The Founders’ Intention?

So it’s key to understanding American politics to know that the founders were so worried about a powerful and aggressive executive that when they wrote the constitution, they made sure that the American presidency would not have the tools to dominate the other two branches.  The American president is a limited executive with limited powers.

That means, if Congress wants to block the president, it generally can.  The efforts of the Republicans in the Senate to keep President Obama’s popular jobs bill from coming to a vote are a case in point.  Using a filibuster, a minority of senators has managed to block even a debate over the bill and over one of its key provisions which would have employed 400,000 teachers and firefighters. The Republicans have decided that their electoral fortunes in 2012 are improved if Obama looks weak, so they want to keep him from claiming any political victories.

So it was surprising that last week brought a couple of foreign policy successes for the Obama administration – Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan dictator, was killed, helping to validate Obama’s much derided “leading from behind” strategy, and the president announced that he would be bringing troops home from Iraq on schedule, by the end of this year.  This is on top of last spring’s killing of Osama bin Laden.  Jon Chait, who writes for New York Magazine, has a good piece on Obama’s unexpected rise as a foreign policy president.

The essence of Chait’s argument is that Obama looks strong in foreign policy, because he can act on his own.  He looks weaker on domestic policy because much of what he wants to do requires congressional action and the Republican majority in the House and the Republican minority in the Senate (through the filibuster) can block that.

Well aware of this, and realizing that the jobs bill is dead, the White House has decided to try a different tactic, taking smaller steps that the president can take alone on the domestic front, relying on executive orders, regulatory moves, and executive-branch agency actions.  They won’t have the impact that the jobs bill would have but the administration is hopeful that these steps will be better than taking no action at all.  The New York Times reports it here.

Is this current scenario what the founders had in mind when they created the limited tool box of the American president?


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