The Buzz

Tracking the Imperial Presidency

Much has been written about the “imperial presidency,” and it’s instructive that nearly all political groups—liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, Tea Party types, occupy people—see imperial tendencies in their opponents. This means that we’re seeing a trend that transcends partisan politics. The presidency, it seems, is becoming less and less tethered to the checks and balances devised for it.

In that vein, it’s worth noting, and lauding, Kimberley A. Strassel’s recent Wall Street Journal column, in which she argues that President Obama has arrogated to himself powers and prerogatives of office far in excess of his predecessors. The value in Stassel’s piece is her extensive catalogue of examples in which Obama’s invocation of executive prerogative has trampled the traditional separation of powers. As Strassel says, this all adds up to a very significant trend indeed.

Thus did the president get around Congress’ refusal to enact the Dream Act by simply invoking “prosecutorial discretion” in declining to enforce the country’s immigration laws. He directed officers to refrain from deporting certain illegal immigrants who were brought here as children. Same with certain federal laws criminalizing the use of medical marijuana, which the president doesn’t like and thus doesn’t enforce. Or consider the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which the president doesn’t like and so declines to defend in court. Or the No Child Left Behind Act, for which Obama issues waivers that are, as Strassel says, “patently inconsistent with the statute.”

Strassel goes on in this vein, building quite a case that this president seems bent on pushing the limits as far as he can on presidential power. She writes, “This president’s imperial pretensions extend into the brute force the executive branch has exercised over the private sector.” She cites specifically Obama’s decision to subordinate bondholders’ rights over its union friends in the auto bailout and its threat of a criminal probe against BP to force it to “cough up billions for an extralegal claims fund.” A similar pattern is seen in the administration’s dealings with the states.

All in all, a disturbing pattern—and a smart look at it.