Obama’s Legacy Will Be Executive Overreach

Obama’s Legacy Will Be Executive Overreach

Obama can't do much on guns, but he has mainstreamed a dangerous idea about governing.
David Harsanyi

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 idealist, compassionate, and principled politician Americans should love. “Parks and Rec” can be fantastically funny (and it has a big heart), but as I watched I was often reminded that many people glorify ideas like “public service” — a preposterous term that treats politics as if it were a sacrifice without pay, power, or prestige — and “doing something” as a moral imperative no matter how politicians get it done.

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 them are compelling reasons to legislate from the White House.

No post-World War II president has justified his executive overreach by openly contending he was working around the law-making branch of government.

Perhaps no post-World War II president (and maybe none before) has justified his executive overreach by openly contending he was working around the law-making branch of government because it has 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 American governance. Today, many liberals call this “leadership.”

The most likely result of his new gun push will be that hundreds of thousands of Americans who understandably fear the mission creep of government will end up buying a whole bunch of guns (Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger & Co. stocks rose against the dipping market on Monday). The flow of donations to Second Amendment advocacy groups will almost certainly rise, and gun violence — which has fallen considerably over the past 20 years of gun ownership expansion — will not be addressed.

But more consequentially — 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 okay for the president to figure out a way to make law himself. Hillary’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 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.

Perhaps Obama’s most destructive legacy is the mainstreaming of the idea that if Congress ‘fails to act’ it’s okay for the president to make law himself.

To believe this, you’d have to accept two things: 1) That Congress has a responsibility to pass laws on the issues that the president desires or else they would be abdicating their responsibility, and 2) 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 they would almost certainly oppose nearly every idea Obama has to curb gun ownership today. Congress has acted, just not in the manner Obama desires.

“Change, as always, is going to take all of us,” Obama theorized the other day. “The gun lobby is loud and well organized in its defense of effortlessly available guns for anyone. The rest of us are going to have to be just as passionate and well organized in our defense of our kids. That’s the work of citizenship — to stand up and fight for the change that we seek.”

Get it? You can be with the loud and reprehensible gun lobby who supports allowing criminals to obtain guns “effortlessly,” or you can stand with the kids. Your choice!

Well, not exactly your choice. As a reactionary, I wonder is it really the duty of “citizenship” to cheer on a president who single-handedly constrains Americans from practicing one of their constitutional rights? If President Bush had instituted a series of restrictions on the abortion industry — since 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 okay with liberals? You know, for the children? I don’t imagine so.

Is it really is the work of ‘citizenship’ to cheer on a president who single-handedly constrains Americans from practicing one of their constitutional rights?

Or is it okay this time because the president claims (and many in the media ape) that his initiatives will “combat gun violence in the U.S.?” Is the threat of violence enough to empower the executive branch to place strictures on rights clearly laid out in the Constitution without any debate? Does the same go for fighting terrorism when a Republican becomes president?

The truth is, Obama has attempted to govern without Congress ever since Democrats rammed the Affordable Care Act through. It was the first time any consequential reform was instituted by a single political party, poisoning any chance of building consensus on major legislation in the foreseeable future. Since then, Republicans have frustrated Democrats, and on nearly every issue that matters to Obama. Obama has gone as far as he can, and sometimes farther, to administer law through our loudest, largest, most powerful, and well-funded bureaucracies.

A lot of people justify this behavior for the most obvious reason: they don’t care about process; they only care about issues. It’s true that the upside of executive orders and actions is that they can be easily undone when a new president is elected. But with the intractability of both parties only becoming more pronounced, the temptation to use the Obama model of legislating through the executive branch will become increasingly attractive to politicians and their supporters.

David Harsanyi is a Senior Editor at The Federalist. Follow him on Twitter.

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