Executive Power

English: President Obama signs Executive Order...

English: President Obama signs Executive Order 13555, October 19, 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We are living in politically dangerous times, what with critical fiscal decisions now log-jammed in the Congressional divide, but they are politically interesting times as well. Symbolic of this is conservative outrage over President Obama’s use of the Executive Order to achieve some of the immigration goals of the legislatively thwarted Dream Act while probably improving his stance with Hispanic and Latino voters. An example of this appeared on the op-ed page of our newspaper the other day when guest columnist Don Ray indicted Obama with the following phrases: “disregard for the Constitution”, “refused to enforce many of our immigration laws”, “violation of constitutionally passed federal law”, “failed to uphold the oath of office”. He ended by accusing the President of doing this for “totally political” reasons, despite the President’s long support for the principles of the Dream Act.

Personally, I think the Dream Act is a positive thing that would be very good for America, but GOP opposition has been motivated by the politics of xenophobia in our society and a very strong case can be made that it was opposed by many in the GOP simply to deny the Democratic administration a political victory.   There are powerful arguments for its propriety, including a powerful essay in this week’s Time Magazine and the announcement by GOP rising star Senator Marco Rubio that “he would come to the U.S. illegally if he had to.” But regardless of that specific issue, Mr. Ray’s objections motivated me to review the subject of Executive Orders on Wikipedia. What I found does not support Mr. Ray’s accusations, most of which would appear on their face to be criminal and impeachable offenses.

079 Capitol Hill United States Congress 1993

079 Capitol Hill United States Congress 1993 (Photo credit: davehighbury)

Presidents have been issuing orders since 1789 and it is my sense that they are not only useful but a necessary device to keep the federal government functioning while the difficult legislative process grinds slowly on. As everyone should know, this is particularly true in the present partisan election year. The government began numbering Executive Orders in 1862 and that their number has now exceeded 13,000 indicates their functionality. Importantly, only two of those have ever been overturned, despite the options available to Congress to override the President with a supermajority vote or even impeachment. Thus, President Obama is not a criminal, nor even an evil man for doing what he did. He is doing his job just like so many Presidents before him and the political process is playing out, just as it has over the last two centuries plus.  If he declined to do what he felt necessary in the process of running the government, that to me would be a larger offense.  What if, for example, the President decided to shut down the government because Congress failed to agree on a budget (which it has)?  No national defense, no Social Security checks, no VA hospitals, no nothing.  Now that would be criminal.  We need to remember that the Executive branch of government is co-equal with the other two, and no less vital.

It is my plea therefore that before you rush to judgement on this issue, as Mr. Ray urges, you visit the moral and economic underpinnings of the issue itself. There is a strong case to be made that President Obama not only made a savvy political move, but one that is right for the country.

About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Democratic.
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17 Responses to Executive Power

  1. PiedType says:

    It pains me to say it, but my first response to Obama’s move was yes, it’s legal, but yes, the timing makes it a blatantly obvious political ploy. If he really intended to fix immigration as promised, he’d have done something long ago, with permanent, enduring legislation. This executive order can be overturned as soon as January if Romney is elected. How can it not be construed as a purely political move to secure the Hispanic vote in an election year?


    • Jim Wheeler says:

      “How can it not be construed as a purely political move to secure the Hispanic vote in an election year?”

      To that question, PT, I would ask what evidence you have that the President is not strongly motivated by the notions that young illegal immigrants, having grown up here in our country and in our culture, having gone to school and often college here, are valuable assets that should not be discarded? What evidence is there that he is not motivated by the moral issue that they are here of no volition of their own? His prior strong support of the Dream Act would indicate otherwise.

      Your question also carries the implication that because the use of an Executive Order in this case has clear political implications, it is improper. To that I would say that such is normal politics. Look, because we don’t have a pure democracy in this country and because we have a representative democracy, we don’t go to the polls every time an important national question comes up. I know you know that. So, what, I ask, is wrong with appealing through the Executive Order process to the voters nationwide to accept or reject the decision at the polls in November? It’s not like Obama is enfranchising illegals to vote here. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Any illegal young people will have to come out of the closet and they aren’t going to be able to vote.

      Politics is the process by which the body politic expresses its approval or disapproval of how elected officials do their job. Messy? You bet. But I can’t condemn the President for playing the game according to the rules.

      Thanks for engaging the topic, PT. I hope our discussion on this topic continues – I think it’s important.



  2. Jim,

    Of course Obama’s action on immigration was political. All acts of a president are political. Duh. But I agree with you that it was also the right thing to do. His order did not give carte blanche to immigrants, it was pretty specific. But the right wing nuts are apparently unable to discern that. They have also forgotten their own history. To quote an NPR article (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128303672), “In 1986, Ronald Reagan signed a sweeping immigration reform bill into law. It was sold as a crackdown: There would be tighter security at the Mexican border, and employers would face strict penalties for hiring undocumented workers. But the bill also made any immigrant who’d entered the country before 1982 eligible for amnesty — a word not usually associated with the father of modern conservatism.”

