"The biggest problems that we're facing right now have to do with George Bush trying to bring more and more power into the executive branch and not go through Congress at all. And that's what I intend to reverse when I'm president of the United States of America."
Few politicians are disciples of truth. But when it comes to President Obama and executive power, the gap between rhetoric and reality is truly astonishing. The candidate who once promised a presidency of humility is long gone. Instead, this president has defined his administration by a naked and extreme exertion of executive power. And now he's been caught.
In its unanimous ruling late last week that the president's non-recess appointment of three officials to the National Labor Relations Board was unconstitutional, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals didn't pull any punches. Unfortunately, the court's ruling is a little late. For the past four years, Obama's executive authority has been restrained only by the limits of the president's imagination.
Of course, unilateral executive action is not new. George W. Bush was hardly an infrequent fan of executive orders. Nonetheless, Obama is worse — if not in quantity, than at least in quality. Just look at the record.
On gun control, we got major executive orders including the "clarification" that doctors have the right to ask patients about their gun ownership.
On education, the landmark No Child Left Behind law remains in force... except where education authorities don't like it, thanks to Obama's free-for-all waiver program.
On the environment, Obama apparently believes that he has the power to regulate the wind.
On critical congressional investigations, the hideout of executive privilege is apparently preferable to the honor of finding and publicizing the truth.
And on war, the most important of all political issues, Obama's executive branch has gone on a spree, banning aggressive interrogation techniques, but simultaneously claiming the authority to kill U.S. citizens abroad without an explanation, and literally joining a civil war in Libya without congressional approval.
The president likes to claim that his actions are the necessary consequence of an impassable political landscape. If only Republicans would negotiate, he argues, bipartisanship would be possible. Yes, some loony Republicans continue to equate compromise with treason. But Democrats are often equally unwilling to cave on their key issues (hello, entitlement reform).
Ultimately, the president's actions aren't about overcoming obstacles. Rather, they are about ideology and no small share of ego. Why compromise and fight when you can lecture and side-step? Why play by the rules when it's much easier to ignore them? The president's future actions are uncertain, but after the past four years, one certain truth has become clear: Now that he is the executive, the president is quite a fan of the unilateral executive actions he once disparaged.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- The U.S. is about to sell weapons to Vietnam. That's bad news for China.
- What the Middle Ages can tell us about the GOP's big charity myth
- Why is the Pentagon stuffing caves in Norway full of tanks?
- An open letter to #brands about Gamergate
- The most sensible GOP alternative to ObamaCare comes from a Senate candidate who is almost sure to lose
- Did the media get Ferguson wrong?
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- When Khomeini said no to Iranian nukes
- 10 things you need to know today: October 23, 2014
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
Subscribe to the Week