As Obama's Power Fades, Americans Should Celebrate Hobbled Government

However limited the president's power and influence in Washington, they're about to shrink. And that's a good thing.

ObamaWhite HouseAbout now, Barack Obama may be wondering why he thought it would be such fun to serve a second term rather than go lounge on a beach in Hawaii. Life in the White House has become a daily ordeal of pain and frustration. Nothing is going well.

On the foreign front, he has to contend with an aggressive Vladimir Putin, an unsuccessful war in Afghanistan and his failure to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Domestically, he has to endure a Department of Veterans Affairs scandal, an underperforming economy, a health care overhaul whose ultimate success is in doubt, House hearings on Benghazi, and an inability to get Congress to do anything he wants.

In the international arena, as a news story in The Chicago Tribune recently noted, the president has been compelled to adopt a "measured, even incremental, approach to most foreign crises and challenges, from Iran's nuclear program to Syria's grinding war." Instead of trying to do great things, he's settled for a policy that his aides summarize as "Don't do stupid stuff"—though they use a different word than "stuff."

Here at home, Obama is looking for ways to act entirely on his own in areas where he can't get Congress to move—such as declining to deport foreigners who grew up in the United States after coming illegally as children and curbing greenhouse gas emissions through Environmental Protection Agency rules.

His executive actions, decried by Republicans as incipient dictatorship, betray weakness, not strength. Presidents don't scale back their ambitions because they want to; they do it because they have to. Obama is stymied on Capitol Hill because he lacks the political power or popular standing to get his way.

But as John McCain is fond of saying, it's all darkest just before it goes totally black. A year from now, the president may look back at 2014 with fond nostalgia.

That's because however limited his power and influence in Washington, they're about to shrink. The party out of power almost always makes gains in midterm congressional elections. The GOP, which already controls the House by a large margin, expects to gain at least a few seats in November, and it has plausible hopes of winning a Senate majority.

In that case, a Congress that has been uncooperative would become immovable—taking gridlock and discarding the key.

If you prefer the federal government to do less rather than more, this is not necessarily a bad thing. If you like inaction, you'll be content. Neither side is likely to have the capacity to get its way.

Obama won't be able to get a higher minimum wage; immigration reform is probably off the table. Republicans won't be able to repeal Obamacare, cut taxes or convert the food stamp program into block grants to the states. The two parties may not be able to agree on anything beyond a resolution congratulating the next Miss America.

This is the reality of divided government, a state of affairs that suits Americans reasonably well. Even during last year's disruptive government shutdown, more of them supported splitting power between the two parties than favored one-party domination.

The framers of the Constitution expected that Congress would serve as a sturdy check on the president, but they didn't foresee the rise of parties that would often make the separation of powers moot. Divided government provides a more effective limitation.

This is not an academic point. It generally yields better policy. William Niskanen, who served as chairman of Ronald Reagan's Council of Economic Advisers, noted, "In 200 years of U.S. history, every one of our conflicts involving more than a week of ground combat has been initiated by a unified government." He also found that federal spending has grown three times faster under one-party rule than under split control.

The sharing of power means certain things don't get done because the two parties can't agree and won't compromise. Some of those things are desirable—immigration reform, say, or significantly curbing surveillance by the National Security Agency. A sensible overhaul of the tax code, achieved in 1986 under a Republican president and a Democratic House, is probably impossible under the more polarized politics of today.

But often what doesn't get done is stuff that we can live without. If divided government means our leaders can't adopt helpful new policies, at least it will keep them from doing some stupid stuff.

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  • The Last American Hero||

    BS. He'll just issue executive orders to do what he wants and the lapdogs in the media won't do anything about it, other than blame those obstructionist Teathuglicans that forced him to issue the executive orders.

  • TheZeitgeist||

    Was reading about the 3,000 page (!) rule on CO2 'pollution' Obama's EPA creatures are preparing to shit out on Monday.

  • Pro Libertate||

    He's been a lame duck since he lost the House. Yet the media doesn't treat him that way, and he wields power he doesn't legally have, anyway.

    Obama isn't the real threat here. It's the president who abuses power like this and is competent. Somewhere in the queue is our Mussolini, if we keep doing nothing.