    So, it’s OK for “the father of modern conservatism” to grant amnesty to immigrants, but not OK for a Democrat president to grant amnesty to immigrants. This is understandable though considering that, as Mitch “Turtle Face” McConnell has said on more than one occasion, “The single most important thing the GOP wants to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” Not fix the economy, not balance the budget, not push for lower unemployment, not fix Medicare . . . not fix anything. Just beat Obama! How pathetic is that?

    Well, somebody, probably famous, once said, ‘Never underestimate the stupidity of the voters’” I, like you, live in a very red community. And people I talk to here are also vehemently anti-Obama (and also pro-gun zealots and intractable bible thumpers.) So, whatever the Republicans have to say, well, then it must be true. God forbid there be any critical thinking, or any thinking at all for that matter; ditto heads on the way to becoming doodoo heads.

    As the wise and witty H. L. Mencken once said, “If a politician found he had cannibals among his constituents, he would promise them missionaries for dinner.”



  3. Archon's Den says:

    The usual, “Don’t expect me to think! My mind is made up, don’t confuse me with the facts.”
    An unattributed quote you might wish to add to your sidebar. A bigot is one who won’t change his mind, and can’t change the subject.


  4. ansonburlingame says:

    To all,

    You left out an interesting column by Sowell on this very issue of illegal immigration. According to him, and I agree, step one in resolving the issue is security of our borders. No I do not call for a “wall” to keep illegals out (as opposed to “in” in East Germany). But I do call for strong enforcement of current laws to not allow recent illegal immigrants to benefit from the crime of entering the country and staying here illegally.

    I also believe that those that employ illegal immingrants should bear the burden, call it punishment, for providing incentives for such folks to remain in America. Fines, very large fines should be used to thwart that practice and the employers should pay those fines to remiburse governments for the expenses to educate and medicate such folks, for starters.

    Here is one that will “curl the toes” of progressives. EMTALA is a real drain on the cost of HC. Even Jim has made that observation. Well how many illegal immigrants take advantage of that program? Should they be allowed to do so? I don’t believe such should be the case. MAYBE we save their life or deliver the baby, but then…….? Should we simply ignore that they will remain here illegally, perhaps even come back to the hospital for future emergencies?

    However I depart radically from the call to deport any, all or most illegal immingrants that have become productive members of society. Some form of “forgiveness” is called for but again for PRODUCTIVE members of our society. They should be issued some type of legal permit to remain in America and persue a legitimate path to citizenship. BUT, if during that period they become unproductive members of society and particularly destructive members, lawbreakers, then deportation should be swift and sure punishment for them.

    During a recent observation of a felony court hearing in Joplin with many defendants before the Judge for various charges and rulings, I watched a 20 year old Hispanic that claimed he had been here for 12 years. He was charged with two felonies by the State of MO as well as was under detention orders by ICE, as separate federal charges. There is a classic example of a “youngster” that came in with adults and then chose a path of crime when he became old enough to choose such a path. Should HE be allowed to remain in America, legally, assuming he is guilty as charged of the State felony charges. No way, in my view.

    I do not oppose the intent of the Ex Order to allow “good” folks to remain in America. But how can government make such a judgment as to whether or not someone is “good” or “bad”? AT LEAST a felony conviction should be self evident proof of being a “bad” illegal, should it not?

    But I also believe the Obama administration has failed miserably to UPHOLD current law by not enforcing arrest and detainment and deportation of those that still flock across our borders today. Secure the borders, prohibit employment of illegals and for sure when our own laws are violated by such illegals, take swift and sure action to deport the lawbreakers, however long they have been here.



  5. Alan Scott says:

    Jim .

    The question of whether this is blatantly political is answered by the fact that previously President Obama said that he could not do this . Not only is this political, it is desperate . Even though nominally the candidates are in a tie, the trends are against the President . To win he has to reverse them . I expect that unless he regains the lead in the polls of likely voters, we will see more Hail Marys . June was an exceptionally bad month . Perhaps the Supreme Court will give President Obama the break he badly needs and that he can exploit .


    • Jim Wheeler says:


      Obama very nearly got Congress to pass the DREAM act in 2008. It passed in the House 216 to 198 and that includes 8 Republicans voting for it, but it stalled in the Senate when Republican supporters of similar legislation balked at supporting Obama’s version. Those flipping on the issue included prominent GOP party leaders John Kyle, John McCain, Orin Hatch and Kay Bailey Hutchinson, and their reason for balking was that the borders needed to be more secure first. But that reasoning would have applied equally well to their own versions. If you want to talk blatant partisanship, that’s about a blatant as it gets in my opinion.

      Politics, now more than ever, has morphed into internal warfare and the country’s interests are suffering in the bargain. I don’t know what your healthcare situation is, Alan, nor how old you are, but I think the Supreme Court is more likely more likely to overturn the individual mandate than approve of it this week and you will probably get to “enjoy” a sicker America.


