Nothing strange going on here.

Photographer: Dennis Brack-Pool/Getty Images

Obama Is Caesar! A GOP Charade Exposed

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
Read More.
a | A

It's nice to be reminded that very few Republican politicians believe their own bluster when they accuse Barack Obama of "Caesarism" or of being a “king” or “emperor” or “dictator.” That's the one useful lesson from the Texas judge's injunction on the president's executive action on immigration and the administration’s quick and quiet compliance with that decision.

This nonsense is just used to appeal to those conservative voters who are easily duped (or evidence that many Republican politicians believe their supporters are easily duped). 

After all, if you truly believe a president is a lawless dictator, you don’t bother going to court against him.  He would just ignore what the court says! For that matter, you don't even try to block his orders by adding riders to appropriations bills, as Congress has done, because an all-powerful autocrat who supposedly flouted the law in the first place would slap down those challenges.  

Instead of dramatizing Obama's supposed Caesarism, his detractors' actions show that the opposite is true.  The same Republicans who complain about tyranny have acted as if they believe lawsuits and new legislation are sufficient to tame him. 

In fact, presidential power and the authority of executive-branch agencies are ill-defined more often than not. The legitimacy of specific White House actions -- can this deadline be waived? can that enforcement be slowed? is this troop deployment constitutional? -- is often tenuous.

I'm not saying Obama has never overreached. Every president does that at times. It’s healthy when the out party challenges the White House’s authority. That's how checks and balances are supposed to work.

It’s just that nothing is unusual about Obama's use of presidential authority. And there's certainly nothing to justify the over-the-top rhetoric Republicans have used against him.

Just remember: The politicians themselves know better.

  1. As the Watergate scandal unfolded, many people in Washington, Republicans and Democrats alike, honestly worried Richard Nixon would defy court orders flat out -- a concern that was justified because Nixon and his White House regularly lied to law-enforcement authorities and obstructed justice in other ways.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at

To contact the editor on this story:
Katy Roberts at