, Newburyport, MA


January 31, 2014

Our view: It's time to rein in an imperial presidency

Americans want action, President Barack Obama said Tuesday night in his State of the Union address, and if a recalcitrant Congress won’t act, he will.

In a city where gridlock is a way of life, that might sound encouraging. But unfortunately it just another tired partisan yell in a building where the yelling rarely takes a break.

All presidents lay out ambitious agendas in their State of the Union addresses. The struggle then becomes rallying support among congressmen and senators for those initiatives. Obama said bluntly Tuesday night that, if he cannot get Congress to act on his agenda, he’ll bypass the legislative branch altogether and enact his proposals through executive orders.

“America does not stand still and neither do I,” Obama declared.

Obama’s declaration was received with thunderous applause from the very legislators whose power he pledged to usurp. All part of the gamesmanship.

It’s easy to score rhetorical points by beating up on Congress, whose collective approval rating hovers in the teens. Hardly a day passes without another story lamenting the “gridlock” that keeps one well-intentioned program after another from advancing.

But the fact remains that we are a divided, philosophically fractured nation. Congress is not the cause of the fracturing, merely a reflection of it.

In a one-party echo chamber like Massachusetts, we hear endlessly about how obstinate Republicans stand in the way of all the good works government strives to do. That same rhetoric is found in the gerrymandered districts where Republicans hold the majority, and Democrats are the demons ruining the country.

Indeed, the Republican Party itself is in the midst of a schism between its traditional elements and an activist tea party wing that finds old-school Republicans indistinguishable from Democrats themselves.

What we see in Washington is a built-in design feature of government that has gone to an extreme. Gerrymandering districts is a well-honed practice meant to give political favor to one party or another. It has been developed to a degree that would make its ingenius 18th century inventor, Elbridge Gerry, rub his hands in glee.

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