President Obama has been openly covetous of building a legacy that would secure his name in the history books.
“I have no desire to be one of those presidents who are just on the list – you see their pictures lined up on the wall,” Obama told historian Doris Kearns Goodwin in 2007. “I really want to be a president who makes a difference.”
And after just three years in office President Obama seemed ready to declare victory, hinting that he ranked pretty high in first-term accomplishments.
“The issue here is not gonna be a list of accomplishments,” the President told CBS’s Steve Croft on 60 Minutes. “As you said yourself, Steve, you know, I would put our legislative and foreign policy accomplishments in our first two years against any president – with the possible exceptions of Johnson, F.D.R. and Lincoln – just in terms of what we’ve gotten done in modern history.”
Four years later, President Obama would likely say that he’s built on that legacy. He’d probably point to the Iran nuclear deal as a historic achievement in preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear state. In reality, the deal isn’t even legally binding on Iran – the Iranian parliament hasn’t approved it and the president didn’t sign it, which perhaps explains why they’ve been so flippant about violating it.
Obama would no doubt point to the Paris climate accord as fulfilling his promise to slow the “rise of the oceans” and protect posterity from the ills of global warming. But in reality, the deal isn’t so much a deal as it is a collection of promises with no enforcement or sanctions. And they are not even impressive promises at that. For instance, China has promised to begin reducing emissions in 15 years.
And the president would assuredly point to the steadily declining unemployment rate as evidence of his success in steering the economy out of the recession. In reality, the economy is improving, but incredibly slowly. Through the first nine months of the year, the U.S. economy expanded at a 2.2. percent rate putting it on pace to grow a full point lower than the historical average.
Of course, there’s a slew of other “wins” that he’d like to tout, almost all of which were done through executive order because he couldn’t convince a majority of Congress, or a majority of voters for that matter, to back his agenda. But never mind that, Obama would say, history will vindicate his forward-looking approach. The simpleton voters just haven’t caught up yet.
But there are potential consequences for operating outside the traditional democratic channels and refusing to seek bipartisan support. Namely, his agenda can be wiped from the books, if a Republican ascends to the White House. Phil Gramm and Michael Solon reports for the Wall Street Journal:
President Obama seems to aspire to join Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan as one of the three most transformative presidents of the past hundred years, and by all outward signs he has achieved that goal. But while Roosevelt and Reagan sold their programs to the American people and enacted them with bipartisan support, Mr. Obama jammed his partisan agenda down the public’s throat. The Obama legacy is built on executive orders, regulations and agency actions that can be overturned using the same authority Mr. Obama employed to put them in place.
An array of President Obama’s policies—changing immigration law, blocking the Keystone XL pipeline, the Iranian nuclear agreement and the normalization of relations with Cuba, among others—were implemented exclusively through executive action. Because any president is free “to revoke, modify or supersede his own orders or those issued by a predecessor,” as the Congressional Research Service puts it, a Republican president could overturn every Obama executive action the moment after taking the oath of office.
A Republican president could also overturn the numerous regulations that the Obama Administration pushed through in lieu of passing a bill in Congress. They could also add much-needed clarity to open-ended legislation like Obamacare and Dodd-Frank, which were written specifically to give enormous discretionary authority to unaccountable agencies.
In short, by opting to go it alone on an agenda that was far out of step with the mainstream, President Obama’s troubling legacy is written in pencil. If voters choose, they can whip out an eraser and remove much of the damage that this president has done. Such is the price for solely using executive power.