A recent story in the New York Times confirms what we've witnessed for quite some time now: that Obama believes that it is the role of the president to lead a revolution in society, the economy, and the political system, but to defer on national security and foreign policy to the other branches of government. From the piece:
One Saturday last fall, President Obama interrupted a White House strategy meeting to raise an issue not on the agenda. He declared, aides recalled, that the administration needed to more aggressively use executive power to govern in the face of Congressional obstructionism.
“We had been attempting to highlight the inability of Congress to do anything,” recalled William M. Daley, who was the White House chief of staff at the time. “The president expressed frustration, saying we have got to scour everything and push the envelope in finding things we can do on our own.”
This completely upends the Framers' vision of the presidency. The Framers thought the chief executive's powers would expand broadly to meet external challenges while playing a modest role at home. They saw Congress, not the presidency, as the main threat to the people's liberties. In a democracy, James Madison wrote in The Federalist, "the legislative authority, necessarily, predominates" because it has access to the "pockets of the people." He warned that "it is against the enterprising ambition" of Congress "that the people ought to indulge all their jealousy and exhaust all their precautions."
The initiative to regulate the domestic economy and society--limited as it originally was to have been--rested with Congress. The president was to restrain the legislature when it favored party or special interests over the public good. This was no easy job. To give it institutional backbone, the Framers clothed the presidency with independent elections, consistent pay, and control over the execution of the laws. Still, Hamilton could only hope that when the legislature gave in to demagogues or temporary passions, the president would "be in a situation to dare to act his own opinion with vigor and decision."
The Framers expected the presidency to counterbalance the "impetuous vortex" of Congress. A vigorous executive, Alexander Hamilton wrote in The Federalist, would protect against those "irregular and high-handed combinations which sometimes interrupt the ordinary course of justice" and provide security against "enterprises and assaults of ambition, of faction, and of anarchy" which would emanate from the "humours of the legislature." The great threat to the Constitution, Hamilton wrote, was the "propensity of the legislative department to intrude upon the rights and absorb the powers of other departments" such as the executive branch, the courts, and the states. The president's veto would not only protect the executive's constitutional rights from Congress, he wrote, it would also furnish "an additional security against the enaction of improper laws" and allow the president "to guard the community against the effects of faction, precipitancy, or of any impulse unfriendly to the public good."
Obama has inverted the presidency by transforming it from a check on Congress into a radically extreme agent of domestic change.