It was nice to see President and Laura Bush extend a warm welcome to President-elect Obama and his wife Michelle during their first visit to the White House that will become their residence starting on January 20th. After all, Bush said that he wanted to extend the same warm welcome that the Clintons extended to them at the end of their term.
But while all of this ‘making nice’ is going on, beneath the surface is a silent power struggle going on between the outgoing and incoming presidents. While all of the attention understandably surrounds the incoming president, the outgoing president can take advantage of his low visibility out of the spotlight to use executive orders and pardons to address some unfinished business before leaving office.
This has been true of all outgoing presidents, but with a president who has been so notorious for his expansion of executive power during his term, perhaps we need to keep more of an eye on him.
A New York Times editorial So Little Time, So Much Damage does just that.
While Americans eagerly vote for the next president, here’s a sobering reminder: As of (Election Day), George W. Bush still has 77 days left in the White House — and he’s not wasting a minute.
President Bush’s aides have been scrambling to change rules and regulations on the environment, civil liberties and abortion rights, among others — few for the good. Most presidents put on a last-minute policy stamp, but in Mr. Bush’s case it is more like a wrecking ball. We fear it could take months, or years, for the next president to identify and then undo all of the damage.
But the Obama transition team is not asleep at the switch. In addition to the high visibility part of the transition like filling cabinet positions, they are busy with another agenda as described in a Washington Post article Obama Positioned to Quickly Reverse Bush Actions.
Transition advisers to President-elect Barack Obama have compiled a list of about 200 Bush administration actions and executive orders that could be swiftly undone to reverse White House policies on climate change, stem cell research, reproductive rights and other issues, according to congressional Democrats, campaign aides and experts working with the transition team.
Few citizens including many political junkies have much of an understanding of executive orders. The best article I have found to explain this subject in a Q & A form is a Wall Street Journal blog, Executive Orders 101. And for a more conventional encyclopedic summary there is this article from Wikipedia which itself includes a number of interesting links for those wishing to study this subject in more detail. Interestingly enough, executive orders are not even explicitly mentioned in the US Constitution.
Even so, most of us feel that it is desirable when necessary to give the president some powers to get things done without being bogged down by the Congressional decision-making process. But obviously, this power can be abused. Although these executive orders have been made by many administrations from both parties over the years, is it fair to make a bigger deal out of what President Bush is doing now in his final months of office?
It has been well documented that President Bush is the most unpopular president since these popularity polls have begun many years ago. In addition, the electorate has sent a resounding message that a solid majority of them do not like the Bush policies. Toward the end of the election campaign, even John McCain was openly critical of the Bush years. Given this, you would think that Bush should at least have the decency to just keep things running until the new president comes on board with his policies.
Instead, this administration has been about seizing as much executive power as possible to the point of distorting the spirit of Constitutional checks and balances between the branches of government. While those on the Republican side may approve of this conduct, surely they should realize that when their party is no longer in power that the Democrats may very well feel entitled to do the same thing once they take over the presidency. And that is not a positive trend for our way of government no matter which party one supports.
It's no wonder that so many people are anxiously counting down the days until Bush finally leaves office!