Obama the oath-breaker

Every American is supposed to follow the U.S. Constitution. It is the law of the land. The Supreme Court does not decide whether the Constitution has been violated until it is asked to review a decision that has already been made, perhaps years prior. That is why the president must swear an oath to follow the Constitution. We need leaders who take that oath very seriously and never intentionally violate it.

Our delicate balance between our three branches of government relies on the oaths all these leaders take. Of all three branches, the presidential oath is most important because one man (or woman) can effectively circumvent both Congress and the Supreme Court unilaterally.

Our system of government has a serious flaw if our Chief Executive violates that oath, which is what former President Obama did. He did it multiple times, but I will focus today's article on the so-called "dreamers" who were effectively given temporary amnesty from deportation based on an unconstitutional executive order by Mr. Obama called DACA. This order was recently and rightly overturned by President Trump. All of the "students" and labor leaders and community organizers who are out protesting Trump's decision are naive or fools.

President Obama was repeatedly urged to issue this executive order in his first term, but his stock response at that time was that it wasn't within the powers of the presidency to do so. At that point, he was telling the truth. But once he got reelected, he obviously felt free to disregard his oath and the Constitution and do as he pleased. He did that with agreements which had always been done as treaties but he imposed them effectively by executive orders, like with the Iran nuclear deal; and he did that by allowing his subordinates to play politics with the executive branch authorities, like the IRS, when they targeted conservative groups; and he did it by issuing orders that circumvented the power of Congress, like with DACA.

Knowing DACA was illegal but doing it anyway because it would take years for the Supreme Court to review and overturn it is using the system wrongly and unconstitutionally. Someone who took an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution would be breaking that oath if they honestly felt their actions went against it. Obama knew DACA did because he said so many, many times in his first term. He was theoretically a professor of law. He obviously also could have gotten lots of legal advice if needed before his unilateral decision. So this was definitely a willful violation.

The issue of children being brought to this country illegally by their parents is a legitimate one for debate. But that does not give the President the power to unilaterally make and enforce the laws, as he did in this instance. The harm caused by these types of unconstitutional actions are far more serious and harmful to our system of government than the outcome in any specific case. An analogy might be the spying that the government does on citizens in order to screen for terrorists. Yes, we want to catch terrorists before they hatch their plots, but should we destroy our individual rights to privacy and freedom from government interference to increase the odds that we will be safe? That is a tough call, but illegally going around Congress to implement a preferred deportation policy is not. It should never, ever have been done.

Lying is a serious event for anyone, especially a politician. We know Obama lied repeatedly about Obamacare, but his supporters didn't mind because they agreed with his goals, and he needed to get reelected to achieve those goals. So they gave him a pass. The end justifies the means, or so most Liberals believe. Do they agree that breaking one's oath to follow the Constitution is likewise justifiable if it is done "for the children?"

Lying under oath is perjury. That is a very serious offense, and should result in at least the loss of a license to practice law. What Obama did by ordering DACA was far worse.

I would say that willfully breaking your oath of office for the highest office in the land is closer to the crime of treason than anything else. I'm sure Obama's supporters don't care about another documented case of their hero being called out as a liar, but anyone who takes the long-term view that our system of democracy only works when people who swear individual oaths do their best to fulfill them should be aghast at what our former president did. It is shameful and dishonorable.

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Comments

Concern is inappropriate and inconsistant

My response was not intended to compare your premise with Nazism. The intent was strictly to identify that 10s of millions of German citizens followed the law and did not seriously protest the extermination of the Jewish population. My view is that a more appropriate response would have been for them to protest this.

You might recall that the Republican-controlled Congress & Senate was committed to blocking virtually every proposal that was made by President Obama. Senate Minority leader, Mitch McConnell, even announced from day one that he was determined to make Obama a one-term president. With this situation, Obama had virtually no option other than to do what he did to accomplish anything.

