Readers Respond: How Should Obama Flex His Executive Muscle?

Readers Respond: How Should Obama Flex His Executive Muscle?

Readers Respond: How Should Obama Flex His Executive Muscle?

Nation readers provided good ideas—and a bit of wariness—when asked how Obamas should use his presidential authority.


When we asked our readers to share what executive actions they would like to see from President Obama during his second term, the response was enthusiastic. Over a couple of days we received more than seventy thoughtful ideas, covering areas from civil liberties and the debt ceiling to drone strikes and the environment. We learned that Nation readers are hungry for alternatives to dealing with an obstinate Congress and wary of the abuses that a consolidation of power in the executive branch can bring.

Reflecting the national mood—and preceding Obama’s January 16 announcement—gun control topped the list of issues of concern, though not all readers were certain how the president could address it unilaterally. The debt ceiling was also at the front of our readers’ minds; many expressed their support for any work-around that Obama could legally muster to prevent, as reader Richard Glasford put it, the “hostage taking of our economy by an extremist ideology.” Ken Burgdorf stressed that there was at least some public support for circumventing Congress on this issue: ”the administration is on record as saying it would not go there,” he said, referring to options such as the trillion-dollar coin. “It should reconsider. We have its back.” 

The environment, the “war on drugs” and immigration were also common themes, and a number of readers offered ideas that overlapped with our own. Margreta vonPein suggested that the president make the Environmental Protection Agency enforce existing environmental laws. Jeffrey Starr stressed that the president should order the Drug Enforcement Administration to back off states passing liberal marijuana laws, while Edward Wiggins suggested, as we do, that Obama pardon prisoners who received especially harsh sentences because of mandatory minimums.

Max Allstadt pointed out that the president could make a stand for LGBT rights by resigning as honorary president of the Boy Scouts of America until it allows gay Americans to be members. On education, Anthony Cody requested President Obama to “stop the coercive games with No Child Left Behind and abandon the requirement that all students achieve proficiency by 2014 as a condition of federal aid.” 

A number of our readers saw an opportunity in the sheer size, scale and impact of the executive branch’s work. Bill Day, for one, pointed out that the executive branch could fight corruption by ending all “cost-plus, no-bid federal contracts” and make a statement about income inequality by refusing to do business with any company “whose highest paid employee makes more than twenty times as much as its lowest paid employee”—an idea that complements our proposal on “high road” contracting. Anton Kootte saw the chance to create an environmentally responsible workplace; his plan includes equipping the roofs of all federal buildings with wind and solar electrical generating devices, as well as instituting a four-day workweek that would reduce the fuel costs and carbon damage caused by heavy traffic. 

On civil liberties and the “war on terror,” it is clear that our readers share our concern about executive overreach. Many stressed that Obama should reverse expansions of executive authority enacted both by him and his predecessors. Jim Blasiak suggested that Obama should end the state of emergency declared by President Bush after 9/11, pointing out in particular that the declaration allows the military to extend active duty for service members. Jordan Wells stated that he “would like to see the president dramatically reduce his administration’s uniquely heavy reliance on lethal drone strikes that kill civilians…and breed anti-American sentiment.” Jon Levesque and others called for a presidential pardon of Bradley Manning, while Marypat Green, Connie Ozer and Tonya Jewell wanted Obama to finally close Guantánamo. Many called for an immediate end to the war in Afghanistan. 

Finally, while some saw an opportunity in President Obama’s ability to reverse Bush-era executive overreach, others thought the forty-fourth president is too much like his predecessor in this regard and expressed the feeling that they were not comfortable suggesting further unilateral action by the executive branch.

From Cuba to climate change to criminal justice, progressives must push the president to act—and forge a better future. Read “Yes, He Can: Twenty Ways Obama Can Use Executive Power to Push a Progressive Agenda.”

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