“I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone,” President Obama said during his State of the Union address on Tuesday. He intended that statement to send a message of bold defiance, of strong leadership. It was in reality an admission of failure.
The President said that he would govern unilaterally when he could not find common ground with Congress. The pen, he said, would generate executive orders. The phone would deliver his voice to the American people to rally them to his side.
None of this is new for Obama. Since the beginning of his presidency he has schemed to maneuver around Congress rather than persuade it. His gajillions of speeches around the country have always been focused on one goal: inspire the people to demand that Congress pass his agenda unchanged.
What is new is his admission that his agenda likely rests entirely on acting without the support of Congress for the remainder of his presidency. Liberals will say that this proves how intractable the Republican House of Representatives is. But compromise is a two-way street and President Obama has never been interested in traveling it.
As columnist Charles Krauthammer has pointed out, it’s not the executive orders per se that are troubling. Every modern President has used them. But as he did with the Dream Act, Obama has used them to make law, which is the province of Congress. His new “I’ve got a pen” assertiveness might be nothing more than bluster. But if he means to make it a common practice to make law by executive order, it will be necessary to bring in the Supreme Court to stop him.
Americans of all political leanings should have no problem agreeing that our system of governance reserves for Congress the sole power to make laws. Obama has always bristled at this restriction, even publicly. But it exists to protect the people by ensuring that we are governed by laws of our own making, not by the “orders” of a single, unitary executive. That way much trouble lies.