President Obama is often depicted as a polarizing figure by his more conservative critics. But liberal critics have their complaints as well; they lament the way in which the President has, or at least has appeared to, avoid confrontation with his political foes. In the eyes of these critics, the President has been placid when fiery resolve was needed. For example, many on the left criticize how the President has failed to rein in the perceived abusive practices of Wall Street. Their model of how an executive should act is Franklin Delano Roosevelt. FDR’s bold moves– think passage of the New Deal or his (unsuccessful) attempt to pack the Supreme Court– demonstrate boldness that Obama’s liberal critics believe that he lacks.
But the obvious response to Obama’s critics on the left is that Republicans have controlled the House of Representatives since the 2010 elections, and even the Senate Republicans have power beyond their minority position due to the filibuster. Any legislation the President desires must pass the House, which is a heavy task in light of the country’s increasingly-polarized politics. It is no coincidence that the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress when it enacted two bills championed by the President: the “stimulus” bill and his health care overhaul (the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, respectively). Of course, the President has the power of the “bully pulpit” and can appeal to the American people through speeches, but ultimately our political system limits his power. A core principle of the country’s political system is to separate executive power from legislative powers. The President’s critics on the left should recall this point the next time they ask why he cannot enact a sweeping liberal agenda.