That presidents are politicians is a truism and that most presidents are leaders of their political parties is equally true.
However, we do not pay presidents to be either politicians or party leaders. They earn their pay by exercising leadership on policies that are beneficial to the long term overall national interest.
It is always troublesome to see presidential power used for narrow partisan election purposes. In that light some of President Obama's recent actions display a disturbing pattern. Consider the following, which have occurred since Obama started his reelection campaign last summer, an historically early time:
Kathleen Sibelius, President Obama's Secretary of Health and Human Services and a rabid pro-choicer, took an unprecedented step. Bowing to the White House, she has overruled the Food and Drug Administration's approval of the issuance of a drug. Specifically, the FDA had approved the Plan B emergency contraceptive (morning after pill) for use by girls younger than age 17 without a doctor's prescription. The nonprescription sale for women older than 17 has been approved since 2006. I do not write to debate the contraception issue, although it seems sad that girls who are in a financial and family position to get the prescription can avoid teenage pregnancy, but the less fortunate cannot without an abortion. The abortion issue is politically powerful and Sibelius's action is roundly regarded as both illogical and blatantly political.
The proposed Keystone XL pipeline to bring Canadian crude oil to U. S. Gulf of Mexico ports for refining has been studied and analyzed for years. It would create tens of thousands of jobs in construction, transportation, manufacturing, refining and export. It would be the largest infrastructure project since President Eisenhower's national highway system, and would require no government money. The environmental aspects and alternatives had been exhaustively analyzed for three years. It was a no-brainer ready to go. At the last minute the White House ordered the State Department to refuse approval (a quixotic requirement since the pipeline crosses our boundary) although there was certainly no diplomatic barrier to approval. The State Department said it needed further environmental review, which not surprisingly could not be completed until after the 2012 election. Environmental lobbies, which had put pressure on the president, cheered.
As a result of strong union lobbying, the National Labor Relations Board General Counsel brought an unfair labor charge against Boeing for situating a huge new assembly plant in the nonunion state of South Carolina rather that the union state of Washington. This occurred even though the plant was completed, had been under construction for years and there had been no official objection during all this time. However, now that it seems that Boeing has reached a compromise with its union, the charge will be dropped. One would think that Boeing either violated the law and should be punished or it did not violate the law and should not have been charged. Does the union or the NLRB make these decisions? Anyone who believes the NLRB General Counsel is not influenced by the president's political dependence on labor unions still believes in the Easter Bunny.
In response to intense pressure from antipetroleum environmentalists, President Obama ordered a ban on the auction of new exploratory leases in the Gulf of Mexico after the April 20, 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. No question the spill was serious, but there was no evidence whatsoever that this spill was anything but a unique incident, not a general drilling problem requiring shutting down further exploration. Even if exploration is successful, a lengthy permitting process is required before drilling is authorized. Interestingly, just now, in election season, the administration has conducted an auction of new exploratory leases, which environmental groups are suing to reverse. So instead of a coherent national energy policy we have a ping pong match based on election politics.
Lisa P. Jackson, the dedicated environmentalist Administrator of the EPA, had approved and was issuing new carbon emission standards based on EPA analyses and findings until the White House buckled under to industry objectives and blocked the new regulations. Business lobbyists won this one.
Everyone knows that our entitlement programs are the core of a critical economic problem in the U.S. We are bankrupt and simply cannot continue to borrow 40 percent of every dollar we spend. Unless we reform and lower the cost of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, we will go down the path of Greece. This issue cries for courageous presidential leadership. Instead, to avoid alienating voters, the president refuses to address these issues. If he even alludes to them he imposes conditions on his agreement, which he knows will not be accepted. Once again, do the interests of his reelection trump the national interest? The entitlement vote is one of his core constituencies and is critical to his re-election.
One can debate whether President Obama will be politically successful with his strategy of satisfying this voting group today and another tomorrow instead of developing a coherent long-term policy for all Americans. But is it fair to say that starting no later than his unprecedented early re-election campaign, we have a candidate and not a president?
Letson is an attorney in Warren. He previously was general counsel of the U.S. Department of Commerce. He was also vice president and general counsel of Westinghouse Electric Corp.