by Japa (@deaconmill)
In 2008, during the primary campaign, in an interview, then Senator Obama talked about how Reagan had been a transformative President and how he hoped to be the same. He was immediately attacked by many, included his main opponent as being supportive of Reagan’s policies. That attack, like many others before and since (clinging to guns and religion, they didn’t build that, etc.) was, of course, based upon a deliberate misreading and misinterpretation of what he said and meant.
If it isn’t obvious to everyone now, and it should be, President Obama represents the antithesis of everything President Reagan stood for. He has repeatedly called out the GOP for continuing the failed policies of Reagonomics. His approach to immigration reform is radically different than Reagan’s blanket amnesty with no follow-up policy. He does not see foreign policy as a case of who can puff up their chest the biggest, like Reagan and his successors did. He supports unions. He supports all human rights. He abhors the policies of racism. He truly recognizes the difficulties and nuances of decision making.
Yet, as much as Reagan Presidency was transformative in a negative way, President Obama’s is becoming transformative in a uniquely positive way. In fact, it may end up being the most positively transformative Presidency in the history of our country. And this is not due to specific legislation passed with his urging, although much of that legislation will impact this country and how it views the government’s role in helping its citizens for decades to come. Nor is it due to the fact that he is, probably, one of the top three President’s in terms of rhetorical skills. Nor is it because he is the first black President. All of those are important to his legacy, but they are not transformative in terms of how the country is run or how the President interacts with the other branches of government.
Earlier, Liberal Librarian posted a piece about how the President’s recent address on national security disavowed the concept of eternal war. As has become expected, that post was incisive and caught the point of an important aspect of that speech. It turns a corner in what, for many Americans, has been the major focus of this country for much of their adult lives.
I want to focus, for a minute, one the other important aspect of the speech, the part that to me shows how transformative this President is. Throughout the history of this country, President’s have consistently been ceded powers by the Congress, especially in the military realm, but in other areas as well. This culminated under the Bush administration with the AUMF and the Patriot Act. The Congress, representing us, gave Bush and his cronies unprecedented powers which they used to the utmost. It was, rightfully, called The Imperial Presidency.
However, that Imperial Presidency could not have happened if over the decades and centuries prior to that, Congress had not given, or at least looked the other way, the Presidency increasing powers. Oh, there were times, during our country’s history, when Congress would try to take back some powers or take the President down a notch or two. But the general pattern has always been increased Presidential powers which the Oval Office clung unto, passed to the next in line, and worked very hard not to give up.
Until May 23, 2013. For probably the first time in history, a President actually came forward and requested that Congress take away some of his powers. This is a President who realizes that with great power comes great responsibility. And it isn’t that President Obama is afraid to take on responsibility, but he realizes that having that much power placed in the hands of one person is dangerous and can easily lead to abuse of those powers. Some would say he has abused those powers already, especially those who say they speak for the “left”. I would argue that point, but this is not the time to do so.
Rather, I would point out that this is a transformative moment, piled on top of other transformative moments throughout this Presidency. This is a man, a constitutional scholar, who deeply respects the separation of powers as delineated in the Constitution. He has, sometimes to a fault perhaps, respected that separation. He has seldom tried to strong arm legislation through (not that he would have been successful anyway considering the current insanity of the Republican Party).
Even yesterday, he made sure to emphasize that in regards to certain things, such as Guantanamo, that it is up to Congress to do the right thing and allow him to end that stain on the American character. And he has done this repeatedly. Congress has its role and the Executive Branch has its role to play and they should not get confused and tangled up with each other.
But for a President to voluntarily request that powers already ceded to him by Congress be taken away is as transformative as it is unprecedented. It says to the world that the President of the United States believes in a process that should not be abrogated at a whim. And it says to the nation that, hopefully, we will not, due to fear, make the same mistakes again in the future. It is still too early to see if some of these transformational moves stick in our body politic, but one can hope. And isn’t it with that very thing this all started.
Hope and Change, or more accurately Hope can lead to Change.