It wasn't President Obama's State of the Union call for "opportunity for all" or new tools to help the unemployed that's gotten Republicans riled up: it was his declaration that he would "take steps without legislation" to solve the problems he thinks the country faces. That, according to Sen. Ted Cruz and others, is all but a declaration of dictatorship.
Cruz didn't wait to hear what Obama said during his speech on Tuesday night to draft his rebuttal, which ran in The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday morning. Pivoting off the president's declaration that he had "a pen and … a phone" with which to take action even when blocked by Congress, Cruz declared that the "president's persistent pattern of lawlessness" and push to work around Congress "should concern every citizen."
Most of Cruz's argument, as might have been predicted, centers on Obamacare, the fight that made Cruz's career. But he also isolates Obama's announcement that he would unilaterally raise minimum wages for federal workers, which Cruz mistakenly says happened on Monday. An "imperial presidency threatens the liberty of every citizen," Cruz writes in conclusion, "[b]ecause when a president can pick and choose which laws to follow and which to ignore, he is no longer a president."
Cruz doesn't specifically call Obama a dictator, opting instead for a sort of "I'm not saying he's a dictator, but" route. National Review's Victor Davis Hanson doesn't do the same tip-toeing. "If Obama used to sigh to supporters that he was not a dictator who could just implement progressive agendas by fiat," Hanson writes, "he now seems to have done away with the pretense of regret." Hanson, who writes about the dictators of ancient history when he's not opining on modern politics, points out Obama's decision to emphasize children. "Note as well that Obama says he will bypass Congress for 'our kids.' Politicians usually cite the 'kids' when promoting something that is either illegal or unethical." Or when running for office or basically doing anything.
It was inevitable that Obama's decision to do what he can outside of Congress would result in criticism. Speaking to the Today show on Wednesday morning, Vice President Biden tried to downplay the contentiousness of the speech. "That’s not what he said. He said, 'I’ll work with the Congress, I want to work with them,'" Biden said. "I think you'll see much more cooperation with the Congress this year than you have the past five years." That's not a high bar — Democrats generally point to the obstructionism of the Republican House as the motivation for Obama's decision to focus on executive actions. But even that low bar will probably not be overcome.
As The New York Times' Carl Hulse points out, there's not really much reason for Congress to worry anyway. On that minimum wage increase, Hulse writes that "the White House refused to say how many workers might gain under the new wage policy." Boehner dismissed the move on Tuesday on those grounds, saying it "will affect absolutely no one." And, Hulse notes, "anyone who succeeds him can use the stroke of a pen to undo Mr. Obama’s actions just as Mr. Obama did to some Bush-era policies one day after his inauguration in 2009." (Cruz — who worked in the Bush administration — tries to win Democrats to his side in the Journal by asking that they consider how they'd feel if a Republican acted unilaterally.)
Of course Cruz tends to be hyperbolic. In response to Obama's threat in the State of the Union address that he would veto any new Iran sanctions while the country is working with the U.S. and its allies under an interim deal — a threat he's made before — Cruz suggested that New York could be nuked. All because he ignored Congress.
“If Iran acquires a nuclear weapon, the risk is unacceptable that that weapon will be detonated over the skies of Tel Aviv or New York or Los Angeles. And the result could be hundreds of thousands of lives lost. For the president to stand up and say he will oppose a large bipartisan majority in both houses of Congress because he so wants to cut a deal that’s going to endanger U.S. national security, I think that was perhaps the most dangerous line of the speech for the security of our nation.”
(South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham echoed this sentiment, saying that "[t]he world is literally about to blow up” because of Iran. Do not worry; it is not literally about to blow up.)
Incidentally, Cruz's worries about how executives exercise their authority appears to fluctuate. Earlier this week, he told The Star-Ledger that it was "unfortunate" New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie "found himself in this mess." "I like Chris Christie," Cruz said. "I think he is brash and outspoken, and I think it’s terrific that he’s been able to get elected twice as a Republican in a very blue state."