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 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 9:02 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT