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 11:16 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 9:40 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 7:05 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 7:26 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 4:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 12:29 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
updated 8:31 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
updated 9:05 PM EDT, Sat August 23, 2014
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT