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Executive orders legal but …

obama with presidential sealThe New York Times yesterday featured an article entitled “Shift on Executive Power Lets Obama Bypass Rivals.” It discusses at some length President Obama’s announced intention to employ executive orders to bypass his obstructionist Republican opponents in Congress.

While there is ample precedent for doing so, it dances at the edge of constitutionality. Ours is supposed to be a system of checks and balances, a three-part government — judicial, legislative, and executive — where each body has a distinct role to play and is checked by the other two. We learn at an early age that Congress, not the White House, is our legislative branch and that it’s the president’s job to either sign into law or veto bills that originate in Congress; it is not his job to enact laws independently. Yet essentially that is the function of executive orders. And regardless of the president’s political affiliation or the frustrating obstructionist tactics of his opponents in Congress, lawmaking remains, or should remain, the purview of Congress.

George Bush signed more than 250 executive orders during his eight years in office, so there is ample recent precedent, and to date President Obama has signed some 120 executive orders. That said, it is difficult to take either side seriously when it complains about a president using or abusing his power with executive orders.

Nevertheless, it is probably not in Obama’s best interest to declare publicly his intent to use executive orders as a way around a gridlocked Congress. Americans, after all, are taught early about the separation of powers in their government, and executive orders, while they may be legal, strike many as presidential overreach.

Nor is it helpful when William G. Howell, author and political science professor at the University of Chicago, attempts to defend the president by saying, “Even someone who has studied the Constitution and holds it in high regard — he, too, is going to exercise these unilateral powers because his long-term legacy and his standing in the polls crucially depend upon action.”

That is precisely the problem in Washington today — politicians acting with an eye to their legacies and their standing in the polls. Whether it’s the president himself or the lowliest freshman in Congress, our elected representatives must stop thinking of themselves and start doing what’s best for the country. That’s their job; that’s why they were elected. If they can’t or won’t do the job, they can and will be replaced. American is fed up with self-centered politicians who think only of their own political fortunes.



  1. As always, the problem for me comes down to “who do I believe when everything that comes out of government gets ‘spun’ for political, financial, or even ratings gains by so many others?” In the end I have to decide what I believe based on what I think of the President, whom I actually like – but only on a strictly case-by-case basis. As for the voters acting to “replace” the bad actors, I’m afraid that I have no faith in that whatsoever…

    • I have to agree with you. Even if we vote out the current bad actors, their replacements will be just as bad, if not on election day, then very soon after taking office. I keep hoping, and pulling that lever every election day, but it no longer seems to make any difference.

    • I’d prefer no president did it; I think it’s a slippery slope, constitutionally. And I certainly don’t want to hear he’s doing it with an eye to his legacy or the polls! That makes him no better than the opposition. Howell should have kept his mouth shut.

  2. It’s obvious that some aren’t concerned with constitutionality. Continuing to vote for Dems & Repubs insures that nothing of substance will ever change. There’s one choice this time around and he’s camouflaged as the Republican who has the most delegates from Iowa, Maine, Minnesota and by now maybe a couple more.

"Nothing is more dangerous than ignorance and intolerance armed with power." ~ Voltaire

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