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He Has a Pen and He Knows How to Use It

February 10, 2014

Barack Obama’s presidency has suffered more humiliation recently following the release of another poll, this one from Washington Post-ABC News that shows 63 percent of Americans have little or no confidence that Obama will make the right decisions for the country. 

Who would have believed that though, watching the State of the Union address last Tuesday?  The Democrats in the audience simply could not get enough of Obama’s recycled promises, especially the one about bypassing Congress.  He said, “I’m eager to work with all of you.”   Then he vowed, “Wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.”  Even though those words weren’t followed by an emphatic “period,” Democrats cheered with abandon.  Everyone understands the concept of party unity, but it was a bit pathetic watching them applaud their own irrelevance.  Everyone else understood what Obama really meant.  History has shown that Obama is neither eager nor willing to work with Congress, but he is eager to circumvent the legislative process.   

As he has reminded us ad infinitum, he is the President, and he does have the power to exercise executive orders and executive actions.  But neither he, nor his passionate supporters seem to care whether they exceed his constitutional authority.  He has no authority to ignore the laws that displease him or to amend those he likes.  He has no authority to make recess appointments when Congress is not in recess.  And he clearly has no authority to require religious organizations to supply contraceptives and abortifacients to their employees.        

As for his offer to work with Republicans, even those Democrats must have been chuckling beneath all that cheering.  We expect leaders to be strong and committed to their principles, but what Obama never seems to compromise is his arrogance and his intransigence.  In January 2009, during a meeting with congressional leaders, he responded to Republican criticism of his stimulus plan with two words, “I won.”  How many times have we heard him defiantly remind his critics that elections have consequences?   Obama said the right words in his carefully scripted State of the Union address, but he’s demonstrated only arrogance and obstinacy throughout his presidency.      

But all of that aside, facing the challenges before him today, he has to work with what he’s got.  Most House Republicans, standing by their constituents and their conservative principles, seem to have a problem with Obama’s radical agenda.  He has decided to fight them tooth and nail.  But his heady promises won’t work against them.  He needs something else.  In fact, he has something else, something even better.  He is now about to employ his most impressive skill.  No, it has nothing to do with a teleprompter.      

Who needs leadership when you have a pen and you know how to use it?  His unsurpassed prowess with a pen – call it his penmanship – is becoming legendary.  He must have discovered that old adage somewhere: “The pen is mightier than the sword.”  Maybe it was its more obscure corollary: “When leadership fails, the pen prevails.” 

Nonetheless, when he deftly wields that Montblanc, things happen.  Laws disappear.  Others are created.  Supporters are rewarded.  Opponents are mortified.  Illegal aliens were elated when he overrode Congress to make the Dream Act a reality.  The gay activists were delighted when he voided the Defense of Marriage Act.  Who needs cap and trade legislation to cripple our fossil fuel industry?  Obama did that through the power of the pen.  And when Obama ended the inquiries into “Fast and Furious” by claiming executive privilege, Eric Holder was absolutely relieved - no, not from office, just from the stress of revising his congressional testimony.  Using nothing more than his well-honed penmanship, Obama has thwarted Congress, made new friends and strengthened his bond with old ones.      

Of course, many point out that there truly are limitations on Obama’s executive orders.  Though we haven’t seen them yet, they will likely show up in pending and future court decisions.  Critics and supporters alike also understand that Obama’s executive orders are provisional.  Call them bandages.  Call them bribes.  All of them can be rescinded by a future President.   

Obama’s alternative leadership style also raises interesting questions.  Should one man be making the decisions that impact every American citizen?  Isn’t that called despotism?  Should Congress be dissolved?  What would they do with the Capitol building?  And what happens when Obama’s Montblanc runs dry? 

No, the leadership our country desperately needs flows, not from the point of a pen, but from character, conscience, and commitment – commitment to a set of principles and to the rule of law.

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Peter Lemiska has spent more than 28 years in government service. He is a former Senior Special Agent of the U.S. Secret Service and an Air Force veteran. His political commentaries have been widely published online and in print.