Six months ago I found myself captivated at my desk, watching President Obama’s State of the Union speech electrify my computer screen. I laughed at some parts and clapped at others, but what stood out to me most was the president’s push for executive orders.
“Let’s make this year a year of action,” he said. “What I offer tonight is a set of concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class, and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class. Some require congressional action, and I’m eager to work with all of you. But America does not stand still, and neither will I.”
Curled up in my desk chair, I swallowed and repressed a shudder.
So when I read about Speaker Boehner’s assertion on Wednesday that he would sue President Obama for his executive orders, I wanted to take him seriously. But the more Boehner spoke on the subject, the more absurd his position became.
Like the Speaker, I dislike executive orders on principle. They taunt the democratic process, ignore Congress, and yes, in some instances, allow the President to have more power than many Americans think he should. However, the Constitution includes executive orders for a reason. In a perfect world, Congress could function on its own. It could live up to the vision of the Founding Fathers—compromise, equality, and all. But intense partisanship and just plain stupidity has maligned our political system into its uglier twin sister. According to a July 2013 Huffington Post report, the current Congress is on track to being the least productive in modern history. When the pace of change slows to a trickle, leaders are obligated to push forward and do the right thing—to take sometimes drastic measures for a common good.
Of course, that good means different things to different people. But President Obama’s latest executive order is, at least to me, an example of beneficial legislation: a law prohibiting contractors from discriminating against members of the LGBT community. This is not an outrageous extension of our Constitution; it’s a law that enables the government to provide for the general welfare as best it can. I can think of few better goals for our nation.
Furthermore, Speaker Boehner’s claims are simply off base. According to the Brookings Institution, President Obama signs .09 executive orders per day. That’s the slowest rate of any president since Grover Cleveland, and translates into one executive order signed per 11 days. Compare that to W. Bush’s order per 10 days, Reagan’s order per week, and Carter’s order per five days. The only thing out of line about Obama’s orders is the fuss politicians make about it.
Let me be clear: I am not happy with the precedent that executive orders set. I think our political system, and our world, would be better if democracy could flourish in its purest form. But we can’t jeopardize our shot to attain equality by panicking over how future presidents may abuse power. We cannot become paralyzed by unrealized fears.
John Boehner should put down his lawsuit and get to work. Maybe then our Congress will move at more than a snail’s crawl, and executive orders will no longer be a necessary evil.
Terkel, Amanda. “113th Congress On Pace To Be Least Productive In Modern History.” The Huffington Post. N.p., 08 July 2013. Web.
Hudak, John. “Executive Orders & LGBT Protections for Federal Contractors.” The Brookings Institution. N.p., 19 June 2014. Web.