"I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
President Obama twice pronounced those words. On the first occasion, Chief Justice Roberts erred slightly in the wording. So mindful was Obama of the importance of complying with the letter of the law that he arranged for Roberts to administer the oath again the following day. The second time, both spoke the words verbatim.
Process matters. The law matters. Obama knows this. He has repeatedly explained to impatient illegal immigrants that he cannot waive deportation for an entire category of people with the stroke of a pen. "I'm not the emperor of the United States," he said in early 2013. "My job is to execute laws that are passed. And Congress right now has not changed what I consider to be a broken immigration system. And what that means is that we have certain obligations to enforce the laws that are in place even if we think that in many cases the results may be tragic."
The president's now abandoned reticence to make law by executive fiat on immigration was the one realm in which he showed some deference to the constitutional order. He felt no such scruples on the dozens of occasions when he airily rewrote the Affordable Care Act — postponing deadlines that were found in the text of the law, offering exemptions to favored businesses and suspending the employer mandate, the individual mandate and various other provisions. The health care law is now so perverted from its original form (not that the original was a thing of beauty) that it isn't so much a law as a series of decrees from the Most High Leader. If he wakes up tomorrow morning and decides that the employer mandate should wait until 2018, that, apparently, will be that.
This, as the former constitutional law professor in the White House has said, "is not the way our system is supposed to work."
He showed no fealty to the law when he dictated terms to the auto industry in violation of bankruptcy law; when he failed to obtain congressional approval for military action in Libya; when he made "recess" appointments to the National Labor Relations Board though Congress was not in recess; when he waived the work requirements of the welfare laws; or when he declined to enforce federal laws on marijuana.
We can speculate about why Obama is so disrespectful of the Constitution, the law and the voters. We can imagine that this latest arrogation is impeachment bait — hoping to draw Republicans into a fight that will unite the Democratic base and divide Republicans. Or perhaps he knows that as the first black president, he's immune from impeachment and is putting a finger in Republicans' (and voters') eyes because he can.
Progressives have tamely accepted and even cheered each and every usurpation by this president. The center/left think tank Brookings, for example, offered analysis of the merits of changing immigration law with barely a nod to the method. Calling the president's plan "big" and "bold," Audrey Singer described it as a "step in the right direction."
"Bold" is one way to put it. Flagrantly flouting the law is another. Yet there has been barely a murmur from Democrats. This is one of the great divides between right and left. Conservatives care deeply about process, while progressives care only about outcomes. If they can achieve their goals through legislation, they will. If not, they will look to the courts or the federal agencies to implement their preferred policies. However vehemently conservatives oppose abortion, for example, they can accept it if democratically enacted. What is unacceptable is judicial imposition.
Now the left is adding presidential fiat to the category of powers it will cheerfully accept if it produces outcomes they favor. This is not constitutional government. This is not separation of powers. This is strong-arming. The left is fond of imagining that its opponents are corrupted by money. But there are other ways to be twisted. The will to power is arguably more dangerous than the love of money. It is not just the president — he and his entire party have surrendered to it.