After the midterm elections, my advisors asked me, "Mr. President, do you have a bucket list?" And I said, "Well, I have something that rhymes with bucket list.’" (Laughter and applause.)Ezra Klein explains:
Take executive action on immigration? Bucket. (Laughter.) New climate regulations? Bucket. It’s the right thing to do. (Laughter and applause.)
The tip-off there is, "It's the right thing to do." That's not a joke. That's Obama's actual justification for the aggressive executive actions of his second term — "fuck it, it's the right thing to do." But the norms of politics are such that he typically has to frame his actions as routine, dull, even necessary. He has to search for precedent and downplay the consequences.Partisan though I am, I see the danger in this; I don't especially want to see President Ted Cruz issuing lots of radical executive orders. But so far as I can tell, this is the only way action is going to happen on two issues that I think are crucial for America: shifting away from fossil fuels and somehow resolving the situation of hundreds of thousands of young people who have grown up in America but cannot get legal status. A Congress that cannot even bring the Dream Act to a vote is pretty much asking to be bypassed by the president.
It's only on the evening of the White House Correspondents' Dinner when he can say what everyone already knows: his actions are huge, they are controversial, they push the norms of American politics, but fuck it, at a moment when American politics seems increasingly broken, Obama has decided to just go ahead and do what he thinks is right.
Our system is designed to keep things from happening. When something really needs to happen that is opposed by powerful interests, the system crashes. Executive action is one of the few solutions on offer, and I respect Obama for doing all he can to make these changes real.