I’m confident that had Obama really done something that was not good and illegal, that it would have been widely opposed and not allowed to stand. The fact that it did not receive strong opposition is because it did have widespread support. How do you view the recent pardon of the Arizona sheriff that was convicted of violating the law?

President Trump just stated that Congress should pass a law authorizing DAKA. He then subsequently stated that if they don’t, that he will authorize DAKA, just as Obama had. Rather than continuing your silly attack of what Obama did (which I still believe was courageous and appropriate). It would seem to be more appropriate to go after Trump.

Trump (as you did also) accused Obama of a crime and now has stated that he plans to commit the same crime if Congress does not authorize DAKA.

Walt Tetschner

Walt Tetschner

All over the map

Hi Walt, Look, I appreciate your taking the time to write out your concerns, but frankly, you are ignoring the central premise of my article and completely ignoring my rebuttal of your comment. You'd prefer to debate what Trump does or says. I have zero concern about this. This isn't about Trump, it is about presidential authority. I would be as opposed to what happened no matter who did it, whether Trump or Obama.

Your justification appears to be that Obama would have gotten nothing done if he hadn't taken his unilateral action. So, again, the end justifies the means. If Obama strongly believes he is right and the Republicans are being obstructionist, then he has every right to just take the law into his own hands and implement his policy. That is your argument and it is a terrible precedent for a democracy.

The appropriate response for President Obama would have been to try to find a bipartisan solution. If that couldn't be done, then he can work hard to elect more Democrats. In fact, if memory serves, in his first term he had party control of Congress, so I'm not sure how you can even argue that Obama's only choice was to act unconstitutionally. Perhaps he should have been speedier in his actions during his first couple of years.

Obama swore an oath to uphold the Constitution, and he broke that oath. That is plain and simple. Do you disagree with this statement, or do you continue to feel that extenuating circumstances allow him to break his oath and disobey the Constitution just because he feels like it?

Allen

Allen Nitschelm has lived in Acton since 1998 and writes about fiscal issues at the
local and state level. He is a former member of the town's Finance Committee
and publisher of the Acton Forum.

Obama showed courage

Not a single mention re the merits of DAKA. Obama had the courage to recognize a wrong and take action to fix it. Debating legality reminds me of the German population standing by while the Hitler atrocities occurred. "Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal." -- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Walt Tetschner

Hitler? Really?

Boy, it doesn't take long for you to compare my premise with Nazism.

But your logic is faulty. Electing Hitler who followed the law is exactly the opposite of electing Obama who ignored the law. Or maybe you are comparing Hitler's usurpation of power with Obamas? Hmm, I'll have to think about that one.

Your argument appears to be that the end justifies the means. I am familiar with this line of reasoning and I reject it totally. It could be used to usurp power at any time, so long as the usurper believes in his or her cause. How many "wrongs" do you believe the President should be able to unilaterally fix? Do you empower Donald Trump to do the same with whatever he thinks is "wrong?"

The merits of DAKA are irrelevant. Obama was elected as President, not King or Dictator (unlike perhaps Hitler). The presidency is one of the equal branches of government and the job is to enforce the laws, not create them.

Let's assume DAKA is and was a fantastic program that everyone should support. The way it gets enacted is Congress passes a law authorizing it, and the president signs the law.

What cannot be allowed to happen (but did happen, with the knowing indifference or support of Obama's allies) is having the president take control of both functions like Obama did.

Nobody in Congress should have allowed this illegal act to stand, be they Republican or Democrat.

Allen

Allen Nitschelm has lived in Acton since 1998 and writes about fiscal issues at the
local and state level. He is a former member of the town's Finance Committee
and publisher of the Acton Forum.

Wrong discussion topic

I agree with your statement that Obama broke the oath that he took.

I don’t agree with you wasting time pursuing something that is going nowhere. What do you hope to accomplish? A Congressional committee to investigate what Obama did? Yes – my view is that, in some circumstances, the end justifies the means. Using my Nazi example, millions of Jewish citizens might not have perished if German citizens would have taken this approach.

