strange that a president who had such a transformative effect on
our national discourse will leave such a negligible policy legacy.
But Barack Obama, whose imperial term changed the way Americans
interact and in some ways paved the way for the Trump presidency,
is now watching his much-celebrated andmythologizedtwo-term
legacy be systematically demolished. This, in many ways, tells us
that American governance still works.
Donald Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from
the Iran deal, he could do so without much difficulty because the
on presidential fiatrather than national consensus. But
Obama’s appeasement of Iran was only one in a string of unilateral
norm-busting projects that deserve to be dismantled.
remember the panic-stricken coverage we endured when the United
States withdrew from the faux international Paris climate
agreement last year. It’s true that the deal was oversold as a
matter of policy (by both parties for political reasons), but it
was symbolic of how the Obama administration concerned itself more
with international consensus than domestic compromise. We know
this because the president would never have won ratification for a
deal remotely similar to the one he entered — nor did he attempt
to. Obama, despite the hagiographic framing of hisscandal-riddenpresidency,
had about as much interest in genuine concession as his political
allies at home incessantly pointed to poll numbers as a
justification for his executive abuse, mostly because the only
polls that really mattered, congressional elections, continued to
soundly reject his agenda. The defense rested on the idea that the
Republican-led Congress had failed to “do its job” and act on
issues Democrats had deemed vital. But Congress, of course,
“acted” all the time by checking the president’s ambitions. This
was not only well within its purview, but in many ways the reason
the electorate handed the GOP Congress in the first place.
if you substantively supported Obama’s actions — as I do on
legalizing the children of illegal immigrants, for instance — the
reasoning that girded these supposedly temporary executive
decisions was soon revealed to be abusive. In 2012, Obama told the
nation that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which by any
standard was a stand-in for legislation, was merely “a
temporary stopgap measure.” By the time Trump overturned it,
the measure represented “who
we are as a people.” That’s because by “temporary” Obama
always meant “until Democrats can make it permanent through the
courts or electoral victories.”
when implementing laws Congress could pass, Obama and his allies
relied on coercing participation through mandates. But when it
became inconvenient, they began arbitrarily implementing parts
laws. Administrative discretion became administrative abuse. When
the president decided the Obamacare’s
employment mandatewas politically
inconvenient, for example, he simply skipped it for expediency.
Constitution doesn’t say “No Money shall be drawn from the
Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law unless
liberals tell us it’s super important.” Yet, shortly after the
passage of the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration
realized it would need more subsidies and asked for an
appropriation from Congress.
Congress, then teeming with politicians elected on the promise of
overturning Obamacare, refused, Obama Treasury Secretary Jack Lew
ordered the administration to begin making “cost-sharing
reduction” payments anyway without any public legal justification.
Obama created a $7 billion per year appropriation for insurance
companies participating in the supposedly self-sufficient and
competitive state health-care exchanges. Not a single liberal
pundit that I know of concerned himself with this norm-breaking.
federal court found the Obamacare subsidyunconstitutional, and
the case is working towards the Supreme Court. But, then again, no
administration in memorywas
stopped more often by courts, often by unanimous SCOTUS
decisions. Whether it was ignoring the Senate in making
appointments or claiming to rewrite employment law, Obama tried to
function without constitutional restraints.
it is also unsustainable. As we now see, this kind of governance
not only corrodes constitutional order but undermines stability as
new presidents busy themselves overturning the executive actions
and international agreements enacted by the previous
administration. While most Americans aren’t sticklers for process,
it seems they are content with destroying legacies built on the
rickety foundation of unilateralism for political reasons.
fine, too. It means that if Trump engages in similar legislative
efforts through the executive office, his agenda will also be
dismantled one day. That’s as it should be.