“… I refuse to take no for an answer. So I’ve said before that I want to look for every possible opportunity to work with Congress to move this country forward … I’m going to look for every opportunity to try to bridge the partisan divide and get things done — because that’s what the American people need right now. … [I]deas that have support from Democrats; they have support from Republicans around the country, independents around the country. I want to work with Congress to get them done. But when Congress refuses to act, and as a result, hurts our economy and puts our people at risk, then I have an obligation as President to do what I can without them. I’ve got an obligation to act on behalf of the American people.”
Those were words that President Obama said over two years ago, on January 4, 2012, at Shaker Heights High School in Shaker Heights, Ohio. This past Friday, at the Lake Harriet Band Shell in Minneapolis, Minnesota, he had this to say:
“…[T]oday, even basic commonsense ideas can’t get through this Congress … We can’t afford to wait for Congress right now, and that’s why I’m going ahead and moving ahead without them wherever I can. And, now, some of you may have read — so we take these actions and now Republicans are mad at me for taking these actions. They’re not doing anything, and then they’re mad that I’m doing something. I’m not sure which of the things I’ve done they find most offensive, but they’ve decided they’re going to sue me for doing my job.”
It is no coincidence that these two excerpts from different speeches delivered by the president two years apart sound very similar. The common thread running throughout this presidency is that Congress is refusing to act, and therefore the president has to act on his own. (This is the famous Obama domestic policy of “If Congress won’t act, I will.”) President Obama constantly complains about how his political opponents care about nothing but obstructing him, and therefore he is forced to govern via executive action.
It has already reached a point where this appeal to his base is kind of infantile. As has been pointed out many times, he constantly engages in false equivalencies and straw man arguments. While he constantly misrepresents the Republican position (and his own), he now took this to a different extreme. In that very same speech, he actually put forward the argument that the only reason Republicans mind his ruling by executive action is because they don’t get any credit for what he does that way. That and an irrational hatred they have for him personally.
He said: “…[M]y message to Republicans is: Join us. Get on board. If you’re mad at me for helping people on my own, then why don’t you join me and we’ll do it together? We’ll do it together. I’m happy to share the credit. You’re mad at me for doing some things … let’s pass a law — Republicans and Democrats [together] … they don’t do anything — except block me. And call me names. It can’t be that much fun. It’d be so much more fun if they said, you know what, let’s do something together. If they were more interested in … the issues that you’re talking about, instead of trying to mess with me — then we’d be doing a lot better.”
But the most disturbing part about the president’s chosen course of action is not the fact that he’s recycling an old tactic. It isn’t even that he’s not being honest about what it is that he is doing — or that he misrepresents his political opponents’ views. It’s the timing behind that speech, and what happened the day before he delivered it.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the president had acted outside the realm of the power of his office when he bypassed Congress to make “recess appointments” while Congress was not, in fact, in recess. Put into the context of our discussion here, the Supreme Court basically told the president that if Congress won’t act, he can’t.
The sad thing is that the first speech referenced in the opening of this column was the president speaking about those very appointments the court ruled unconstitutional. One would think that when a court that includes his former Solicitor General tells him that his power to act without Congress is more limited than he would like to think, he might reevaluate what he can or cannot actually do on his own. But this president keeps on going.
Some conservative politicians have referred to President Obama as a lawless president. Texas Senator Ted Cruz released four reports back in May cataloguing the 76 times (by his count) that the administration has shown “willingness to disregard the written law and instead enforce his own policies via executive fiat.” Democrats dismiss this kind of rhetoric as “red meat” designed for no other purpose than to gin up the base in order to get them to turn out for the next election.
But when the president continues doing things like this, he kind of validates their point.