As the best laid plans of our nation falter because of gridlock in our astonishingly dysfunctional Congress, we are all wondering who is in charge. The answer, of course, is President Obama, and for the most part, he has not been shy about using his executive power to get things done, but here is the funny thing: Despite the fact that the issues the president wants to address through executive action -- gun control, gay rights, clean energy, and financial relief for low and middle income Americans -- are all essential to the well-being of our nation, Republicans are hellbent on opposing it.
While the GOP's grounds for objection, steeped in constitutional arguments and a fear of tyranny, might seem patriotic, they are anything but, for they are based on a skewed sense of history and on a hidden agenda to weaken our government relative to greedy corporate interests.
In its reading of our history, the Republican Party seems to have skipped an entire volume of our past, namely the two decades following the American revolution, during which our first and most famous commander-in-chief, George Washington, governed like a veritable monarch and with good reason. Washington's autocratic method of presiding, which Thomas Jefferson and others secretly despised, was necessary to hold the Union together so that it could survive all the ideological and partisan disagreements of the time and to protect the foundation that was being laid for a stable and cohesive future. Washington did not see America as merely a collection of states but as a grander and more holistic body that required a focal point of control to be successful. That focal point was the federal government, and by extension, Washington himself.
It was not the most constitutional approach but it was a smart, pragmatic -- and as it turned out -- the right, approach. As a matter of fact, even the ratification of the constitution, a process of which Washington was one of the stewards, was itself decidedly unconstitutional in that it made an end-run around the Articles of Confederation to secure approval from all the states.
The reason for all this was simple: it had to be done and so it was.
America today is in the same place as during Washington's time. Deep ideological and partisan divides have polarized the people and paralyzed our government time and again over the past four years; paranoid secessionist fantasies have become commonplace; racial prejudice has reared its ugly head once again; and economic inequality is growing by the second, not to mention that the pumping of astronomical sums of money into politics has destroyed any shred of objectivity that Congress may have had on the lawmaking side.
In short, we are a nation at risk of flying apart and falling apart, just as we were in 1787, and the prevention of that requires a firm leader who is willing to call the shots no matter how unpopular those decisions might be and no matter who disagrees with him. Like Obama, Washington had plenty of detractors in his time, and like Obama, he chose to ignore them not because he was a tyrant but because he recognized that the interests of the nation superseded the interests of any political faction, and that it was his job as the president to lead.
America is not a true democracy but a republic, in which elected representatives of the people make decisions on our behalf, and the highest elected office is that of the president. In other words, when the citizens of America vote for a president, they are appointing a supreme leader to make decisions on their behalf. More importantly, the people impose a responsibility upon the holder of that office to make decisions and to take responsibility for the successful governing of our nation.
What this means is that when a president is confronted by inaction on the part of Congress or imminent threats to our nation's interests, then it is not just his right but his responsibility to do something about it. The buck stops at the Oval Office.
In an ideal world, President Obama would be able to work with a reasonable Congress to get things done but the mean-spirited partisanship of the GOP has made this nearly impossible. In such a climate, the president has no choice but to take executive actions that are timely and necessary to protect our present and our future.
In fact, he needs to do it more, for by themselves the Republicans will not stop obstructing initiatives that can shield the disenfranchised, the poor, and the defenseless from abuse, they will not let the government be a checking force against powerful special interests, and they will continue to distract us from the truth by focusing the national attention on false patriotism and nonsensical constitutional interpretations.
These are all things that will destroy our great nation, and the only thing that can stand in the way, as it did in George Washington's time, is the commander-in-chief.
SANJAY SANGHOEE has worked at leading investment banks Lazard Freres and Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein as well as at a multi-billion dollar hedge fund. He has an MBA from Columbia Business School and is the author of a thriller entitled "Merger" (St. Martin's Press) that Chicago Tribune called "Timely, Gripping, and Original". Please visit www.sanghoee.com to sign up for updates.