Via Tom Kludt, on Morning Joe this morning Jon Meacham offered the inevitable Morning Joe take that it’s irresponsible of the White House to be emphasizing executive actions over working with Congress. According to Meacham “you know, you never really heard Lincoln and FDR say, ‘I’m going to rebuild America on an executive order.’”
I think it would be a bit crazy to compare the situation Barack Obama is dealing with in 2014 to the one facing the Lincoln administration in 1861 or the Roosevelt administration in 1933. But this is awful history.
Lincoln, for example, issued the Emancipation Proclamation as an extension of his war powers as commander in chief. It was kind of a big deal. FDR took the United States off the gold standard with Executive Order 6102, an extremely envelope-pushing reading of a World War I trade measure. FDR also used executive authority to close all banks across the country as part of an effort to stabilize the economy. Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus.
Now if you want to make the case that this style of governance is not the best possible way to organize a democracy then I absolutely agree. But it is in fact how the American system is organized. Precisely because presidential authority is legally constrained, effective presidents and their teams spend a lot of time thinking up nonobvious ways to exercise that authority.