I work at home full time now, so I don’t get out of the house much, and I’m trying to walk or ride my bike on some of my shorter errands. That all eats in to my driving time. When I am in the car, I’m more likely to listen to a CD than the radio, and when I do listen to the radio, I’m more of an NPR guy or a classic rock guy or, during baseball season, a WGN guy. I’m missing Ron Santo already.
But every so often, I like to pop on Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity, see what the right is upset about these days. Today, I was a little surprised. It seems that while I was being distracted by all that NPR blather, like in-depth coverage of events in Syria and Iran, Obama has stolen the reins of government entire and declared himself dictator. Evidently, if we don’t stop him this election, it might be the last one we ever see. And he’s accomplished all of this through executive order.
Granted, executive orders are ticklish. They’re the mechanism by which a president can achieve by edict the sorts of things that most of us would likely prefer happen through the traditional legislative process. But, for good or ill, executive orders have been around since the dawn of the republic.
Still, from the shrill alarm I heard on the radio, it sounded like Obama had gone off the reservation entirely, that he was trampling roughshod over the founding fathers’ carefully constructed balance of powers to rule by fiat. So I did what I always do when I hear anybody making a claim that makes my bullshit detector beep. I checked the facts.
The accompanying chart is drawn from data in our National Archives and shows the history, by administration, of the use of executive orders dating back to Hoover. I figured that was far enough. If you want to dig further, write your own damn blog.
And, well, surprise! Not only is Obama’s use of executive orders not disproportionately large, he has actually, on a per annum basis, issued fewer executive orders than any president since 1929 – a mere 35 a year. Hell, that may be the fewest by any president ever, but that’s as far back as I went. To be fair, it’s not like he’s issued the fewest by a wide margin – Bush the Second issued a remarkably comparable 36. It’s just I don’t remember El Rushbo hyperventilating into his golden EIB microphone about it when Georgie Boy was president.
So what set all this off? It seem the recent edict by the Department of Human Services that all employers, including many institutions run by the Catholic Church, will have to offer contraceptive products and services through their health plans as part of this whole Obama Care deal. The thing is, that’s not an executive order. That’s an administrative decision concerning how a law passed by congress is going to be enforced. (In the interest of fairness, Obama did issue an executive order in August 2011 that employers will need to include contraception in health care plans, but the specific application of that order to Catholic institutions comes by route of the DHS administrative rule, not executive order.)
Why make the distinction? Here’s why. Congress is lazy. Congress passes amorphous legislation all the time, leaving many of the details of exactly how that legislation will be enforced, and increasingly even what that legislation means, to the various federal bureaucracies. I spend my day writing about taxes, and I see it in tax legislation all the time. One party or the other decides to mess with the tax code, usually because they want camera time to rail about some portion of their political agenda, so they ram through some half-assed piece of legislation that can be interpreted ten ways to Sunday. The Treasury, IRS, Department of Justice or god knows who by the time the smoke clears ends up deciding what the legislation means and how it’s going to be enforced. And then some Congressman jumps on his soapbox about how that’s not what they wanted, and the whole thing ends up clogging up the courts for years.
Now, do I think Obama stepped on his winkie politically speaking with this whole birth control deal? Absolutely. Why fuck around with the whole religious freedom thing. Or, if he was going to, at least he should have carved out an exception for any pill or service that could be classified as an abortifactant, such as the morning after pill. The vast majority of Catholics are already ignoring the church when it comes to contraception, but abortion is a whole different issue.
Here’s what’s funny to me, though. Bush the Second passed a couple of executive orders early in his first term. The first allows the president and a variety of other folk, including the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Homeland Security the power to unilaterally declare anyone, even an American citizen, to be an unlawful enemy combatant.
What does that mean to you? It means that right now, right this very second, Janet Napolitano could decide that you can be grabbed out of your home without a warrant or any other demonstration of probable cause. You can be held indefinitely without charge. You can be handed over for questioning to some other country – probably one of those convenient “allies” of ours that think water boarding is pretty quaint when it comes to torture, so you can be properly squeezed for information. And there’s nothing you can do about it. There is no hearing, no appeal, you aren’t even allowed to talk with your lawyer, your family, anybody, not if the government doesn’t feel like letting you. Your rights disappear, all of them, and so do you.
That order, though, didn’t go far enough. I dunno, maybe somebody in the field balked when they were actually ordered to kill an American citizen without the benefit of any due process whatsoever. Anyway, Bush issued a second executive order, this one authorizing the CIA to target and assassinate “unlawful enemy combatants,” including American citizens. Again, right now, today, somebody somewhere, someone you don’t know, someone you sure as hell didn’t elect, could designate you as an unlawful enemy combatant and send some guy to your house to put a bullet through your head. That would be perfectly legal.
It’s happened by the way. On Nov. 3, 2002, a CIA controlled drone violating Yemini airspace (flying drones into whatever country we like and shooting missiles at people we don’t like is another one of those things we’ve decided we can do, which begs the question of how we’d feel if some other country took to doing that to us, but I digress) used a Hellfire missile to destroy a car carrying an Al Qaeda target. The car also happened to contain an American citizen named Kamal Derwish.
The guy was born in Buffalo, New York. A citizen, just like you and me. Granted, evidence indicates he was up to no good. Serious terrorist-type no good. But he wasn’t arrested, he wasn’t tired, he was just blown up. By executive order.
So, the Obama thing about contraception? I get people being upset, I do. Especially since both his original executive order and the new DHA edict mandate classes of contraceptive services that many would consider to be abortion. But this new right-wing battle cry that Obama is trying to become a dictator through the abuse of executive orders? That’s not just spin, it’s a blatant and easily disprovable lie.
And, even if you consider abortion to be extra-judicial murder, remember, this isn’t the first time extra-judicial murder has happened by executive order. If it didn’t bother you in 2002, why is it bothering you now?
If you don’t like executive orders, if you feel they allow the chief executive unconstitutional powers, then feel that way all the time. Don’t just complain when they affect an issue you care about or are issued by a president you don’t like.
Even if you do think he was born in Kenya.