Skip to main content

The man who would be king

By Robert Pittenger
updated 8:58 AM EDT, Tue July 1, 2014
President Barack Obama said Monday he would take executive action on immigration, where Congress has failed to act.
President Barack Obama said Monday he would take executive action on immigration, where Congress has failed to act.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rep. Robert Pittenger compares Obama's executive actions with those of other historical leaders
  • From King David to Napoleon, each knew the limits of power, Pittenger argues
  • Obama's unilateral actions circumvents the checks and balances of Congress, he says

Editor's note: U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-North Carolina, is chairman of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare and a member of the House Committee on Financial Services. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- As President Barack Obama once again announced his intention to bypass Congress and govern through executive order -- this time with Monday's announcement on immigration -- history will ask, is he being presidential or imperial?

Let us consider how his acute use of presumed authority measures up against rulers of other great nations.

History is replete with the chronicles of kings and leaders from biblical times to the present day. In the Scriptures, we encounter King David, who sought to do good in the eyes of God, observed the limits of his kingly mandate and brought relative security and prosperity to his people. Others, including King Saul, exalted themselves, debasing their character and leading Israel into the vicissitudes of calamity, defeat and ruin.

The great kings of history are known to have protected their sovereignty effectively, some through benevolent decree and others through ignominious achievements. Caesar Augustus brought an extended period of peace to Rome. Genghis Khan expanded his empire with efficient brutality. Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II abolished slavery and serfdom in the Austrian Habsburg dominions. Napoleon Bonaparte was known for his superior military capabilities and established the Napoleonic Code, which forbade privilege based on birth. All ruled with relatively unchallenged decree.

Robert Pittenger
Robert Pittenger

Democracy took root in ancient Greece during the sixth century B.C. Members of society were given a voice and vote in a representative democracy that dispersed political power among the people. Many centuries later emerged the Magna Carta after British subjects demanded from their king the right to vote, personal freedoms and participation in government. Our Constitution contains freedoms original to the Magna Carta.

The evolution of our American democracy came through the wisdom of James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, John Locke and other thoughtful intellectuals who envisioned a purposely divided government, with checks and balances through executive, judicial and legislative branches.

In contrast to this vision and the obligations set forth in the Constitution, Obama has openly asserted that he will utilize his pen and his phone (and already has) to change policy through executive orders (royal decrees). His unilateral display of power through executive orders circumvents the checks and balances of Congress and the limits of constitutional law, which he should know well as a former law professor.

Obama to Congress: 'Pass a darn bill'
Why immigration reform won't happen
Obama to ask for emergency funds

Our founders created executive orders for emergencies during a time of travel by horseback when swift return by Congress was impossible. This era has passed.

Many presidents have used executive orders to make recess appointments and other actions, but Obama has issued executive orders to force major policy changes by decree, going well beyond the actions of some other leaders, misusing these emergency powers to enact his will and ignoring the people's elected representatives.

Acting without authorization, the President has altered Obamacare, choosing not to enforce sections harmful to his friends and donors in government, unions and big business. He has expanded the regulatory scope of the Environmental Protection Agency, pacifying his base of environmentalist supporters at the cost of jobs for ordinary, hard-working Americans.

When Congress acted on behalf of the American people and did not seek passage of the Dream Act, the President used executive order (royal decree), leading to our current humanitarian crisis at the border of unaccompanied children unable to provide for themselves.

As if living in a different century, Obama acts unilaterally, uninhibited by what he views as the "nuisance" of Congress.

Most recently, he undermined our national security and impaired the safety of our soldiers by deciding to free five Taliban commanders without consulting Congress before their release.

When we think of kings, we think not only of how they ruled but how they lived. Their lavish castles and opulent feasts. Their lack of consideration as lower classes struggled. "Let them eat cake."

So, too, is the perceived case with our President. In an economy with anemic growth from the President's failed policies, where high unemployment has become the norm with 20 million people either under- or unemployed, a $17.5 trillion debt and dependence on the government required for all too many, Obama appears unaffected.

Our President fully enjoys the pleasures of his office. He vacations extensively, departing at will on Air Force One to luxurious resorts in Florida, California and Hawaii, where his advance team (traveling at taxpayer expense) scopes out the best golf courses. Meanwhile, ordinary tax-paying families are cutting or restricting their vacations.

Obama's behavior seems to fit better the description of royalty rather than president. While history records kings both celebrated and maligned, the President must realize he is not ruling in the centuries of kings.

The media would do well to come to this realization and end their praise of this "President by fiat." We have a carefully, purposely divided government and a system that has proven over two centuries to work remarkably well. The President's contempt for the Constitution and Congress should not be celebrated.

Tragically, Obama will go down neither as a great king nor as a thoughtful president who led the country through the rule of constitutional law and representative democracy.

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT