President Obama provided plenty of fodder for conservatives to howl "Dictator!" during his State of the Union address last week. During the speech, the President vowed "wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families." The statement is deliberately provocative, implying that the President would act according to his own will rather than merely execute the laws passed by Congress, as the Constitution requires.
If past experience is any indicator of what the President will actually do, the statement is more irresponsible than unconstitutional.
After the Sandy Hook shooting last year, the President made similar statements about using executive orders to enhance gun control. While the blogosphere lit up with accusations, the President's actions amounted to little more than attempting to execute existing law better.
According to Forbes, these orders included "require federal agencies to make relevant data available to the federal background check system;" "review categories of individuals prohibited from having a gun to make sure dangerous people are not slipping through the cracks;" and "publish a letter from ATF to federally licensed gun dealers providing guidance on how to run background checks for private sellers."
Strict constitutionalists would take issue with "Propose rulemaking to give law enforcement the ability to run a full background check on an individual before returning a seized gun," based upon their contention that all rulemaking by executive regulatory agencies is unconstitutional. Whether that position is valid or not, the President is merely "proposing" rulemaking that has occurred under presidents of both parties for decades.
Assuming the President's executive actions regarding wages remain within similar limits to his gun control initiatives, he won't be breaking new constitutional ground on this issue. Compared to the abuse the Bill of Rights has endured under the surveillance, indefinite detention and drone policies of both Presidents Bush and Obama, this is much ado about nothing.
However, that's not the message he's sending to most supporters or opponents, most of whom won't research the details. What most Americans are hearing is, "I'm going to solve these problems myself, whether I have the legal or constitutional power to do so or not."
By sending that message, the President is encouraging contempt among his supporters for the Constitution's limit on executive power, merely to score political points. They'll see him as a working man's hero, refusing to let evil Republicans in Congress keep them in poverty, forgetting all about their objections to real abuses of executive power by both his administration and his predecessor's.
He may also score some political points in making Republicans look foolish for yelling "Dictator!" once his actual orders turn out to be as constitutionally innocuous as those on gun control.
President Obama is an educated man who once voiced thoughtful objections to the Bush administration's dangerous expansion of executive power. Now, he not only has continued and expanded Bush's real abuses, but has taken to flouting the Constitution rhetorically to score cheap political points.
Senator Obama, where have you gone?
Tom Mullen is the author of 'A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.'