The Washington Post’s dystopian fantasy provides a certain amount of amusement, since anyone who follows Ted Cruz for any length of time would know that this approach would be antithetical to his concept of constitutional government and the rule of law. It’s still useful as both a way to take the temperature of the center-left as it becomes more frightened of its allies than its opponents, and a measure of the split developing on that side of the political spectrum as Barack Obama becomes unmoored from constitutional checks on power:
DEMOCRATS URGING President Obama to “go big” in his executive order on immigration might pause to consider the following scenario:
It is 2017. Newly elected President Ted Cruz (R) insists he has won a mandate to repeal Obamacare. The Senate, narrowly back in Democratic hands, disagrees. Mr. Cruz instructs the Internal Revenue Service not to collect a fine from anyone who opts out of the individual mandate to buy health insurance, thereby neutering a key element of the program. It is a matter of prosecutorial discretion, Mr. Cruz explains; tax cheats are defrauding the government of billions, and he wants the IRS to concentrate on them. Of course, he is willing to modify his order as soon as Congress agrees to fix what he considers a “broken” health system.
That is not a perfect analogy to Mr. Obama’s proposed action on immigration. But it captures the unilateral spirit that Mr. Obama seems to have embraced since Republicans swept to victory in the midterm elections. He is vowing to go it alone on immigration. On Iran, he is reportedly designing an agreement that he need not bring to Congress. He already has gone that route on climate change with China.
The issue isn’t Obama’s upcoming abuse of power as much as it is that the next Republican will abuse it in the same way. The Post’s editorial board supports Obama’s position on immigration reform, as they state in the editorial, and they’re probably not all that unhappy with the agreement with China. They are not usually fans of Obama’s foreign policy and resistance to accountability, but otherwise support the current administration’s policies, and usually its approach.
That much is apparent in the rest of the editorial. It treats the lack of bipartisanship as something that is a more recent development in the Obama administration, and Barack Obama as someone naturally inclined toward bipartisanship with his statement three years ago to immigration activists that he had to work through Congress to achieve reform. That, however, was an excuse Obama gave to shrug off an uncomfortable truth: Obama could have gotten immigration reform passed easily in the first two years of his presidency. That had a significant amount of support among Republican caucuses, especially in the Senate, and Obama could have gotten that bipartisan agreement on his terms, thanks to Democratic control of Congress.
How did Obama use those two years? He rammed through three Democratic legislative projects that the GOP vehemently opposed: Dodd-Frank, ObamaCare, and the stimulus bill with the supposed “shovel-ready jobs” that Obama later admitted never existed. Democrats locked the GOP out of the crafting of the stimulus bill; when Republican leaders complained to Obama, he replied, “I won.” That was in February 2009, just days after taking office. The track record of Democratic triumphalism on ObamaCare speaks for itself, except for the parts where Jonathan Gruber now speaks for it a lot more honestly than Democrats ever did. Gruber proves that the rank and file Democrats that the Post attempts to warn here are pretty comfortable with the ends-justify-the-means approach, at least until it becomes obvious.
Yes, Democrats should worry about what Republicans might do with precedents for abuse of power, but it’s doubtful that they care at this point. It would have been far more useful if the Washington Post’s editorial board had concerned itself from the beginning about precedents on executive authority and unilateralism when it came to policies the Post liked more than their concern over Republicans who opposed them.