Obama and the imperial presidency meme

To many, the Imperial Presidency of Barack Obama isn’t a ridiculous delusion of grandeur, but an evil force of national destruction, represented in no better way than by the president’s use of executive orders. With his impending lawsuit against the president, that is the ground upon which House Speaker John Boehner hopes to frame this year’s midterm election fight. It’s an apocalyptic battle about wresting control of the government back out of the nefarious hands of the lawless, rogue president.

After the cascading debacle that was 2013, President Obama had hoped to change the narrative this year. As he insisted in his State of the Union, 2014 was going to be a year of action. Obama proclaimed that he had “a pen and phone” and that if Congress wouldn’t work with him, he would act unilaterally to forward the agenda that Americans had voted for in 2012. But his pen and phone have turned into just the latest opportunity for another Washington slapfight over process and electoral posturing. Even though Obama has signed fewer executive orders than many of his predecessors, you would never know it considering how Republicans in Congress have latched onto the Imperial Presidency myth.

This had been building for a while. Though Boehner’s lawsuit will be based on Obama’s selective implementation of health care reform and deferring action in existing immigration laws, this fight can be expected to encompass all of Obama’s recent endeavors. Starting last year with Obama’s executive orders concerning the enforcement of gun regulations, congressional animosity has been building.

But it’s the latest flurry of executive orders that has propped up the Republican argument of presidential overreach. From Obama’s executive order demanding a minimum wage increase for government contractors, to the orders aimed at closing the gender wage gap, to curbing sexual orientation discrimination, and then finally to the strongest EPA regulations ever, Obama has launched a buckshot assault on some of the GOP’s most culturally sacred cows.

Most of the executive orders were only signed by Obama as a result of congressional intransigence, but this all feeds into the same narrative; that King Obama is usurping Congress and coming for your precious freedoms. Keep in mind that the public is in pretty wide agreement with closing the gender wage gap, gun background checks, more stringent EPA regulations and ending sexual orientation discrimination. But that won’t stop the Republicans from turning the public’s natural social instincts into an election year wedge issue.

This makes Boehner’s lawsuit all the more inevitable; and yet, it’s still strange. Since Eric Cantor’s shocking loss, Boehner knows that he has a new lease on life when it comes to winning another term as Speaker of the House. He will sue the president, knowing that without showing actual damages, the suit will be dismissed. But in the meantime, like the IRS scandal and the endless Benghazi hearings, it will increase the base enthusiasm needed for another midterm win, and at the same time forestall the impeachment proceedings that Boehner knows would lead to an inevitable backlash that could cost his party the White House in 2016. So, in a weird way, though he’s taking congressional obstructionism to a new, unprecedented level, he’s actually helping the president.

In recent weeks the president has gone on his first scorching attack of the election year. He called Boehner’s lawsuit a “stunt” and dared the GOP, “So sue me.” He also said “You’re mad at me for doing some things to raise the minimum wage. Let’s pass a law. Let’s give America a raise. If you’re mad at me for taking executive action for women to find out that they’re not getting treated fairly in the workplace, let’s do it together. You can share the credit. You’re worried about me fixing a broken immigration system, let’s hold hands and make sure that the country continues to be a nation of immigrants. I want to work with you.” Obama seems to have entered the YOLO phase of his presidency. He has even started quoting “The Departed” in front of crowds.

While he has proclaimed his preference to passing legislation as compared to executive orders, Obama has asked cabinet officials for recommendations to be presented to him by the end of the summer. Which would make his immigration executive orders arrive right before the election. As craven and selfish a move as the Boehner lawsuit is, Obama is now promising to one-up him.

Last week President Obama did a few things publicly that he rarely does: he admitted defeat on an agenda item and he lost his temper with the Republican-controlled House. Coupled with the Supreme Court decisions curtailing recess appointments and the Hobby Lobby rebuff of Obamacare, these did not seem like the actions of a rogue president bent on world domination, but more like an exhausted executive facing the end of his influence on national politics.

The president is now a man beset on all sides by the encroaching limits set by the two other branches of government. This isn’t so much an imperial presidency as it is an insurgent presidency. One where the deck is stacked against the chief executive himself. But it always was. Obama’s presidency has always been the story of a center-left administration hoping to drag a center-right country, biting and clawing, kicking and screaming, into its more progressive future.