate to hold “pro forma” sessions through its winter break to block such appointments.
Mr. Obama declared the sessions a sham, saying the Senate was really in the midst of a lengthy recess. His appointments are facing a legal challenge, and some liberals and many conservatives have warned that he set a dangerous precedent.
….“I refuse to take ‘no’ for an answer,” Mr. Obama declared, beneath a “We Can’t Wait” banner. “When Congress refuses to act and – as a result – hurts our economy and puts people at risk, I have an obligation as president to do what I can without them.
Of course, previous presidents have also tried to aggrandize the powers of the presidency or attempted to end-run Congress. Indeed, the Times article points to such other instances. Significantly, however, while prior presidents may have acted with respect to a particular issue or appointment, Mr. Obama stands out with his single-minded determination to bypass other branches of government when he fears they won’t work to further his agenda.