Being Right: Crossing Boundaries

On January 28, President Obama took to the podium to deliver the annual State of the Union Address. The President opened by attempting to add morale to the chamber, using anecdotes about ordinary Americans doing what they can to enhance this great nation. As the speech progressed, much of the context was similar to what was expected. President Obama touched on classic Democratic platform pieces: education, environmental protections, gender equality and health care. There was one thread piecing them together that should be of concern to every American voter. “Wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation,” President Obama said, “that’s what I am going to do.”

This statement is unnerving, not because the President wants to do all he can to best forward the nation, but because he seems willing to overstep any sort of bipartisan or even partisan procedure to get there. President Obama prefaced this statement by noting the political gridlock that faces Washington, especially in hindsight of last year’s government shutdown. It seemed hopeful that President Obama would offer some avenue for bipartisan cooperation, saying that the “rancorous argument over the proper size of the federal government [is] an important debate.” Soon after, the President seemed to provide an answer to this debate: the proper size, in his mind, is one. President Obama wants “to see” what he can achieve with Congress but is committed to achieving his goals – even if that means bypassing Congress completely.

This statement was met with bipartisan opposition. Senator Mark Begich (D-AK) said that there is “no doubt” that if President Obama’s executive orders go too far, he will do what he can to oppose them. A CNN poll taken after the State of the Union Address states that 67 percent of viewers said that they would prefer that the President attempt to work through Congress.

Furthermore, President Obama’s rhetoric towards unilateral action created a strict dichotomy from the rhetoric in other parts of his speech. Toward the end of his speech, the President remarked that “We counter terrorism … by remaining true to our Constitutional ideas.” What part of a President vowing to do what he can to simply move around Congress, instead of acting as leader to unite Congress, stands true to our Constitutional ideas? The founders worked to create the three branches of government with a system of checks and balances to ensure that no one individual or branch become too powerful. President Obama remarked that as Americans we must place “our collective shoulder to the wheel of progress.” However, the plan of action President Obama charted does not seem collective in nature. If President Obama wants the American Constitution to remain a beacon of democratic governance in the eyes of the world, he must understand that the government needs to remain true to the language of our Constitution.

In actuality, only time will tell what executive orders President Obama will enact. At this point, it is not certain what those will be or what their repercussions could be. However, each American voter  regardless of political affiliation should be wary of the remarks made. As Americans, we have a collective future. We should be true to the themes of dedication and hard work to make the future as bright as we can. Cooperation should remain a fundamental piece of this equation. This year, a speech that should highlight all of America’s opportunities had a dark undertone. No matter who the President is, they should do their best to adhere to the principles set forth by the Constitution and move through all facets of the government to create effective change. Putting forth a statute of moving the country forward via executive order does not achieve this.

Contact Hannah Loiacono at [email protected].