You may have recently, come across a series of memes or Twitter hashtags featuring the words “so sue me”. These were spoken by President Obama a few weeks ago in response to Speaker of the House John Boehner’s claims that he will file a lawsuit against the President for his apparently unconstitutional use of executive orders. As presidential statements go, it is bold, brash and overall reflective of the recent devil-may-care attitude of Obama, as he grows increasingly tired of the Republican-dominated Congress.

Obama’s tenure as President almost perfectly embodies Mario Cuomo’s claim that politicians “campaign in poetry” but “govern in prose”. Everyone remembers the 2008 presidential candidate Obama as a visionary with fresh ideas and a genuine desire to change Washington. Now, six years later, and Obama’s approval ratings are at an all-time low, he has been able to pass little major legislation and his centre-piece attraction of Obamacare has been riddled by technical and administrative issues. The answer over who is to blame for this inaction is of course in the eye of the beholder. Democrats blame the internally divided Republican party, whose desperate attempts to please their Tea Party faction have led them to become a “do nothing” party who block Obama at every turn. Republicans claim that Obama is an unconstitutional force who doesn’t respect the wishes of Congress and whose use of power needs to be tempered. Regardless, Obama has had enough. He’s got two and a half years before he has to step down from being leader of the free world, and he plans to use that title for all it’s worth.

Congressional legislation is now a no-go for major reform, compared to a year ago when it appeared as though gun control and immigration bills may have been on the table. The mid-terms are about to dominate American politics and the level of alienation between Congress and the White House has never been stronger. Thus the executive order is now Obama’s prime tool. He has signed orders to halt the deportation of immigrants who either came to the US as childrem, who care for children or who haven’t committed crimes. In November 2013 he also signed a far-reaching order on climate change which forced power plants to cut their emissions by 30 percent by 2030.

But, perhaps more importantly than through the formal means highlighted above, Obama is using realpolitik to his advantage as well. He has recently managed to set the agenda and highlight the internal divisions of the Republican Party through his request for Congress to pass a 3.7 billion dollar act to address the influx of immigrants at the southern borders. He has also gone out of his way to look as though he is in touch with the American people, so as to specifically counter GOP criticism for being out of touch. Whether it’s his amusing appearance on “Between 2 Ferns” with Zach Galifianakis, his increasingly frequent walks out of the White House and around Washington DC to meet and greet citizens (accompanied by #thebearisloose on Twitter) or his current publicity trail around Denver, Obama recognises that he does indeed campaign in poetry and is playing it as his strength. Whether these actions will actually embolden his authority and influence at the Capitol remains to be seen, but for now it certainly appears to be a more effective strategy than repeatedly coming at loggerheads with Boehner and company.

Judging from all this, it appears as though circumstances have forced Obama to start embracing and exploiting his “lame duck” status a little bit earlier than usual. Whilst his influence in Washington may appear to be dwindling, especially considering the Republicans are on track to winning over the Senate in the mid-terms, it also means that Obama has got nothing to lose in his approach to governing. As for the backlash he may receive, Obama has just three words: “so sue me”.

 

References:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2014/07/10/how-obama-has-used-executive-powers-compared-to-his-predecessors/