  • WDATPDIM?!||

    Yes. Or a series of mini-Mussolinis (i Ducetti?) who keep pushing the boundaries farther and farther.

  • Pro Libertate||

    It's hard to tell from here how close we are. The telling thing right now to me is that we've suddenly stopped holding anyone accountable for flagrantly illegal actions. I mean, leaving aside the scandals for a second, the NSA matter has happened with no consequences for anyone in government. Really? Clearly illegal activities happened and are continuing to happen. No repercussions?

    Without legitimacy and accountability, we have a tyranny, not a republic.

  • Injun, as in from India||

    Well said.

  • JagerIV||

    here here.

  • BFawlty||

    ^THIS^

  • Almanian!||

    So Chapman hates the President (PBUH) because he's black? FIGURES!

    /leftardation

  • TheZeitgeist||

    ...President (PBUH)...

    That's good stuff. +1.

  • John Galt||

    For myself, anytime the government is hobbled it's been cause for celebration. Celebrating a hobbled government is what I like to do. My political philosophy is a simple one: a hobbled government is the best government. Citizens are neither safe from their government, nor from themselves, anytime their government is not hobbled.

    Vive la hobbling!

  • antisocial-ist||

    I agree, but why couldn't we have hobbled it when it was much smaller than it is now?

  • John Galt||

    Because hindsight is always 20/20?

  • ||

    Write me in in 2016
    I'll fire the whole damn government!

  • Mt low rider||

    I often say the same thing when talking politics. Committed D's are aghast. Other less ideolgical folks think about it for a minute and reply with something like "that's probably not a bad idea".

  • antisocial-ist||

    Don't do stupid shit. Good advice, but that's like telling a dog not to lick himself.

  • The Other Kevin||

    I really don't see anyone giving a shit about what Obama thinks after he leaves office, like they do with Clinton. Sure, they'll make libraries and monuments to him, but I can't see him being at all influential. Which makes him even more of a lame duck.

  • WDATPDIM?!||

    I think you're overly optimistic, TOK. He will be the voice of "his" people. And his influence will be strengthened by his appearance of reasonableness when contrasted with Sharpton et al.

  • TheZeitgeist||

    I agree; Obama will have the Wise Elder Negro niche formerly occupied by Mandela all to himself by default, given rest the roster available.

  • craiginmass||

    Ha Ha!

    Nice try. He'll fall into the top 30-40% of Presidents and likely be actually helping people (Clinton, Carter) as opposed to painting and charging for admission to seminars featuring him and other salespeople (GW).....

    You do have one point. He likely won't influence you.....

  • Brian||

    He'll be remembered as the affirmative action president.

    You have to vote for him to not be racist. Otherwise, why are you not voting for the black candidate who's running against other people, just as equally qualified as he is?

    Of course, that doesn't explain why so many affirmative-action-loving democrat presidential nominees ran against him and Hillary in the first place, seeing as they were all more or less equally qualified. Why again, should democrats have voted for all those white guys like John Edwards and Joe Biden, when black people and women are horribly under-represented in presidents?

    You'll have to ask the democrats.

  • Drake||

    "daily ordeal of pain and frustration"

    Really? I think he enjoys a daily series of gourmet meals, golf rounds, and congratulations from ego-boosting bum-kissers.

    I don't think Obama gives a shit about any serious issues.

  • Darth Soros||

    But hobbled governm,ent would be a disaster! How could I legally pick people's pockets and force them to do what I want them to do?

  • Anti_Govt_Rebel||

    I disagree with the statement referring to Putin as "...an aggressive Vladimir Putin".
    It's the US that is aggressive by involving itself heavily in the affairs of Europe and especially Ukraine. The imposition of sanctions on Russia, and always threatening more, is especially egregious and provocative. The US administration clearly wants war. This aggression is an existential threat to Russia, and Putin is reacting in the most diplomatic and statesmanlike way.

