Public Policy and Presidential Pique

Rob Schwarzwalder is Senior Vice President at Family Research Council. This article appeared on, July 12, 2014.

President Obama's petulance grows. For proof, look no further than media reports. Two quotes from Peggy Noonan's disturbing-because-it-is-accurate piece on Barack Obama's seeming "running out the clock" presidency in The Wall Street Journal:

"The world seems to disappoint him," says The New Yorker's liberal and sympathetic editor, David Remnick.

On his state trip to Italy in the spring, he asked to spend time with "interesting Italians." They were wealthy, famous. The dinner went for four hours. The next morning his staff was briefing him for a "60 Minutes" interview about Ukraine and health care. "One aide paraphrased Obama's response: 'Just last night I was talking about life and art, big interesting things, and now we're back to the minuscule things on politics.'''

Noonan concludes that we "have a president who has given up ... (This) is unprecedented and deeply strange. And, because the world is watching and calculating, unbelievably dangerous."

Now consider two quotes from the President, one cited by CBS News, the other by NBC News:

"We're not just going to be waiting for legislation in order to make sure that we're providing Americans the kind of help they need. I've got a pen and I've got a phone and I can use that pen to sign executive orders and take executive actions and administrative actions."

President Barack Obama has aggressively touted his use of executive authority over the last several months as he aims to cement his legacy and push his policies now and even beyond his presidency. The president's in-your-face attitude was punctuated (July 2) by his sarcastic challenge to Republicans: "So sue me."

These are the comments of a man frustrated that he is hemmed-in not only by political opposition but the Constitution itself, whose deliberate institution of checks and balances and disbursal of power among three branches of government is designed to prevent tyranny by one person or one branch.

Tyranny and violence often are synonyms; they should not be. A tyrant can exercise oppressive power with a benign smile and the confidence that what he is doing is for the good of those he governs. But that attitude makes the tyranny no less real, as whatever the intent, it is grounded in the belief that the benighted masses must be ruled. A certain George III seemed to think the same thing of the then-colonists, and it didn't work out too well for him ...

Benevolent tyranny also does not account for the fact that in America, we are not subjects, but citizens; just like the President.

Republicans will likely take the Senate in the November elections, and they seem poised to retain their majority in the House. Lawsuits, pens, and phones are no substitute either for the compromise necessary to advance America's vital interests and national security or for adherence to the charter text (the Constitution) which limits both a President's and a Congress's power.

Mr. Obama appears not to want to accept the Constitution philosophically, but his attitude toward Congress and, when it disagrees with him, the Supreme Court is more akin to that of a spoiled child who, told he cannot have multiple desserts, throws a fit as he considers how best - even if behind his parents' backs - he can obtain them.

Frustration is part and parcel of political engagement: No one gets everything desired, ever. That's why maturity in politics involves the ability not to allow that frustration to drive one's decision-making but, instead, calmly and thoughtfully to work within unchangeable existing structures - in this case, for Mr. Obama, the other two branches of government and the U.S. Constitution - to find ways of accomplishing at least some of the things one wants. Yet Mr. Obama, seemingly, wants to have it all his way, and will settle not for change in increments but transformation by fiat.

Mr. Obama's problems on the world stage are not the fault of terrorists or nationalists or aggressive military powers. At home, they are not the fault of conservatives or Republicans or the federal courts. His frustration grows from his inability to negotiate among these people, nations, and institutions successfully because he will not modify his ideological agenda to conform to reality, political and substantive.

What we are seeing in the White House is not principled determination but personal irritability grounded in the President's undue sense of his own greatness. This is disturbing, for our country and our world.