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More of that cult of the Presidency

January 16, 2016

David Harsanyi write a good column about executive overreach.

Obama’s Legacy is Executive Abuse

Over the winter break, I finally got around to binge-watching Parks and Recreation. In case you missed the show’s seven-year run, it’s about a fascistic small-town councilwoman who believes it’s a politician’s job to impose her notions of morality, safety and decency on everyone, no matter what voters want or what the system dictates. She is justifiably recalled by the people of her town after attempting to regulate portion sizes at fast-food restaurants but ends up running a federal office where she can do big things without the consent of the people.

Now, I realize that most of the show’s fans see the narrative in a vastly different light and the protagonist, Leslie Knope, as the sort of idealistic, compassionate and principled politician Americans should love. […]

When I got back from my winter vacation, America was still being run by a two-term president who believes it’s his job to impose his notions of morality, safety and decency on everyone, often trying to work around the limits the system places on him. This week, Barack Obama is going to institute new restrictions on Americans unilaterally—expanding background checks, closing supposed “loopholes” and tightening the process for law-abiding gun owners—because Congress “won’t act” and also because he believes it’s the right thing to do. Neither of those is a compelling reason to legislate from the White House.

Perhaps no post-World War II president (and maybe none before) has justified his executive overreach by openly contending he was working around the lawmaking branch of government because it had refused to do what he desired. Whether a court finds his actions constitutional or not, it’s an argument that stands, at the very least, against the spirit of American governance. Today many liberals call this “leadership.” […]

But more consequential—and this may be the most destructive legacy of the Obama presidency—is the mainstreaming of the idea that if Congress “fails to act,” it’s OK for the president to figure out a way to make law himself. Hillary Clinton’s already applauded Obama’s actions because, as she put it, “Congress won’t act; we have to do something.” This idea is repeated perpetually by the left, in effect arguing that we live in a direct democracy run by the president (until a Republican is in office, of course). On immigration, on global warming, on Iran, on whatever crusade liberals are on, the president has a moral obligation to act if Congress doesn’t do what he wants.

To believe this, you’d have to accept two things: that Congress has a responsibility to pass bills on issues important to the president and that Congress has not already acted.

In 2013, the Senate rejected legislation to expand background checks for gun purchases and to ban certain weapons and ammunition, and it would almost certainly oppose nearly every idea Obama has to curb gun ownership today. Congress has acted, just not in the manner Obama desires.

If President George W. Bush had instituted a series of restrictions on the abortion industry—seeing as it has a loud, well-organized and well-funded lobby that wants to make abortions “effortlessly” available—without congressional input, would that have been procedurally OK with liberals? You know, for the children? I don’t imagine so.

G.W. Bush was guilty of this too but Mr. Obama seems to be more brazen about it. And I don’t know which is worse, someone who does it on the sly or someone who rubs your nose in it.

Executive fiat isn’t a “party thing”: many politicians will try to work the angles regardless of their party affiliations. IMO, it’s an “uphold your oath of office thing.”

Congress should take it to the courts or, in flagrant cases, consider impeachment.

The scariest notion, as Harsanyi hints at, is that this type of thing is popular with the people who support the sitting president. It’s as though many people don’t get (or don’t care about) the way the U.S. Constitutional system was intended to work.

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