Monday, January 27, 2014

Mini-Snopes: executive orders edition

This is only marginally a Mini-Snopes. The meme below doesn't really come out and claim BS, so much as imply it on multiple levels.

Since this is being passed around in anti-Obama circles, let's start with that. Is the executive order something Obama made up? No. Not even close. Executive orders have been around since the founding of the republic. George Washington issued executive orders. With the exception of William Henry Harrison, who spent most of his 32 days as president dying of pneumonia, every president has issued executive orders during their tenure. Before the Civil War, executive orders were fairly rare. Even Lincoln only saw fit to issue forty-eight. In the Twentieth Century, that number dramatically increased with most presidents issuing that many every year. 

That said, has Obama used executive orders more than others? Again, the answer is no, not even close. FDR, who had the Depression and Hitler to deal with, comes in first with almost 300 per year. Small government Republican Herbert Hoover is number two with almost 250 per year. Is Obama number three? Still no. Reagan's favorite president, Calvin Coolidge comes in third and Harry Truman comes in fourth. After that four, the number per year dropped dramatically with no president issuing over 100 per year. 

Well, where does Obama fit into this? Surely he has the biggest count of executive orders since then. No, no, and further no. Let's look at the last five presidents. During his first term, St. Reagan issued 213, in his second 168. GHW Bush issued 166 during his only term, Clinton, 200 and 164, and GW Bush, 173 and 118. Obama's first term saw 147, except for W's second term, the smallest number of executive orders since Truman. Last year saw 21 executive orders, which is a number not seen since Lincoln.

So, the implication that Obama has depended on executive orders more than other presidents is flat out dishonest. The exact opposite is closer to the truth. What about the less subtle implication that this somehow is tyrannical or unconstitutional? Executive orders have been used constantly since the Constitution was written. The people who actually fought against a monarchy thought executive orders were compatible with American democracy and used them.

Well, what's the problem? Do I even need to say it? The problem is Obama. The people who spread these memes think anything Obama does is unconstitutional and tyrannical. If Obama made a statement in favor of oxygen, we'd see a mile long line of blue-faced Republicans, Fox pundits, and right-wing bloggers clamoring to be the first to point out that Hitler also breathed oxygen.

Aside from an irrational hatred of anything Obama does and a willingness to misrepresent anything he does, a meme like this shows the overwhelming ignorance of the author and anyone who reposts it of history and the Constitution. As I showed above, issuing executive orders is a normal part of the job of the President. The President is the head of the executive branch. He is the boss of almost all of the civil servants employed by the American people. He would be derelict in his duty if he did not issue orders. Like it or not, the size and complexity of the federal government is greater than it was in Washington's time and therefore needs more direction. Issuing executive orders does not undermine, circumvent, or otherwise ruffle the Constitution. Every executive order is subject to the same judicial review as laws passed by Congress. As to tyranny, making such a claim, like Nazi and Holocaust analogies, makes light of the experience of people who have suffered the real thing. 

Using the powers of the presidency to do something you disagree with is not tyrannical, not illegal, not unconstitutional, not un-American, and not hypocritical. Not getting your way everyday is the price you pay for living in a democracy. Crying persecution, kicking over the board, threatening secession, coup, and assassination is childish, dangerous, and, frankly, bad for America. In summary, this meme is not just wrong, it's dangerously wrong.


BadTux said...

Not to mention that the majority of executive orders are to order a specific part of government to obey or enforce a specific law in a certain way. They don't make law, they direct workers in how to follow and enforce law. The Constitution pretty clearly gives the President that power to direct his workers how to follow and enforce the laws of the land. That whole "executive power" thing, yo.

- Badtux the Law Penguin

Anonymous said...

I don't think it has as much to do with stating that Obama uses the Executive Order to get his own was as it does with the documented fact that he made a statement to the effect that if congress did not pass something he wanted passed he would just issue an executive order. That is simply poor governance, by ANY president.

Walt Archer said...

To "Anonymous" poster:

If Congress would get it together and NOT be a "do nothing Congress" Obama wouldn't have to rely on Executive Orders to do the things that Congress SHOULD be doing. Don't blame the President for doing what needs to be done for the right reasons. Blame Congress for NOT doing their jobs.