Constitutional Aspirations and Executive Actions
On the campaign trail, Barack Obama spoke often about his constitutional principles. In particular, he objected to George W. Bush’s claim to certain “inherent” presidential powers that could not be checked by Congress or the judiciary. After his inauguration, how did President Obama’s constitutional principles fare? That is the question Louis Fisher explores in this book, a disturbing and timely study of the tension between constitutional aspirations and executive actions in the American presidency.
A constitutional scholar, Fisher views Obama’s two terms within the context of other presidencies, and in light of the principles set forth by the Framers. His work reveals how the basic system of checks and balances has been substantially altered by Supreme Court decisions, military initiatives, and scholarship promoting the power of the president—and by presidents progressively more inclined to wield that power. In this analysis we see the steps by which Obama, himself an expert on the Constitution, came to press his agenda more and more aggressively through executive actions: on climate change, renewable energy, the auto industry bail-out, education initiatives, and financial reform. Rather than focus on policy, Fisher examines the politics and practical concerns that drive executive overreach, as well as the impact of such expanded powers on bipartisan support, public understanding, and finally, the functioning of government.
“Lou Fisher is among our most highly regarded scholars of American political institutions and constitutional law. His most recent book, President Obama: Constitutional Aspirations and Executive Actions, illustrates why this is so. Fisher’s focus on President Obama’s propensity for unilateral governance captures the contradictions between, on the one hand, Obama’s statements respectful of constitutional limitations on executive authority and of the lawmaking responsibilities of Congress and, on the other hand, his frequent resort to unilateral executive behavior in the absence of congressional assent. Fisher’s deep case law knowledge demonstrates how the courts often have been complicit in allowing discretionary presidential authority where there may be little basis for it. Readers may come to different judgments as to why presidents exercise discretionary authority when there are few or nonexistent constitutional grounds for doing so. Fisher’s book contributes greatly to this debate, even if it does not bring closure to it.”
—Bert A. Rockman, professor emeritusof political science, Purdue University
“A revealing and learned manuscript by one of America’s finest scholars of constitutional government. It sparkles with interpretations and critiques of the relevant literature and of the many Supreme Court cases that impact this most important of subjects. It is certain to be read and debated by scholars and citizens interested in the legacy of President Obama’s administration.”
—Joel D. Aberbach, Distinguished Research Professor of Political Science and Public Policy, University of California, Los Angeles
“Lou Fisher’s latest book is the definitive account of President Barack Obama’s expansive exercise of Article II powers. Although Obama had pledged to respect the separation of powers and the limits of the president’s constitutional authority, Fisher shows that the forty-fourth president was really not all that different from previous modern chief executives in his actions. This volume says much about the continual march down the path of unilateral actions by presidents of both parties that has culminated in President Donald J. Trump’s current push for lodging even more power in the hands of the chief executive. ”
—Mark J. Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government, George Mason University
“President Obama: Constitutional Aspirations and Executive Actions is a must-read for anyone concerned with understanding the consequences of ever-expanding executive power. As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama promised a different approach to constitutional issues than that of George W. Bush. How much really changed? Eminent constitutional scholar Louis Fisher posits in this engagingly written, clearly argued, and extensively documented analysis that Obama’s lofty ambitions often failed to become reality.”
—Jeffrey Crouch, author of The Presidential Pardon PowerSee fewer reviews...
A fair but critical assessment of Obama’s executive performance and legacy, this sobering book documents the erosion of constitutional principles that prepared the way for the presidency of Donald Trump.