“This is how democracy works,” Barack Obama lectured the country before giving everyone the specifics of his expansive one-man executive overreach on immigration. If you enjoy platitudinous straw men but are turned off by open debate and constitutional order, this speech was for you.
Modern Democrats aren’t the first political party to abuse power – far from it. Obama isn’t the first president to abuse executive power – not by a longshot. But he has to be the first president in American history to overtly and consistently argue that he’s empowered to legislate if Congress doesn’t pass the laws he favors. It’s an argument that’s been mainstreamed by partisans and cheered on by those in media desperate to find a morsel of triumph in this presidency.
Obama acknowledges his overreach openly every time he argues that he intends to do the job of an obstinate Republican congress. In his speech, Obama scolded those who question whether he has the authority to change the legal status of millions of people, offering this: “I have one answer: Pass a bill.”
Pass a bill?
1) Congress has no obligation to pass a bill. Ever. Who knows? Maybe immigration ranks 50th on the GOP’s to-do list. Maybe the GOP is dysfunctional and incapable of pulling together comprehensive legislation. Maybe the Republicans are nothing more than irrational nativists. And maybe all of that threatens the GOP’s future. That’s why we have elections for presidents to ignore.
2) If Congress passed a bill, Obama would veto it, anyway. So what Obama meant to say was, “I have one answer: Pass a bill I like.” No bill will pass, especially after this cynical ploy to prod clumsy GOPers into reactions that might benefit him politically.
The president’s entire argument is predicated on the idea that a “broken” immigration system gives him dispensation from engaging in the process. Authoritarians, great and minor, always claim more powers to fix some unprecedented emergency. He’s not the first around these parts to do it. The thing is, our education system is also broken. Our foreign policy is broken. Our welfare system is broken, too.
I basically support most of Obama’s fixes– conceptually, at least. But what amazed me about the speech wasn’t just the hubris, or even how he shoehorned every cliché about immigration known to mankind into half an hour speech. It was that even after making it clear he answers to no one, Obama still couldn’t be honest about his intentions:
I know some of the critics of this action call it amnesty. Well, it’s not. Amnesty is the immigration system we have today — millions of people who live here without paying their taxes or playing by the rules, while politicians use the issue to scare people and whip up votes at election time.
There is a difference between indifference and amnesty. From the Oxford dictionary: Amnesty: “An undertaking by the authorities to take no action against specified offenses or offenders during a fixed period.” Nowhere in the description does it add, “well, it’s not amnesty if the offenders pay back taxes” or “if the offenders go through vigorous background checks, aren’t felons and are really sorry.” Amnesty is precisely what Obama is talking about.
And let’s concede that all this will be found legal. It’s difficult to believe any honest person believes that using prosecutorial discretion to exempt five million people from law (probably in perpetuity) is the sort of job the Founders had in mind for the president.
It’s true that The Annenberg Public Policy Center found that only 36 percent of Americans could actually name the three branches of government, anyway. And now we’ll be adding a few million immigrants who believe that “democracy” is the same as a presidential edict. But of the 36 percent that understand checks and balances, most probably aren’t particularly idealistic about procedure. We’re idealistic about issues. To a progressive Democrat, permitting immigrants to come “out of the shadows” trumps constitutional stability. A shame. Because process is basically the only constant in American politics. It’s the one thing Americans should be inflexible about.
Needless to say, many in the media took time to sneer about these sorts of concerns on Twitter and TV. After all the griping about King George, it’s the George part that was the real problem of the last administration.
It was when Democrats passed one of the broadest reforms in American history, which included an unprecedented provision coercing every citizen to participate in a private marketplace, via a one-party vote. It’s been implemented piecemeal in whatever timeframe pleases Obama most. And when Dems failed to pass cap-and-trade, Obama deputized the EPA to implement it instead. When they failed to push through immigration reform, Obama led. When Democrats couldn’t pass new gun restrictions, Obama signed 23 executive orders. No recess appointments? Watch. Not crazy about Clinton-era welfare reforms? Obama’s got your back. Libya? Obama takes care of business. Syria? Why not use a decade-old war power? Everything rationalized. All of it fine.
No, the president didn’t kill the process all by himself. Bush did it! Reagan did it! True or not, twenty years from now, the minions of some Republican Napoleon will be screaming ‘Obama did it!’ And they’ll have a sad story or a chilling warning that will justify why it’s ok. Because all legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States – unless the president says it’s super important. Then anything goes.