Category Archive 'Non-Recess Appointments'

07 Jan 2012

A Sign of Weakness

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John Podhoretz explains that Barack Obama’s end-run around the Constitution this week is really evidence of his political weakness and desperation.

President Obama’s executive power-grab this week — making four “recess” appointments when the Senate isn’t in recess — is a mark not of his strength, but of his relative weakness. He is asserting an authority he does not possess through the Constitution because he has precious little personal authority left to assert.

He had it and he lost it, and he can’t figure out how to get it back — so he’s just going to take it.

“When Congress refuses to act, and as a result hurts our economy and puts people at risk, I have an obligation as president to do what I can without them,” Obama said Wednesday as he trumpeted his installation of Richard Cordray as head of his new consumer-activism bureau.

This is rhetoric designed to thrill liberals and Democrats, who (like all partisans and ideologues) love what they take to be the “good fight,” and don’t particularly care how it’s waged. That’s true even if they spent eight years screaming about supposed unconstitutional actions on the part of the Bush administration, every one of which had a far firmer foundation in constitutional law than Obama’s unprecedented action this week.

They also love it because they think it represents an awakening by Obama to the nature of the obstructionist efforts against him (and a winning re-election strategy) when he says he’ll do “what I can” to combat Washington’s brokenness.

This supposedly a) acknowledges the public sentiment against the city whose most powerful resident he is, b) alleges he’s not the reason for the problems and c) places the blame on the recalcitrant Congress.

Maybe it’s the best hand Obama has to play, but it’s not a very good hand. For one thing, the voters who have turned on him don’t think he has exercised too little power, but rather too much — so bragging about doing things without congressional sanction may not play well.

Second, no matter how resolute he sounds, the fact that he has to act in a somewhat rogue manner is an expression of a profound loss of presidential authority — and one that he can’t successfully blame on Congress.

Obama lost his ability to push his agenda through Congress when he received what he himself called a “shellacking” in the November 2010 elections. That shellacking was primarily the result of massive policy overreach when he had a Democratic Congress in his pocket.

He spent 2009 and 2010 getting what he wanted: a trillion dollar stimulus. Auto-industry nationalization. And, of course, his health-care law. It was a wildly successful first 18 months — and it led directly to the bruising defeat he suffered as soon as the American people could render their judgment on those actions.

The independent voters who’d put him over the top in 2008 were horrified by the results. Exit polls showed a 24 percent swing among them, from 8 percentage points in favor of Obama and the Democrats in 2008 to 16 points against in 2010.

What may have been even more painful for Obama’s vanity was his discovery in 2011 that his rhetorical gifts had lost their oomph. He gave speech after speech on topics dear to his heart — and found, each time, that the talk was either ineffectual or actually convinced more people to oppose him.

Read the whole thing.

Podhoretz is perfectly right. Obama’s discreditable (and illegal) ploy is only a short-term strategy to gratify his base and keep the small body of support he still possesses behind him by making a strong gesture of partisanship that makes them happy. Who cares that his action will set a really terrible precedent? Who cares that the appointments will probably be struck down in court? Just as long as he can fire up the base.

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