The Boehner Manifesto: How To Do Nothing And Look Constitutional?

By Mark Esposito, Weekend Contributor

The Antagonists
The Antagonists

I think it was Winston Churchill who reminded us that the “supreme virtue” of government is action. In fact, the greatest of  modern British prime ministers, who often marked his staff memoranda in red with the words “Action This Day,” counseled that ” I never worry about action, but only inaction.” Action in recognizing problems. Action in mobilizing support and action in addressing the causes of human suffering and improving the lives of those over whom you have power and authority.

On this side of the Atlantic, the framers understood this seemingly obvious facet of government. Jefferson wrote, “The purpose of government is to maintain a society which secures to every member the inherent and inalienable rights of man, and promotes the safety and happiness of its people.” Protecting individual  rights and promoting the security and happiness of those individuals is the essential business of government. Not “either-or” but both.

“We the People” were formed into a  “more perfect Union” for some precise purposes: “to establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” That’s not a request; that’s a duty. One from which all those sub-duties known as the laws of the Constitution flow. And those duties — all of them — flow directly down from the People to their servants in the three branches.

The founders, of course, knew there would be tension any time power is divided and they relied on the good will of  the people along with an iconic government structure to keep those powers from being usurped by the other branches. Professor Turley has written eloquently about what he perceives is the erosion of the protections of the separation of powers doctrine in favor of an imperial presidency. He notes the abundance of recess appointments under recent administrations and the mushrooming of executive orders as proof of a presidential power grab which he feels can be remedied by a renewed assertion of rights by Congress and the courts. Recent decisions of the SCOTUS, he claims, support this position though one wonders how these, in themselves, are not proof of the doctrine working precisely as ordered.

While he full well explains the steps to remedying the current state of affairs, he erroneously, in my judgment, omits the implied duty that runs throughout the separation of powers doctrine — the concomitant duty of those branches even as they assert their prerogatives to do something with that power. It is not enough to simply re-establish the balance of power. That power has to be exercised in furtherance of agreed-to national goals. A perfectly balanced system that accomplishes nothing is every bit as much a failed government as one that coerces its people. And a reestablishment of a pristine version of separation of powers is as short-lived as the mayfly if the power vacuum caused by inaction remains. It is as sure a historical axiom as we have, that power will always expand to fill a vacuum.  That is precisely what we have today even as Congress, led by Speaker John Boehner seeks to sue the President of the United States to rein in what he considers to be an administration run amok doing things.

And what prompted Boehner’s wrath? Well, the President frustrated by the Congress’ obstinacy to do anything but tease on immigration reform for purely political reasons has vowed to do all he can by executive order to address this critical problem most recently manifested by thousands of vulnerable kids fleeing war and poverty and streaming across the US-Mexican border.

Boehner has written an opinion piece for CNN explaining the reasons for his decision to seek legislation authorizing the right to sue the President. After reminding us that everyone in government swears an oath to that featured document encased in glass at the National Archives, Boehner explains:

But too often over the past five years, the President has circumvented the American people and their elected representatives through executive action, changing and creating his own laws, and excusing himself from enforcing statutes he is sworn to uphold — at times even boasting about his willingness to do it, as if daring the American people to stop him.

Daring the American people to stop him? We had that chance twice – as recently as 2012. Obama won the popular vote then by 5  million voters and the electoral college vote by 126. Was the problem paramount in the public’s collective mind to be solved by the election an administration on the loose or a society desperately seeking one person who would do something about the problems that beset them? Problems which, by the way, most fair minded folks would agree did not derive with the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

It’s a time-tested feature of the American Presidency that holders of the office are judged by what they do for people and not how they do it. Lincoln is remembered in the consciousness of the public  for ending the Civil War not suspending habeas corpus. FDR is lionized for the New Deal and his leadership against fascism not the court-packing plan. And even ol’ unpopular ‘W” himself has received a popularity renaissance of sorts for his efforts to combat terrorism with hardly a mention of the dubious methods he employed. Why would the public in the last two elections be looking for anything different?  Give us someone who can bring about positive change in Washington and the society it oversees was the order from the populace.

Perhaps the country felt that way because the Congress they sent off to Washington time after time has totally abdicated its responsibilities to govern or even make the pretense of governing. It’s as if that Republican dominated or stymied body has taken Grover Norquist’s pledge to heart — with an added bonus: No new taxes, of course, and we’ll reduce the size of government so we really can just strangle it in the bathroom. Need some proof? Let’s take a history lesson.

