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Monday, April 23, 2012

Your Winnings, Mr Obama

I'm shocked--SHOCKED--to find that a member of a branch of government would want to assert the power of their particular branch of government:

As a senator and presidential candidate, he had criticized George W. Bush for flouting the role of Congress. And during his first two years in the White House, when Democrats controlled Congress, Mr. Obama largely worked through the legislative process to achieve his domestic policy goals.

But increasingly in recent months, the administration has been seeking ways to act without Congress. Branding its unilateral efforts “We Can’t Wait,” a slogan that aides said Mr. Obama coined at that strategy meeting, the White House has rolled out dozens of new policies — on creating jobs for veterans, preventing drug shortages, raising fuel economy standards, curbing domestic violence and more.

Each time, Mr. Obama has emphasized the fact that he is bypassing lawmakers. When he announced a cut in refinancing fees for federally insured mortgages last month, for example, he said: “If Congress refuses to act, I’ve said that I’ll continue to do everything in my power to act without them.”


[T]he great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department, the necessary constitutional means, and personal motives, to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defence must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place

Not only is it natural for a Senator to think the President is overreaching, and vice versa, it's also inherent in our government's fundamental design.  We want each branch to jealously guard its prerogatives from any encroachment, real or perceived.  Checks and balances ain't just about writing down separation of powers and expecting everything to work nicely on its own, but depends on the actual people in those different departments coming into conflict--tension is the crucible of democracy and republicanism.


NB: I am not defending the Imperial Presidency (which I especially hated under W); the legislature should rein in executive power (oddly, one reason I supported Kucinich was because I thought Congress could reassert primacy over his administration).

Update: I think Digby's on to something here: It's not all hypocrisy then, or rank stupidity, that makes many liberals look away from the abuses by the Obama administration.  

It's really lazy, disingenuous and counterproductive to call somebody a hypocrite.  Sure, if you apply your own worldview as a template, it may seem there are contradictions in the other's positions, but it cuts both ways.  You have to recognize that people are operating under different assumptions and circumstances.

Here's an example I used recently.  I don't see any contradictions in Republicans' claiming to support small government while wanting to ban abortion.  I don't think anybody would see hypocrisy in their support for bans on murder, and since they view abortion as murder, they are being absolutely consistent.

Similarly, I have a healthy skepticism of corporations and the science I've seen has convinced me of the deleterious effects of chemicals used in myriad environments.  However, I support mandatory vaccinations despite the fact that corporations manufacture the vaccines because it is in my self-interest to have an effective herd immunity, I see a greater public good at stake, I trust my medical providers who don't profit from immunization, I have found the scientific and statistical evidence in support of this policy to be incredibly compelling, and all rights have reasonable limits in a civilized, free society.

It's no more contradictory than saying I like peanut butter but don't like peanut butter cookies.  The flavors are different between regular peanut butter and stuff that's been mixed with other ingredients and baked.  Similarly, I support human spaceflight and want us to return to the moon.  Doesn't mean I think we should make a huge effort to land a person on Pluto just yet.

Life and democracy are a little messier than simple math equations and transitive properties.  What might trump one issue doesn't necessarily trump another, any more than you can guarantee Cleveland will beat Boston just because they've beaten New York, who beat Boston previously.  There are many factors involved.

So you can support a variety of things that have some aspect in common, and oppose something that shares the same characteristics but contains other unique elements you don't like.  It's perhaps comforting to have a simple, cookie-cutter formula for everything, but that's not very helpful when the world doesn't work that way.

April 23, 2012 | Permalink


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If either (a) the Senate abolished the filibuster, which is nowhere to be found in the Constitution, or (b) the Senate Republicans stopped using it as a bludgeon to kill every bill originated by the Democrats, I'm sure President Obama wouldn't feel the need to override Congress in this manner so often.

Posted by: Frederick Rhine | Apr 23, 2012 2:42:39 PM

a) The filibuster IS in the Constitution: "Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings..." I happen to love the mechanism:

* http://www.dohiyimir.org/2009/02/filibustering.html
* http://www.dohiyimir.org/2009/08/concerning-the-senate.html

Bigger problem is the Majority hasn't exercised its power and objected to UC agreements that codify the 60-vote threshold and create wimpy, faux filibusters.

b) Agreed, that's where the dynamic of checks and balances come into play. The Exec does have powers, and Congress even delegated some of theirs to different departments he heads, so he can do much without legislative approval.

Posted by: NTodd Pritsky | Apr 23, 2012 3:37:56 PM

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