House Speaker Boehner has long threatened to sue President Obama for failure to adhere to laws set by Congress. The suit is particularly a reaction to the Affordable Care Act. The rapid fire manner in which the act became the law of the land riddled it with challenges that even the President who was its greatest promoter did not foresee. ACA did not allow Americans to keep their doctors, nor did it lower medical costs. Deadlines could not be implemented on schedule. Rather than returning to Congress to remedy the lacunae of the landmark legislation, President Obama implemented changes by executive order. Boehner may not be a champion of the ACA, but as Speaker is duty bound to guard the power of Congress, i.e. to stop the President from usurping congressional prerogatives. Like it or not, the ACA reflected the collective will of the American legislature.
Many consider this suit to be an anti-Democratic plot. However, why use ACA which the Republicans opposed as the basis for legal action? It is an effort to protect Congress. If the suit advances through the court system, it will prevent repetition of past historical events in which individuals ignored legislatures to grab power. Students of ancient history are aware that there had been no emperor in Rome until the Roman Senate failed to oppose to the power grab of Julius Caesar. His name became the honorific by which all later Roman emperors were identified. In the nineteenth century Napoleon rose to his power in a similar manner. Hitler became fuehrer by appointment and later received the rubber stamp of the Reichstag. Each of these men has a special, ignominious place in history as totalitarian dictatorial, megalomaniacs.|
Obama is not an imperialist. He continues to recognize that his position is to serve the needs of the people. His use of executive orders is to reach a higher good that might be retarded if Congress were more actively consulted. But given a free hand, his actions may compromise the structure of American government, as was done by each of the three cited above.
Current events reflect that this action is not grand standing by one party against the other. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu argues that the current nuclear build up in Iran is a greater threat to world security than ISIS. That may be hyperbole, yet easing of American sanctions against Iran seems to already be in process. Iran has not been forced to repudiate its nuclear program that the UN earlier on Tuesday admitted may be for military purpose, as reported by the Associated Press. By suspending sanctions, President Obama would reject Congress’ desires. The passed sanctions against Iran were passed unanimously by the Senate, and yet White House lawyers have already stated that the President can negotiate with Iran on the basis of presidential authority, without seeking legislative support. Those lawyers argue that the President is entitled to suspend sanctions. If this future action is truly in the pipeline, it bolsters Boehner’s effort to stop the President. One must wonder, too, how the elimination of sanctions benefits President Obama, the Democratic Party or the American people.
In addition to lessons from ancient and modern history, precedents apply from Jewish tradition. Shemaya, an early sage of the rabbinic period, argued “love the enterprise but despise authority.” There may be no nobler action than service to the American people, whether as government officials or as members of the armed services. When power goes to the heads of office holders and soldiers, authority corrupts and is hateful.
The American government is inefficient by design. From its inception it has been divided into three centers of authority: the executive (presidency), the legislature (Congress) and the courts. Each arm influences the others. Each arm is also inhibited and prevented from too rapidly promoting its plans for theory to practice. This tripartite approach is reminiscent of Rabbi Simon’s teaching. Rabbi Simon described the societal structure of the perfect society using the terms of his time. “There are three crowns: a crown of scholarship, a crown of the priesthood and a crown of the monarchy. The crown of a good reputation rests on the backs of the others.”
In Rabbi Simon’s time the legislature of his period was a scholocracy. While there was no longer a king, a renewal of the kingship was badly wanted. Religious events were still organized by priests Regardless of where a leader’s power was based, having a good reputation, i.e. integrity, was more important than anything else.
President Obama acts according to his view of what is needed for America. However, if he pushes through an agenda against the will of the country’s elected legislature, it is his integrity that is questionable; hence the lawsuit.