In 1948, Harry Truman derided the 80th Congress the “Do-Nothing Congress.” Dominated by Republicans, the body was pro-business, anti-Fair Deal, and determined to do nothing that would aid the Democratic Party. It passed just 906 public laws even as the nation was coming out from under the burden of a world war and had to deal with the returning veterans and a threat from the Soviet Union. The public took their wrath out in the election of 1948 and sent 82 Republican lawmakers home.

Fast forward to today and the explosion of problems never even envisioned by the 80th Congress like immigration reform and the terrorist threat. How has the body partially overseen by public servant and sworn constitutionalist John Boehner done in recognizing and addressing the nation’s many problems?  USA Today answers the question in an op/ed:

Having enacted 104 laws since early 2013, the 113th Congress is on track to break the previous record low of 283, set in 2011-12 by the 112th Congress. And with last fall’s pointless government shutdown, the current Congress reached a level of dysfunction that the 112th never attained.

To call the 113th Congress bad is like calling water wet. It is harming the economy in the short term while running from serious long-term problems. Appropriately, its approval ratings are stuck in the teens, with occasion dips into single digits.


283 is a far cry from 906 and the prospects look very good for a mid-term election that will bring us even less legislation and more bickering. Viva la separation of powers and its modern-day cousin, gridlock!

The historic problem is what do you do when you’re facing very real international and domestic problems with an indispensable partner who fails –and even refuses –to act? For example, how do you address the problems of thousands of unaccompanied and exploitable kids crossing the border? If you’re Congress, you do nothing and blast someone who does. If you’re the President you push the buttons you have. Obama has vowed to ” [begin] a new effort to fix as much of our immigration system as I can on my own, without Congress.”  These measures would take the form of increased enforcement of the borders and extend to possibly “giving work permits and protection from deportation to millions of immigrants now in the country’, according to the New York Times. 

Boehner’s response was predictable and apoplectic, “In our conversation last week, I told the president what I have been telling him for months: the American people and their elected officials don’t trust him to enforce the law as written. Until that changes, it is going to be difficult to make progress on this issue… It is sad and disappointing that – faced with this challenge – President Obama won’t work with us, but is instead intent on going it alone with executive orders that can’t and won’t fix these problems. ”

Work with us?  In February, Boehner himself was privately trumpeting a landmark immigration bill that would address many of the problems both parties see as resolvable. That was in response to some very public polling showing Republicans being battered among Hispanic voters. But conservatives in his own party nixed the plan threatening to pull support for his speakership if he moved forward to introduce the legislation. The pretense for the reversal was Republican insistence that Obama precipitated the crisis by scaling back on deportation for younger undocumented aliens and that therefore he couldn’t be trusted to faithfully enforce the immigration laws. That doesn’t explain why Republicans backed off legislation that would address the problem and take effect after Obama’s term ends. As Senator Charles Schumer reiterated on the Senate floor, “If Republicans can’t agree to pass a bill that goes into effect after the president’s term, then we know that ‘mistrust of the president’ is nothing but a straw man.”

So Obama acts alone. Constitutional? We’ll see, but, the structural problem remains. Can the voters fix it? Maybe, they did in 1948, but the country was less polarized along ideological lines. A recipe for disaster?  Probably and one not likely to be fixed no matter how the conservative dominated Supreme Court rules. And action to address the nation’s woes? Well, that seems to be neither the concern of the court, nor the Congress, and, for well-articulated doctrinal reasons, perhaps not even the President’s. So who is charged with performing the duties of the Constitution? Perhaps it’s just us.

And what would Jefferson say about the nation he founded and its seeming inability to get out of its own way?  “Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you,”  comes the judgment from our third president. Which prompts me to ask: What, my dear Sage of Monticello, does our inaction say?

What do you think?

Source: CNN and throughout

~Mark Esposito, Weekend Contributor

By the way and for better or worse, the views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not necessarily those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays of art are solely the author’s decision and responsibility. No infringement of intellectual property rights is intended and will be remedied upon notice from the owner. Fair use is however asserted for such inclusions of quotes, excerpts, photos, art, and the like.

176 thoughts on “The Boehner Manifesto: How To Do Nothing And Look Constitutional?”

  1. John:

    You’re on the wrong site. The birther comments are supposed to be reserved for World Net Daily.

  2. At the end of this thread, after all this “democracy,” we’re left with an ineligible, incompetent, empty suit, affirmative action poster boy president and an attorney general found in contempt, a rogue executive branch, who don’t enforce the laws of the United States of America.

