*Because of their status as people vying to become president, the Republican politicians campaigning often produce statements critical of the current president. And because they all run under the guise of conservatism, their criticism often revolves around how Obama is too much of an activist president and is not following the Constitutional guidelines for the office.
Much of the sniping aimed at President Obama can be attributed to partisanship and can therefore be summarily dismissed. Nevertheless it is noteworthy that attacking Obama for not following the Constitutional version of the Presidency is philosophically questionable if not outright wrong.
The Constitution outlines the executive branch very loosely. This is because the Founding Fathers were pretty certain what they wanted from the legislature (pass laws to protect property and promote commerce) but pretty uncertain what they wanted from the executive. The Framers were torn between the horrors of absolute monarchy and the unsustainability of not having a chief officer, both of which they had recently experienced under colonial rule and the Articles of Confederation respectively.
This is why the responsibilities of the office of the Presidency is intentionally vague. And how conservatives are able to say Obama is overstepping his job description when he promotes universal health care. But the Framers also intentionally left room for growth in all three branches. As new technologies, industries, issues, and alliances emerged over time, Congress had a responsibility to legislate and regulate these developments. The President then, would necessarily have a responsibility to uphold the new laws. This is why the executive bureaucracy grows; it is also why the President must be active – creating new positions, appointing officers and researching issues to name a few actions that need to be taken.
To say that the President should be reserved in his actions is to make him an extension of Congress only acting at their prompting. Much to the contrary he needs to be assertive in enforcing the laws. Presidents throughout American history have acted according to their understanding of the law (including the Constitution), what should not be debated is the idea of Presidential activism. Obama is no different in this respect.
Of course if most of the would be Presidents were honest with themselves, their supporters, and the American people at large, they would admit that their critiques of Obama comes not because of his contradicting the Constitutional mandate for the presidency. Instead those critiques come because of a difference of opinion about what is best for the American public. But again Obama is merely following his conscience and acting according to the Constitution.
Part of the explicit duties of the President is to conduct an annual State of the Union in which the executive reports to the legislature how things are going nationally and makes recommendations. Essentially the president is charged with saying what direction the country should take. When President Bush talked about the problem of performance enhancing drugs in professional sports, he highlighted potential health issues because of the tendency of young people to emulate prestigious athletes. He essentially promoted the country going down the road of ethics and health as it pertains to athletics.
When President Obama promoted health care he was also highlighting potential health issues but on a much larger scale. Obama was and is not concerned about only the health of professional athletes but all Americans. He essentially directed the country down the path of everyone being physically able to work and contribute to society.
President Obama is operating in exactly the way the Framers wanted. People of all political bents (but especially conservatives) should keep this in mind as the Presidential campaign season begins in earnest. Doing so will help the arguments that will inevitably arise will be relevant instead of people simply shouting “The Constitution!!”
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected]