As I ride the train back to San Diego from Orange County (a great way to travel, by the way), I have had time to ponder about Obama during the past few weeks. I’ve often wondered: what the hell is this guy thinking? And I’ve filled this blog with discussions about the failures in health care, etc.
But after the State of the Union and the “question time” deals, I think I finally figured it out. Obama is, at heart, a classicist, and he wants to restore the Republic. Now, this might sound a bit out of “I, Claudius” but hear me out. For the past several decades, the power of the Federal Government has increasingly been concentrated in the hands of the Executive. Not only is the President the Commander in Chief, and running the operations of government, but he’s also pushing legislation, dictating budgets, and otherwise controlling Congress. This concentration of power was most evident under the Bush Administration which, under the theory of the unitary Executive, acted more or less with impunity, and Congress went along with it.
Obama’s actions have shown an interest in changing the dynamic to an earlier time when the Administration might set the agenda, but lets Congress legislate. Thus, to my great annoyance, Obama has left Congress up to its own devices on health care reform. Unfortunately, Democrats are by nature disorganized, and so this approach only makes things worse. But it appears that Obama is trying to strengthen Congress by purposely not stepping in. At least, I hope that’s what he’s doing.
This reestablishment of the Congressional independence also appears to be in line with Obama’s empowerment of the independent regulatory bodies. Under Bush, regulatory agencies were told, more or less, to fall in line with Bush’s conservative ideology. So the EPA refused to regulate Greenhouse gases, even after a conservative Supreme Court issued an order requiring it to do so. And that’s just one example of many. Anyway, Obama’s Administration has quietly gone about reestablishing the independence of these agencies.
Ironically, at the same time Obama is trying to devolve power from the Presidency, the power of the federal government is expanding due to the financial ruin of the economy. And typically, power is concentrated in the hands of an executive during moments of crisis. The takeaway here is that the whole thing is one big mess because Obama is trying to buck way too many trends at once.
Still, one can appreciate what he’s trying to do. When the U.S. government was perfected in the Constitution, there were three equal co-branches of government for a reason. It would be nice to go back to that.