Executive Action: Misguided But Predictable Response to Total Dysfunction [Hub Debate]

Executive Action: Misguided But Predictable Response to Total Dysfunction [Hub Debate]President Obama’s about to effect some sort of immigration reform via executive action.

The word on the street is that it will involve shielding illegal immigrants without a criminal record from deportation and expanding the Presidentially-effected Dream Act, which — in my opinion — is an improvement on our current immigration situation and something that I would likely support via legislative action.

But that’s really neither here nor there (at least for purposes of this debate).  After all, one really gets the sense that the current tempest over immigration seems to be less about immigration (where a sense of inevitability now exists regarding the need for basic reform) and more about disagreement over the timing and appropriateness of executive action.

“The President’s ignoring the Constitution and violating the principle of separation of powers!,” you say.

Well, yeah . . . and, as others have noted, it’s all been done before.

“But,” you note, “we shouldn’t *keep* doing it — unilateral executive action encourages divided government and discourages compromise and practical legislation.  It enables Congress to be stupid and pig-headed, and then either claim the glory for action they didn’t take or blame for their own intransigence on someone else.  It sets a bad precedent!”

Amen! Preach it, brother.  I’m right there with you.

“And,” you point out, “unilateral executive action is a result of the cult of the President and our tendency to revere leaders who overstep their constitutional bounds to promote an agenda, rather than those that just fulfill their constitutionally prescribed role!”

I’m with you there, too!

“After all, President Obama’s only got a little over two years left in his term, and a huge risk with executive action is that it doesn’t endure beyond changes in administrations, leading to the same type of uncertainty — or worse — than what it’s trying to correct.  And just imagine the scenario where the President takes unilateral action on immigration, and then continually vetoes immigration reform that he doesn’t agree with or isn’t consistent with what he’s already done.  At that point, the person with the constitutional obligation to “take care that the laws [are] faithfully executed,” has quite clearly taken on the role of legislator and set himself up in clear opposition to Congress.”


But disagreement with executive action aside, we need to stop and clarify what’s actually going on here.

Unilateral action in the face of clear congressional disapproval is one thing.  That’s the President ignoring the will of Congress and taking upon himself the role of a legislator.  But that’s not really what we have here (at least not yet).  What we have now is action in the face of utter and complete congressional dysfunction — while still problematic for all the reasons noted above — and, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll acknowledge that is a little bit different.

Here’s the deal:  Unilateral executive action and (to a somewhat lesser extent) its troubling corollary government by bureaucratic regulation both contribute to, and are the predictable results of, government shutdown politics.

Who in their right mind really thinks they can grind the government of a $15 trillion economy to a halt for political reasons (and I’m giving mean looks bipartisan-ly here) and then rely on paper provisions — revered and inspired though they may be — for absolute protection from the need to cave or compromise on the back end?

That doesn’t happen in business, it doesn’t happen in people’s personal lives, and it doesn’t happen in politics.

Instead, you get businesses and people who take action to protect their own interests, and, in politics, executive action or overreaching regulation.  And then you get lawsuit after lawsuit leading to delay, more intransigence, more unilateral action, and more regulation.

Though unfortunate, it’s predictable; a vicious cycle that will continue until, at some point, some have the courage to strike out to break it.

Here’s a hint to politicians:  This cycle doesn’t end on its own.  This isn’t a “fever” that gets broken by a better economy or a sudden epiphany resulting from political defeats.  It’s not something that ends naturally as political majorities shift.  And it’s certainly not broken by politically-motivated executive action.

It’s a cycle that is broken only by conscious effort at practical and politically dangerous compromise.  And that might mean letting the other guy “win” now and then.

Whoever decides to commit to breaking the cycle, there’s a good chance they’ll suffer negative political consequences, especially initially.  And if there’s only one or two willing to take the step — left out there twisting in the wind by everyone else — the only lesson that people will take away from the effort is that it’s stupid to try.

But the alternative is to continue to anger large portions of the American people when they are forced to bear the costs of the failure to solve problems, all the while listening to their leaders grandstand in their echo chamber about prudence and virtue, which is basically where we are right now.

Ah, America!  Even in your dysfunction you impress me.  After all, it’s not every country that could survive this, compound constitutional republic intact.

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