Beware Obama's post-election surprises

A professor of political science at the University of Chicago, Charles Lipson, recently circulated a list of at least six decisions that Obama has postponed making—or at least announcing—until after the election. “As soon as the voting is done,” Professor Lipson predicts, “several big shoes will drop,” among them Obama’s choice of a new attorney general and his decision on the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Nor do you have to be a former Republican Congressman or a right-leaning professor to buy the idea that Obama is postponing some major announcements until after the election. David Sanger of The New York Times reported on October 20: “No one knows if the Obama administration will manage in the next five weeks to strike what many in the White House consider the most important foreign policy deal of his presidency: an accord with Iran that would forestall its ability to make a nuclear weapon. But the White House has made one significant decision: If agreement is reached, President Obama will do everything in his power to avoid letting Congress vote on it.”

In a 2001 paper, two foreign policy experts then at Brookings, Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay, took a look at arguments for constricting the actions of lame-duck presidents: “Lame-duck diplomacy is wrong because the sitting president should defer to his successor… Lame-duck diplomacy ties the hands of the incoming administration…. Lame-duck diplomacy is wrong because a lame duck’s motives are not pure.” Daalder and Lindsay considered each of those arguments in turn and wound up rejecting them all. “Neither the lame-duck status of the outgoing president nor the certainty that a new president will take office the following January is reason to curtail the fundamental constitutional right of sitting presidents to pursue foreign policy as they deem best,” they wrote. Their argument applies to foreign policy, but the reasoning can be applied to domestic policy, as well.