President Obama has expressed his frustration with the absence of immigration reform. I’m thumbing through my copy of the Constitution looking for the part that allows a President to undertake executive action based on his frustration level. Can’t find it!
The Founders took as a point of primary motivation a system that insured no one man or institution held overwhelming power; their experience with the British Monarch providing the context. They built a system based on tension between the seats of governmental power and the need to reach acceptable compromise based on the consent of the governed.
This tension: the separation of powers, two distinctly different legislative bodies and co-equal branches were aimed at the Founders’ experience with, and fear of, a descent into tyranny. The Founders anticipated the threat, understood the intoxication of power and the tendencies of human nature.
Presidential “frustration” was not only anticipated, it was built into the system to insure limitations on the one office that bore the most jeopardy of tyrannical behaviors. Frustration was the evidence that consensus had not been reached and that a balance of power would prevail against human nature.
Presidential action based on frustration over the absence of comprehensive immigration reform is not a justifiable premise under the Constitution. That is especially the case where an election rejected the President’s policies and desires. A plurality of Americans disagree with the President’s frustration based approach to problem solving, even though they do agree that something should be done to address the realities of the situation.
The Founders are not spinning in their graves; they’re doing a triple somersault with a two and a half twist. The combination of a President operating outside of the Constitution and a compliant media in either support or guilty of silence would be viewed by them as the height of miscalculation. The media, protected in nearly all of its aspects was, in the view of the Founders, a rough equivalent of a fourth co-equal branch of government. Freedoms of speech and the press were a firewall, again, in the interest of preventing tyranny. We are on the verge of replacing that firewall with a piece of wet political tissue.
The President is frustrated, but within the context of the Constitution his frustration is meaningless.