DAKA has been a Congressional bill since 2001and second guessing Congressional approval of it goes no-where.

Debating the merits of DAKA would have been a useful exercise and not the waste of time that your original topic was. It’s worth noting that President Obama’s NPR OnPoint had a discussion of DAKA today which touched on the huge negative economic impact of cancelling DAKA.

Walt Tetschner

Thank you...now as to your example...

Thank you for acknowledging that Obama broke his oath of office.

I don't consider it a "waste of time" to discuss the consequences of when a president (or any leader) breaks his oath. It is far worse than simply lying. That is why it is an oath.

So let me address the issue you keep raising, which is whether "the end justifies the means." You argue that, in hindsight, it might be worth even breaking an oath to prevent a terrible tragedy. In theory, if we could predict the future, I would agree with you. But since we can't, we cannot use hindsight to justify illegal and wrongful acts.

Let's say that "person x" was going to commit a terrible act, say an act of terrorism. Knowing this, could we imprison person x, or even kill them, in advance of their crime? In this thought-game, one could argue yes. If killing one evil person would definitely save hundreds of lives, and the crime he would in the future commit deserved the death penalty, then perhaps we could make that case.

But nobody knew Hitler was going to murder millions of innocent people. I'm sure the German people would never have elected him had they known in advance what he would do, would they? So having this ability to predict the future would have prevented Hitler from ever assuming power.

Now let's come back to reality. We can't predict the future or what potential unintended consequences might occur in the future. But let's say we give the president the authority to circumvent the law when he really, strongly, and convincingly feels that a far greater good will result by taking illegal, unilateral action, like issuing an executive order to implement DAKA. So he does it, and the majority of good people support him.

What then stops a future president from misreading public opinion, or lying to the public to shape public opinion his way?

If your philosophy accepts that the end justifies the means, let me ask you if it is OK for you to steal bread from the bakery because you (or your children) are hungry? Is it OK for you to steal my car because you will lose your job and your kids will be on the street if you can't drive to work? Is it OK for you to cheat on your taxes because otherwise you can't afford to pay your rent or buy food? Is it OK for you to drive up to New Hampshire and illegally vote in the presidential election because you really want your favored candidate to win and your vote doesn't count in Massachusetts?

The problem with "the end justifying the means" is that we then lose the rule of law, and then our problems become much worse.

Allen

Allen Nitschelm has lived in Acton since 1998 and writes about fiscal issues at the
local and state level. He is a former member of the town's Finance Committee
and publisher of the Acton Forum.

Lets shut down

We need to shut down this discussion. You distorted what I stated to fit your argument. I clearly qualified my view that it applied only “in some circumstances”, which you chose to ignore in your discussion. I also made it pretty clear re the protection that we have for a president doing something that is wrong and dishonest, which again you chose to ignore. No point in debating in a dishonest fashion. Walt Tetschner

Walt Tetschner

Thanks..

Thanks for your comments and thoughts. They were very helpful.

I'm sorry if you feel that I ignored you. I thought I directly addressed your concerns, devoting two paragraphs to the theoretical situation where we could use "foresight" to determine whether an action today of breaking the law would be permissible because we "knew" what the consequences were of not acting.

Then I tried to show how we can never know the consequences. Just one simple example proved my point. President Obama does the right thing (according to you) because DAKA is fantastic, but by breaking his oath and people giving him a pass, it produces the unintended consequence of allowing all future presidents to break their oaths when the mood suits them. I don't even need to get into the specifics of the issue (DAKA) because the harm this does to our democracy is obvious and much greater than just about any individual issue.

You talked about the protections we have against the president doing something wrong and dishonest. What protections are you talking about? Public protest? Republicans did protest. I think the Congress even filed or contemplated legal action. That didn't slow Obama down one bit. The only thing that restrained him was re-election. After 2012, he felt he could "use his pen and his phone" to achieve his objectives, despite the Constitution. Presidential abuse and lack of the ability to stop him was completely on display, and yet you continue to believe that we have some process in place to stop him. Well, it didn't work from 2013-2016, did it?

