Executive Orders and Dictatorship

Barack Obama is doing terrible things with a new, frightening tactic. Rush Limbaugh told his audience, "Let's move on to the White House...and the reestablishment of climate change and global warming as one of the primary impetus of the White House because it offers the president opportunities to be dictatorial. Executive orders and executive actions." In a letter to the Greenwich, Ct. Post, a citizen asked her countrymen to "come to Washington D. C. to take part in Operation American Spring, a peaceful protest with the goal of demanding the resignation of the corrupt leadership in our government. They feel the need to do so because President Obama is acting like a dictator by bypassing Congress and advancing his socialist agenda through...executive orders." The American Thinker, in a review of Lynn Cheney's new biography of James Madison, contrasted her subject's limited view of government with "President Obama's abuse of presidential authority through executive orders...."

Although it seems like a new line of assault on a unique president, in fact Barack Obama follows in a long line of chief executives -- both Republican and Democrat -- attacked by opponents for taking individual action. William Howard Taft, for example, ominously criticized Theodore Roosevelt for an "intense desire to reach practical results," that had caused his predecessor to bypass "the restraint of legal methods." Taft felt strongly that the right approach, instead, was to deal strictly "with the tools and the men... at hand," forgoing extraordinary measures.

These kinds of criticisms are not limited to struggles within the Republican Party. The Democrats experienced them as well. Thus, when President John F. Kennedy's Civil Rights Act (later passed in 1964) arrived on the Hill, James Eastland of Mississippi, the powerful Democratic head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called it "the greatest single grasp for power by the Executive department that the nation has ever known."

So here's the historic reality. When a president is doing something his ideological opponents don't like and don't support, they accuse him of an excessive grab for power... or worse. This is irregardless of the merits -- or otherwise -- of the president's proposals, and is a partisan, as opposed to an unbiased attack. From an historic perspective it is an old game. And it usually fails, persuading only those already convinced of the president's calumny.