Kentucky Senator Rand Paul recently charged Barack Obama with wanting “to act like a king or a monarch.” The particular issue of contention is the 23 executive orders that Obama ordered as part of his gun control program. Paul and others see this as unconstitutional, undemocratic and a danger to the American republic.
A look at an incomplete list of presidents and the only one who never issued an executive order was William Henry Harrison. Harrison served for only 30 days before dying.
George Washington issued executive orders, eight to be exact, as did every president after him who can claim to be a Founding Father. The first president to exceed Washington’s eight was Andrew Jackson with twelve. That means the executive order was not considered unconstitutional, although it was rarely used.
Up to Dec. 20, 2012, Obama had issued 144 executive orders. The new 23 are on top of that. So maybe the unconstitutionality of the executive order is not itself but the increasing frequency of a president who is not clarifying laws but making them with executive orders.
That theory runs into a problem. Obama is on par, if not under par, with modern presidents since Dwight Eisenhower. George W. Bush issued 291 executive orders. Bill Clinton 364. George H.W. Bush 166. Ronald Reagan 381. Even the brief presidency of Gerald Ford had 169.
Eisenhower wasn’t out of line either. He only had 484. It was the presidents before him who really loved the executive order. Franklin Roosevelt issued 3,522
of them in just over twelve years. Yet even one-term Herbert Hoover, 968, and Calvin Coolidge, 1203, nearly kept pace with Roosevelt.
Who’s to blame for all this? Why that no-good, anti-democracy, burn-the-Constitution Teddy Roosevelt. While Roosevelt may have only used 1,081 in his time as president, no president before him issued more than Ulysses Grant who made 217. All the previous executive orders, from Washington to William McKinley, barely exceeded what Roosevelt did in his seven-and-a-half years in office.
If Paul is worrying about kings, he needs to reread the history books. The executive order is slowly declining in its use. It isn’t kings that we need to fear. It’s demagogues.