Was it a mistake for President Obama to act unilaterally on the gun control issue when he signed his 23 executive orders on Wednesday?
The backlash could be immense and could cost Obama leverage in future political battles, most notably the coming debt ceiling fight next month.
Obama has often pulled the "popular mandate" card, saying that his re-election in November proves the American people are behind him ... almost unconditionally … no matter what he does (which is already — two and a half months since the election — becoming a tired excuse to push legislation). Popular mandate or not, just 4% of Americans identify guns as the nation's top problem, per Gallup.
Obama is expunging heavy amounts of political capital to push historic and comprehensive gun reform. While gun reform of some sort is needed since 2012 became the Year of the Mass Shooting, Obama could lose face and risk looking like he’s really taking the “executive” part of the Executive Branch to heart, raining down directives like he’s the CEO of America LLC.
The Tea Party is, of course, ripping Obama for his go-it-alone strategy. Senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) for example, attacked the president’s drunk-on-power actions, claiming he’s over-stepping his ambitions.
On Thursday, Cruz said Obama is “high on his own power” pushing gun control.
Cruz said: “This is a president, I think, who has drunk the Kool-Aid. He is feeling right now high on his own power and he is pushing on every front, on guns. And I think it's really sad to see the president of the United States exploiting the murder of children and using it to push his own extreme, anti-gun agenda. I think what the president is proposing and the gun control proposals that are coming from Democrats in the Senate are, number one, unconstitutional, and number two, they don't work; they're bad policy.”
This came three days after his colleague, the libertarian-minded Rand Paul, called Obama a “King.”
"I'm against having a king," Paul said in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network. "I think having a monarch is what we fought the American Revolution over and someone who wants to bypass the Constitution, bypass Congress — that's someone who wants to act like a king or a monarch."
Obama has bypassed the legislative process in this particular debate. But he’s also done so knowing that the legislative process today isn’t really conducive to getting things done. Gridlock mars Congress, as seen by recent issues like the fiscal cliff and Hurricane Sandy Relief Bill. Everybody is filibustering, and joining the ranks of special interest groups (i.e. Grover Norquist, the NRA), and blockading any sort of bi-partisan legislation.
Obama’s gun reform plan has some very bi-partisan proposals in it, like mental health reform and better background checks. But even these probably would have failed in a Congress that is more interested in shooting down ideas, then trying to make them work. No matter what gun reform plans Obama tried to push through Congress — bi-partisan or otherwise — it would have been chewed up and spit back out.
Obama is going it alone because that’s the only way to get things done any more. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz are the reasons nothing is getting done in Congress.
Was it a mistake to push gun control more through executive orders than through Congress? No.