  6. Alan Scott says:

    Jim ,

    Obamacare was sold as a free lunch . I hope you know there ain’t no such animal . We have entitlement debt bombs which are sending us towards California, Spain, and Greece status without Obamacare . With it there is no hope of saving this country . I don’t know why liberals constantly lie about this, except that parasites do not realize that if they kill the host they do not have a future .


    • Jim Wheeler says:

      I guess you just like to argue, Alan, but if that’s the case you could at least make an effort to get your facts right. The individual mandate of the ACA, or Obamacare as you derisively like to call it, was an attempt to get everybody to pay into an insurance system from which everybody would eventually benefit. That’s the opposite of a free lunch. You see, “insurance” means collective indemnity against risk. If you want to rail against “free lunches”, you should rail against EMTALA.


  7. Alan Scott says:

    Jim ,

    My facts are straight. Every single fact that was put into Obama’s health care bill was a lie. The numbers do not work . Everybody knows they don’t work . All of the figures were based on assumptions that Bernie Madof would be ashamed of . The difference between Barak Obama and Bernie Madof is that Madof is in jail .


  8. Alan Scott says:

    Jim ,

    I am sure he is a smart guy . You must be ecstatic that Justice Roberts disagreed with President Obama and ruled that Obama Care is a tax .


    • Jim Wheeler says:

      Wrong again, Alan. When Chief Justice Roberts officially and Judicially labeled the ACA’s individual mandate a tax by another name, he very well may have handed the election to Mitt Romney. Why? Because if there’s any one thing the electorate has been primed to hate, it’s tax increases. If you don’t believe me, just ask Poppy Bush, a.k.a. Mr. “Read My Lips, No New Taxes”. I am now prepared to hear four months’ worth of Tea Party anti-tax rhetoric and that, IMHO, is likely to be more effective than just repealing ObamaCare because the GOP has no viable healthcare plan with which to replace Obamacare.


  9. Alan Scott says:

    I assume that you expect a reaction like the 2010 midterm correction . I pray you are right . The Supreme Court decision was a major victory for your side. Go ahead, enjoy it, spike the ball . We lost . If we do not admit that and look for a silver lining in this disaster, then we are lying to ourselves and deserve to continue to get steam rolled by your side.

    The increase in Romney’s incoming money since the decision, is a sign that now the right knows that Mitt, even with his warts is the only hope to save the country .

    The GOP has a thousand viable plans to replace ObamaCare . Not politically viable as long as Reid and Obama can block them . My worry is that Mitt wins, but the GOP does not win both houses . He will need the kind of majorities Obama had for 2 years, to fix anything .


    • Jim Wheeler says:

      You are misjudging me, Alan. Despite the Tea Party’s efforts otherwise I constantly struggle to make this not a war between sides but rather to identify political ways in which the country can get things done. For example I have long maintained in this blog that ObamaCare is not the best solution, although it sure beats the Ryan plan which would have left half the population out in the cold through underfunding. The best solution would be the Public Option, but that is not politically viable. And speaking of viability, I’m glad to hear that the GOP has “a thousand viable plans to replace ObamaCare”. Please tell us about whichever of those you think is best.

      Our local newspaper this morning has an excellent article on the decision. They interviewed several people with medical problems who frequent one of several “Clinics” in the area. These are places that deliver healthcare to those who pay little or nothing. A spokesperson for one clinic said that a week never goes by without the staff having to tell someone that they have either cancer or heart disease that’s been there a long time. I thought that a profound statement and it says to me that America, the wealthiest nation in the world, is treating 20% of its citizens worse than any other first-world country. The Affordable Care Act will at least supply preventive care. Will your plan do that?


  10. Alan Scott says:

    Jim ,

    As far as saying, well at least the Affordable Care Act supplies preventive care . Preventive care at what cost ? All of ObamaCare’s health care savings are as phony as what Obama predicted when he shoveled money into his Solar boondoggles . Every single prediction the President has made about unemployment and deficits has been abysmally wrong . Why would he be right about the Affordable Care Act being affordable ?

    To simplify it . The collateral damage to the greater economy is what Conservatives fear . As Justice Roberts declared, ObamaCare is a tax . Democrats stayed as far as possible away from that word when they rammed ObamaCare down our throats . ObamaCare will levy massive taxes to fund itself , yet President Obama repeated many times that it was not a tax .

    If ObamaCare was so wonderful, Democrats would not have had to water board the English language in order to write it and pass it .


    • Jim Wheeler says:

      Alan, you are so blinded by right-wing propaganda you don’t know what you’re talking about. Obama hasn’t predicted unemployment numbers that I’ve seen and as far as Solyndra being a boondoggle, that was due to a swing of economics, not corruption. One can look at the history of Bain Capital and find some of their investments that tanked to the tune of tens of millions due to the same factors. When ObamaCare (ACA) was passed it wasn’t intended to be a tax, but since Chief Justice Roberts declared it to be one, it is. That’s why we have a Supreme Court, Alan. You need to stop seeing your fellow Americans as some kind of sinister subversives, stop listening to right-wing radio, and think some of these things through yourself. Try it, it’s refreshing.


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