Americans want action, President Barack Obama said Tuesday night in his State of the Union address, and if a recalcitrant Congress won’t act, he will.
That’s as clear a definition of an “imperial presidency” as any we’ve heard since a disgraced Richard Nixon declared to interviewer David Frost that, if the president does something, it is, by definition, legal.
All presidents lay out ambitious agendas in their State of the Union addresses. The struggle then becomes rallying support among congressmen and senators for those initiatives.
But Obama said bluntly Tuesday night that, if he cannot get Congress to act on his agenda, he’ll bypass the legislative branch altogether and enact his proposals through executive orders.
“America does not stand still, and neither do I,” Obama declared.
Unbelievably, Obama’s declaration was received with thunderous applause from the very legislators whose power he pledged to usurp. Sometimes, new laws are found to be not as popular in their execution as they were in their planning — Obamacare is but the most recent example. Members of Congress, a generally spineless lot, like nothing better than to be shriven of responsibility for the edicts that come out of Washington.
It’s easy to score rhetorical points by beating up on Congress, whose collective approval rating hovers in the teens. Hardly a day passes without another story lamenting the “gridlock” that keeps one well-intentioned program after another from advancing.
But the fact remains that we are a divided, philosophically fractured nation. Congress is not the cause of the fracturing, merely a reflection of it.
In a one-party echo chamber like Massachusetts, we hear endlessly about how obstinate Republicans stand in the way of all the good works government strives to do. But it’s important to consider that other Americans in other parts of the country elected those Republicans and sent them to Washington to represent their interests, which in many cases consist of standing in front of the steamroller of big government and saying, “No more.”