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“The ‘Lawless’ Presidencies Of Barack Obama And Ronald Reagan”: Consistency Must Count For Something, Otherwise It’s Hypocrisy

The headline emerging from last week’s SOTU address continues to be the President’s stated intent to go around Congress, where necessary, to effectuate elements of his agenda through the use of the executive order.

So grave is the situation—according to conservative leaders and pundits—Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) took to the airwaves this weekend to warn one and all that we now have “an increasingly lawless presidency.”

Tea Party firebrand, Rep. Steve King of Iowa, could not agree more.

Indeed, so concerned is King with Obama’s decision to order up a raise for those employed by federal contractors, he referred to the executive action granting the wage increase as a “constitutional violation”, adding “we’ve never had a president with that level of audacity and that level of contempt for his own oath of office.” 

Still, a highly placed White House aide noted that there are a number of things “the President can unilaterally do,” stating that “With a hostile Congress that doesn’t show much sign of coming toward us on some of these issues, it behooves us to take the initiative when we can take it.”

There is, however, one thing I should point out regarding the sequencing of events set forth above.

While Paul Ryan and Steve King are certainly functioning in today’s highly charged political environment, the White House aide who made the statements regarding the President’s ability to do many a thing unilaterally—particularly when a hostile Congress is not cooperating with the president’s agenda—was none other than Gary L. Bauer, chief domestic policy advisor to President Ronald W. Reagan. What’s more, the statements were made in August of 1987 and were the direct result of the years of frustration Reagan had experienced at the hands of a Congress that simply would not get with his program.

Sound familiar?

Of course, nothing President Reagan did through the use of his executive order power could possibly match the severity of Obama’s attempt to get around an obstructionist Congress in order to accomplish his own agenda, right?

Not so much.

Do the words ‘National Security Agency’ ring a bell?

The NSA, of course, is the government body that has been collecting our phone and Internet data while spying on Americans and foreigners (including foreign leaders) in ways that have infuriated the very Republicans—along with just about everyone else—who hold Ronald Wilson Reagan up to be the icon of modern day conservatism.

As a result, you might be surprised to learn the following bit of history:

It was President Reagan’s infamous Executive Order 12333 (referred to as “twelve-triple-three”) that established and handed to the NSA virtually all of the powers under which the agency  operates to this day—allowing the agency to collect the data that so many now find to be so offensive.

McClatchy describes Executive Order 12333 as follows:

“It is a sweeping mandate that outlines the duties and foreign intelligence collection for the nation’s 17 intelligence agencies. It is not governed by Congress, and critics say it has little privacy protection and many loopholes.”

If you view Reagan’s actions as an appropriate use of the executive order, Tea Party/GOP Congressman Justin Amash (R-MI) would beg to differ.

Speaking at a gathering hosted by the Cato Institute, Amash described Congressional hearings into the actions of the NSA as follows:

“Amash describes those briefings as a farce. Many times, he says, they focused on information that was available from reading newspapers or public statutes. And his account of trying to get details out of those giving the briefings sounds like an exercise in frustration:”

“So you don’t know what questions to ask because you don’t know what the baseline is. You don’t have any idea what kind of things are going on. So you have to start just spitting off random questions: Does the government have a moon base? Does the government have a talking bear? Does the government have a cyborg army? If you don’t know what kind of things the government might have, you just have to guess and it becomes a totally ridiculous game of 20 questions.”

Congressman Amash’s displeasure over Congress’ neutered role when it comes to the NSA does not stop him from frequently quoting the words of Ronald Reagan—despite Reagan’s responsibility for supplanting Congress in this regard—particularly when it comes to The Gipper’s declaration that “libertarianism is the heart and soul of conservatism.”

The use of the Executive Order has long been controversial, dating back to President Abraham Lincoln’s use of the device to suspend habeas corpus along the Philadelphia to Washington line in response to the assault on Union troops in Baltimore.

What made Lincoln’s move so dramatic is that the suspension of habeas corpus is placed by the Founding Fathers in Article I of the Constitution—the section that lays out the powers reserved for Congress.

However, as Jennifer Weber of the New York Times notes in her excellent piece on Lincoln’s use and abuse of power, the Founders “muddied the water” on just who could order a suspension of habeas corpus by writing, “the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.”

Whether you view Lincoln’s actions as a proper exercise of power by the Commander-In-Chief during a time of emergency, or blatant defiance of the Constitution by the President of the United States, I don’t recall too many modern Americans—Democrat, Republican or otherwise—referring to Abraham Lincoln as a “lawless” president.

Nor do I recall many of the Republicans who worship at alter of Ronald Wilson Reagan referring to him as a “lawless” president.

None of this is to say that Presidents Lincoln, Reagan, Obama—or the many other American presidents who have relied upon the executive order—are acting in obedience to our Constitution or that they are not. That is up to the Courts to decide.

What it is to say is that, once again, consistency must count for something.

