It was long the case that American presidents held less power on domestic issues than did the Congress. The executive branch could only enact the laws of the legislature with a limited ability and proclivity to veto.
The president’s real power lay in setting foreign policy, as he had much more freedom of action in that arena than on the home front wherein the checks and balances of the Constitution were in full force.
That traditional balance has been overridden in the current political system, and the fault for this breakdown of traditional magisteria of influence lies with both the executive and the legislative branches.
In domestic politics, the legislature has ceded, both deliberately and under protest, a great deal of power to the executive. The so-called imperial presidency has been growing in power since the end of World War II, but it has become a monster since Barack Obama took office.
The Obama White House has sought to dominate the American political system, and has attempted to paint opposition forces in Congress as enemies of progress.Yet it has not been a mere rhetorical attack on checks and balances. Indeed, the president’s promise to use his “pen and phone” to enact executive orders so as to bypass Congress wherever possible has become a terrifying reality.
Perhaps what is most shocking about Obama’s stated aim of bypassing the constitutional checks on his power is the fact that much of the mainstream media has endorsed his actions. They seem to forget that the president is not the only elected official in the country and he is not the only person with a mandate to govern. The Congress has an electoral mandate to do as it was elected to do. The president cannot pretend he has a right to run roughshod over Congress and the Constitution.
Also disconcerting is the trend in the Congress itself to permit executive overreach. There was once a time when senators and congressmen viewed their office as taking precedence over party. That is no longer the case (in either party). During the administration of George W. Bush, the Republican-controlled Congress was more than willing to hand sweeping powers to the president. The Democratic Congress after 2009 gave even more powers to Obama. In both cases, Congress has been complicit in the erosion of the essential checks and balances that preserve the United States government and the liberty of all Americans.
The Obama administration is a particularly strange beast. At the same time that the White House has been hoovering up domestic powers from a Congress too divided and weak to fight back, it has also been entirely rudderless on foreign policy. Almost everything Obama has done on the world stage has weakened America. He has snubbed our allies in Israel and South Korea, ceded control of the Internet to even more statist (and sometimes authoritarian) interests, and has led a foreign policy in the Middle East so senseless as to render any observer speechless. What we are witnessing is a fundamental inversion of the proper power and role of the presidency.
Can the situation be saved? That is a matter up to the American public. They can stand by and continue to allow the gradual whittling away of their liberties at home and security abroad, or they can call on their elected leaders and candidates to uphold the Constitution. For the sake of the nation, they had best choose the latter.