  • Intrepid Demise||

    I guess annexing Crimea under the false pretense of "democracy" doesn't count as "aggression" anymore. When Russian troops, carrying Russian weapons and using Russian tactics, but disguised as "self-defense forces" take over government buildings, then hold a referendum where only Kremlin-friendly observers are allowed to officiate, it's no wonder that 97% of the people "want to become part of Russia".

    It's the old "we're just taking over to protect ethnic Russians" bullshit that happened in the Chechnya Wars and South Ossetia all over again. You're not fooling anyone here, comrade.

  • craiginmass||

    Article is a simplistic notion at best.

    The status quo is the 1 trillion per year security/war state.
    The status quo, as the author notes, is broken immigration (favored by the business class).
    The status quo, in some cases, may be the Kochs being able to pollute and mine more resources without cleaning up (pretty much the history of our country - look around).
    The status quo is the Patriot Act.

    By wishing for anarchy and a hobbled gubment, you are wishing for things as they are - or worse.

    That's the Great Libertarian Dilemma. In fact, I think the whole movement should be renamed simply as "We can find fault with anything and everything - aren't we smart?"

    Unfortunately, libertarians play checkers....and life is much more complex than chess (trillions of moves).....which pretty much means this dribble is useless.

  • Vulgar Madman||

    You may be wishing for a hobbled government in a few years. It's a pity you are so stupid and shortsighted.

  • Vulgar Madman||

    But you are a prog aren't you?

  • Brian||

    The status quo is ...

    The status quo is brought to us by republicans and democrats, not libertarians.

    "We can find fault with anything and everything - aren't we smart?"

    You mean, the part where we find fault in the ... status quo?

    Again, you people come in here to school us, and then you turn around and start making our case for us.

    How lacking in self-reflection do you have to be to spend 4 sentences describing the problems with the status quo, most if not all of which libertarians would be on board with, and then immediately turn around and fault libertarians for finding faults?

    It's like having a conversation with a split personality.

  • craiginmass||

    Ah, the old "we didn't do it" excuse.

    So, not a single person here votes, pays taxes, etc.?

    And each and every person here actually does things which lead us toward that Libertarian paradise?

    I say BS...

    The libertarian movement I see is one that harkens back to the Gilded Age - where Robber Barons (like the owners of this site, Cato, etc.) amass more and more and use their political powers to have less and less responsibilities.

    Society is past that now. Just as in the UK, once the people got the hint that the robber barons (monarchs and friends there) wanted them to fight and die, they also demanded a piece of the action - that is, their share of the common resources as well as laws to protect them (workers, etc.)...

    No, it makes absolutely no sense to say "we're not part of the status quo. It's all your fault".

    Since I signed up for the Free State Project long ago, I could claim the same toward you. But that's way too foolish to claim...

  • Vulgar Madman||

    Your progressive state wanted them to fight and die, you mendacious fuck!

  • politicsbyothermeans||

    You can't expect the Masshole to acknowledge troublesome history, especially when it might torpedo one of what I will loosely refer to as one of his "facts."

  • Vulgar Madman||

    We're those soldiers drafted by Vanderbilt? No. They were murdered by Wilson.

  • Bill||

    After 80 years of "progressive" policies, why is the gap between rich and poor so much larger (according to you)? Why hasn't multiplying the size of government, including varies regulatory agencies, their rules, and that wonderful tax code - changed everything for the better? You have gotten all that the progressives (and even the Socialist platform of 1930's) wanted and more. Why then do you blame libertarian ideas that have never been followed? Look in the mirror.

  • politicsbyothermeans||

    Kochs and Boooossshhh. Probably CATO's fault too.

  • ||

    Without government corruption to protect them, the dreaded Robber Barons would be eaten alive by the competition from other robber barons and a billion hungry entrepreneurs. Well, millions.

  • Sevo||

    And the famed Homestead Strike was a union thug attack on the Pinkertons.
    Yes, it was that and nothing more. The thugs were also the highest paid of the lot and threatened the lower paid workers with physical violence to keep them in line.
    Union thugs, one end to the other. Not sure? Well, read right here:
    (search Amazon, "Meet You in Hell")
    Written by someone who would really like to claim it was otherwise.
    Next time some bozo claims the weekend came from Unions, you can tell him so did murders.

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