Evidently the harder path was just too hard
Michael Gerson writes: There are any number of marvelous things one might do as president, if Congress were not such a checked and balanced mess. But future presidents now have a new method at their disposal: Declare a long-running debate to be a national emergency. Challenge Congress, under threat of unilateral executive action, to legislate on the topic before your term runs out. And when lawmakers refuse, act with the most expansive definition of presidential power.
The supporting arguments for this approach come down to the claim that the American political system is broken — incapable of action on urgent matters because of obstructionism, bad faith and the abuse of legislative procedure. It is the political philosophy of “something must be done.”
“By crossing this particular Rubicon, Obama has given up on politics, which is, from one perspective, understandable. He doesn’t do it well.”
The arguments against this approach often come down to institutionalism. Major policy shifts, in this view, deserve legislative hearings and an open amendment process. The White House should make its views known and issue veto threats. There should be a negotiation between the House and Senate to reconcile a bill. There should be a presidential signature, or a veto and an override debate. The machinery is admittedly creaky, but it manufactures democratic legitimacy. Read the rest of this entry »
Philip Klein writes: When the Tea Party movement emerged to challenge President Obama in 2009, it also posed a counterweight to the “compassionate conservative” wing of the Republican Party, which was defined by the expansionist policies of President George W. Bush.
After years of being marginalized, compassionate conservatives – emboldened by the overreach of Tea Party conservatives during last fall’s government shutdown fight – are attempting to reassert control over the party.
In the winter 2014 issue of National Affairs, Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner – two former speechwriters and advisers to Bush – propose “A Conservative Vision of Government,” in which they advance many of the arguments that were used 15 years ago to sideline small-government conservatives and lay the groundwork for the Bush-era spending binge.
Washington is abuzz with talk about how much President Obama has damaged America’s credibility with his indecisiveness on Syria. It’s become accepted fact that Obama’s decision-making style resembles that of an academic convening an unruly seminar whose participants he largely disdains. What he is not is a decisive leader with the ability to bring disparate players together behind a common purpose.
This shouldn’t be a surprise. We had inklings of it a long time ago. Back when Barack Obama was running for president in 2008, Hillary Clinton accused him of “taking a pass” on tough issues when he was in the Illinois state senate, a theme later picked up by Republicans. Its basis is the 129 times he voted “present.” On 36 of those occasions, he was the only one to vote present of the 60 senators. One of those occasions was in 1999, when he twice chose not to vote on a bill protecting sexual-assault victims from having the explicit details of their cases made public without “good cause.” Bonnie Grabenhofer, the president of the Illinois National Organization of Women at the time, said she endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2007 in part because “when we needed someone to take a stand, Senator Obama took a pass.”