25 February 2014

Presidential Balance

The same Framers sought to guard against the same evils by compelling the president to swear at the commencement of his terms in office that he will "faithfully" enforce the laws. The use of the word "faithfully," like the use of the word "all," is intended to assure voters that they can count on a president who will do the job they hired him to do by enforcing federal laws, not evading them, and by enforcing them as Congress has written them, not as the president might wish them to be.
To be fair, many presidents, from the sainted Thomas Jefferson to the tyrannical FDR, put their own spin on federal law. Jefferson pardoned all those convicted under the Alien and Sedition Acts because he hated a statute that punished free speech and he boasted that he would not enforce that part of the acts (they expired under his watch). And FDR when barely two weeks in office issued an executive order criminalizing the possession of gold because he foolishly thought it would stabilize the banks, until an adviser reminded him that only Congress can write criminal laws (which he then persuaded Congress to do). Yet in President Obama we have a president whose personal interferences in the enforcement of federal laws reveal his view that he can rewrite them and even nullify them.

I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. [Emphasis added.]

The fundamental conflict every president of the US faces is resolving the conflict between executing duly passed congressional legislation and defending the constitution.  As can be seen even as early as the Alien and Sedition Act, there is sometimes a conflict between executing the office a president (i.e. the one who presides over the government) and defending the constitution from congressional assaults. Trying to argue that a president is bad because he doesn’t faithfully execute all congressional legislation is foolish because a) sometimes legislation is self-contradictory, b) sometimes legislation is impossible to execute, and c) sometime legislation is simply unconstitutional.  In the case of c), you don’t want the president faithfully executing his office because that would mean undermining the constitution (and this would certainly have been the case with the Alien and Sedition Acts).  Thus, for example, I would be quite happy if Obama didn’t act on the congressional authorization for using force against American enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan since doing so would undermine the constitution.  I would also be pleased if Obama would unilaterally disband the TSA, DHS, and a host of other unconstitutional departments, agencies, and bureaucracies.

Now, I think that the judge’s general assertion—that Obama is shitty president who doesn’t take his oath of office seriously—is generally correct.  However, Obama’s disinclination to execute the Office of the President is not itself proof that he’s a bad president because there is often a conflict between executing the office of the president and defending the constitution.  And, as bad as Obama may be, he is still a human being trying to do an impossible job.  He’s doing it poorly, but it’s sometimes good to remember that no man can do it perfectly.