    I wonder if that elitist SCOTUS can tell America if the executive branch has a constitutional duty to vigorously enforce the law to its fullest extent.

    Dereliction of duty, insurrection and treason supplement the Articles of Impeachment.

    There is a cancer growing on the presidency.

  3. Paul:

    “… thinking of the vast public of the United States. :)”


    Now there’s your first mistake. 😀

  4. Saucy: ” If I worked in the same building as Ayers, I would stay very far away from him. I would refuse to have social contact with Ayers or Dohrn.”

    But you don’t work in the same building as Ayers, and for good reason. Ayers is highly intelligent and well educated. He may have made mistakes, but America is a land of second chances. And at least he’s contributing.

    1. RTC – Jack the Ripper made made the same kind of mistakes as Ayers and I would live near him either.

  5. Well, poll results are in:

    About 52% think the President should act on immigration either with or without Congressional approval.

    About 35% think the President violates the separation of powers doctrine in acting along.

    And finally about 13% want to withhold judgment until they see what he does with executive orders.

    Thanks to all for participating. Democracy survives!

    1. mespo – that is about the way I would say this blog breaks down. However, this blog does not represent the thinking of the vast public of the United States. 🙂

  6. Nick Spinelli

    [Talking] about class openly and honestly is a good think. Pitting classes against each other is a bad thing. HUGE difference.
    I can see that by your huge example.

  7. Paul C. Schulte

    Dredd – back to your usual ad hominem attacks.
    Ah, The Paul’s bottom of the barrel mantra.

    Translation: you are out of BS to spew on some subject, but you need to get your comment quota in so you can be number two.

    Spinny likes you that way.

    Spin is always first before indoctrination.

    One follows the other quite naturally.

    Like a Boner and a Limpy. 😉

    You can expect Spinny to soon say that “you are doin’ a heckuva job Limpy.”

  8. (sry probably should have posted the last at the hobby lobby post)

  9. swarthmoremom wrote “Dohrn is a professor at Northwestern Law School and has been for quite some time”

    That was as appropriate as hiring Jeffrey Dahmer to be the head chef at an exclusive Chicago restaurant.

    “they are not relevant to a discussion about Boehner’s lawsuit”

    That may very well be true, but it is relevant to Obama’s character, or lack thereof. If I worked in the same building as Ayers, I would stay very far away from him. I would refuse to have social contact with Ayers or Dohrn.

    “Dohrn and Ayers came wealthy families, and they knew the right people”

    I neither pitied Patty Hearst nor accepted her story that her captors brainwashed her. Like the Columbine killers, all of these people grew up with silver spoons in their mouths and psychotic thoughts in their dreams.

    May be from Maddow but the quotes are from Perry himself.

    Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) is not backing away from a conspiracy theory he recently floated about the Obama administration somehow coordinating the surge of immigrants coming over the border for some unknown reason.

    Perry recently suggested on Fox News that the Obama administration might be “in on this somehow” and helping move immigrants over the border. Asked about that statement on Sunday, Perry didn’t back away.

    Perry told ABC’s Martha Raddatz yesterday that President Obama may have “some ulterior motive” for recent developments. How could that possibly make sense? The governor didn’t elaborate.

    That said, as part of the same interview, the Texas Republican said of the president, “I don’t believe he particularly cares whether or not the border of the United States is secure.” It’s an odd condemnation given how far Obama has gone to strengthen border security and increase deportations….To her credit, Raddatz patiently pointed to reality, reminding Perry that the humanitarian concerns along the Southern border aren’t related to the border patrol, much of the recent developments relate to a 2008 law signed by George W. Bush, and President Obama has specifically communicated an unambiguous message to those thinking about sending unaccompanied children: “He’s telling people not to come. He’s telling them in ads not to come into the United States, not to leave their homes…”

    1. leejcaroll – you are aware that the INS is moving illegals from Texas to Arizona and dropping them at bus stops?

  11. Taking about class openly and honestly is a good think. Pitting classes against each other is a bad thing. HUGE difference.

  12. Limo liberals and fat cat conservative share that same smugness, but liberals add sanctimony which makes them even more like me want to pimp slap them.

  13. Dohrn and Ayers came wealthy families, and they knew the right people. That fact made their paths much easier. But let’s not mention social class or one could be accused of envy……….

    1. SWM – Not sure about Dohrn, but Ayers dad got him his university job.

  14. SWM, To each their own. If we all agreed this place would be an echo chamber. There are enough of those!!

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