Have a wonderful weekend,

Allen

Allen Nitschelm has lived in Acton since 1998 and writes about fiscal issues at the
local and state level. He is a former member of the town's Finance Committee
and publisher of the Acton Forum.

One more point about majority rule

I'd like to add one more point about majority rule. You seem to feel that if the majority of people support something that the president does illegally, that makes it OK. I couldn't disagree more.

Certain things are subject to voting and majority rule. Certain things are not. For example, allowing a gay couple to marry in many states could go against majority opinion, but it is perceived as a civil-rights issue. If the president had popular support to ban gay marriage by illegal executive order, would that be OK?

We all enjoy the right to free speech in this country. Would it be permissible for the president to stop an unpopular speaker even if 99.9% of the public was in favor?

The president is elected. That is where voting and public support comes in. It doesn't give the president any cover to claim popular support if he is breaking the law.

And the obvious rejoinder to your central argument is who decides when it is OK and when it isn't? In this case, it was Obama's decision and his alone to disobey his oath and break the law through illegal executive order.

Allen

Allen Nitschelm has lived in Acton since 1998 and writes about fiscal issues at the
local and state level. He is a former member of the town's Finance Committee
and publisher of the Acton Forum.

You are wasting your time

Your argument continues to be dominated by your opinions, and is short of facts. It also would have been more credible if you didn’t focus entirely on the executive orders that were issued by President Obama. For example, former presidents have issued actions similar to DAKA: Did Reagan and H.W. Bush issue actions similar to DACA, as Al Franken said?

Presidents using executive orders to accomplish actions that they were unable to accomplish via the political process is not unusual.

“Presidents have used executive orders to close banks during the Depression, desegregate the armed forces, intern Japanese-Americans during World War II, protect endangered species, and ban assassination of foreign leaders” Clinton's Executive Orders Note that Bill Clinton issued an average of one per week.

With all of these executive orders, you would think that we would have we would have had to deal with a number that were wrong. The only ones that come to mind are some of the Nixon ones relating to the aftermath of Watergate. Recall that Nixon was forced to resign.

The obvious process that we have for repealing a bad executive order is for the succeeding president to issue an order to repeal it. I’m certain that if any of the orders issued by President Obama were really bad, the public opposition would have forced action to be taken much earlier. The fact that this did not happen would suggest that the executive orders issued by President Obama were all relatively good.

The US court system is another mechanism for going after Executive Orders. For example: President Obama did attempt to expand the Dreamer program to include all illegals. A number of states sued and they prevailed in federal court. As you see, a number of mechanisms exist and work pretty well for dealing with bad or unpopular Executive Orders.

You are wasting a lot of time going after a non-problem.

Walt Tetschner

Huh?

Now you are arguing that Presidents can issue executive orders, and "bad" orders can be overturned by their successor. On that point, we are in total agreement. But that isn't the issue (sorry).

The issue is whether a president can break his oath of office by ignoring the Constitution to issue an executive order which is "illegal," meaning it violates the Constitution.

The determination of illegality can be made by the Supreme Court, but that could take months or years after the initial (illegal) order, which is why the president takes an oath of office to obey the Constitution. If the president disregards that oath, he could issue illegal executive orders which would be in effect for long periods of time prior to Supreme Court review, and that would be unacceptable.

You keep arguing about the DAKA policy. That is completely irrelevant to this discussion. ANY illegal executive order must be opposed. Not any executive order, not bad public policy decisions by the president, not unpopular ones, just the illegal ones.

If you want to talk about DAKA, we can do so under a separate discussion. Go ahead and write an article about why DAKA is great and why President Trump should support it, or why Congress should pass it as policy. I will publish the article.

Allen

Allen Nitschelm has lived in Acton since 1998 and writes about fiscal issues at the
local and state level. He is a former member of the town's Finance Committee
and publisher of the Acton Forum.