If you disagree with what President Obama might have in mind to do through the use of the executive order, you may have constitutional authority to back you up. Indeed, I acknowledge my own concerns about presidents who go around Congress’ lawmaking authority by using the executive order, no matter how much I may disapprove of our current and recent incarnations of Congress.

However, to take the tact of accusing Mr. Obama of a “lawless presidency”, while lauding previous presidents who did the identical thing, is just so much more hypocrisy on the part of leaders like Congressman Ryan who are far more wedded to the process of scoring political points than they are to remaining true to history or governing with good intent.

Or could it be that people like Paul Ryan—a man who holds a great deal of power and responsibility in our government—are simply ignorant of our history and the subject matter upon which they deign to expound?

Either way, there is little comfort to be gained when our system is so disgustingly politicized that a president is accused of lawlessness when following in the very same footsteps of previous presidents hailed as some of the greatest heroes of the nation.


By: Rick Ungar, Op-Ed Contributor, Forbes, February 3, 2014

February 5, 2014 Posted by | Executive Orders | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Flirting With The Fringe: Stop Pretending Michele Bachmann Can Win The Iowa Caucuses

Ever since Michele Bachmann announced her intention to form a presidential exploratory committee, pundits, including Ed Kilgore at TNR, have been making the case that she has a good chance at winning Iowa—or if not winning, then doing well enough to hurt one or more of the stronger candidates. Republican caucus-goers in the state, they argue, are at least half-nuts, and therefore may well support Bachmann or some other candidate who doesn’t pass conventional standards of seriousness.

Certainly, Iowa Republicans are very socially conservative, more so than in some other states. But a closer look at Iowa caucus history shows that their history of supporting fringe candidates is not quite what it’s made out to be.

The case that “wacky Iowans will do anything” essentially comes down to interpreting a handful of episodes from recent decades. The first occurred in 1988 when Pat Robertson stunned everyone by finishing second with 25 percent of the vote, besting George H.W. Bush and Jack Kemp. But Pat Robertson was a social conservative—and no ordinary one at that—in a year in which the frontrunner (George H.W. Bush) was not. Moreover, that example is now over two decades old, and since then Iowa Republicans have had no trouble voting for mainstream candidates with conventional credentials, as long as those candidates—Lamar Alexander, George W. Bush—had solid records on social conservative issues.

That leaves us with three other supposed episodes of Iowan craziness: Pat Buchanan’s second place finish in 1996; the surprising showings of fringe candidates Alan Keyes and Gary Bauer in 2000; and Huckabee’s victory in 2008. Closer inspection of each of these episodes, however, reveals that none were quite as crazy as they appear.

Take Pat Buchannan in 1996. As odd as it might seem now, he was almost a serious candidate at the time: He had already run for president in 1992, and while he was never quite a plausible nominee, he did have some serious claim as a repeat candidate that Bachmann doesn’t have now. Nor was Buchannan’s success in Iowa especially unique. In fact, he proceeded to win the primary in New Hampshire, and wound up beating his Iowa percentage in sixteen states (several of those, to be sure, were after other candidates had dropped out, so the higher percentage was less impressive).

As for Alan Keyes and Gary Bauer in 2000, they certainly were fringe candidates—even more so than Bachmann—and their combined 25 percent was both impressive and anomalous; they combined for only 7 percent in New Hampshire, although Keyes did have some stronger showings in late states after the nomination was decided. However, it’s also the case that they didn’t have a whole lot of competition. John McCain campaigned in Iowa in 2000, but he did not fully commit to the state, and the only other candidate they beat was Orrin Hatch, who hardly ran any campaign at all. And even with their totals combined, Keyes and Bauer finished well back of Steve Forbes for second, and even further behind winner George W. Bush.

Finally, there’s Huckabee’s surprise victory in 2008; but the extent to which his candidacy was in any way similar to Bachmann’s has been vastly overstated. Yes, he won with the support of social issues voters. But Huckabee wasn’t some backbench member of the House; he was a recent former governor, and, in that sense, just as legitimate a candidate as Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton.

Compared to Huckabee, Michele Bachmann is an altogether different sort of candidate. Since 1972, no candidate in any way similar has run a competitive campaign. The only three members of the House who had plausible shots at winning—Mo Udall in 1976, Jack Kemp in 1988, and Dick Gephardt in 1988 and 2004—were all senior members with leadership positions, legislative accomplishments, or both. No, Bachmann belongs in a different category, with other sideshow acts who may attract attention but have no real chance to win the nomination. And even in allegedly crazy Iowa, those candidates rarely impress on caucus day.

By: Jonathan Bernstein, The New Republic, April 16, 2011

April 17, 2011 Posted by | Conservatives, Democracy, Democrats, Elections, Exploratory Presidential Committees, GOP, Governors, Ideology, Independents, Iowa Caucuses, Journalists, Media, Politics, Pundits, Republicans, Right Wing, States, Swing Voters, Teaparty, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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