And yet, despite this unprecedented quartet of repetitions, the pledge appears to have rather faded in the imagination. Since the Democratic party lost control of the House in 2010, Obama has taken to speaking as if the United States were in an existential crisis. Touting his preferred unemployment legislation, the president promised dramatically in 2011 that “if Congress won’t act, I will.” A year later, adumbrating his coveted cyber-security measures, he threatened the same. In 2013, while selling his plans to alleviate climate change, Obama doggedly assured the press that “if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will.” In June, slamming the legislature for declining to acquiesce to his agenda, Obama let viewers know that if the House of Representatives wouldn’t act on immigration, he would have to do it himself. And, in the early part of this week, the New York Times reported that the treaty-making power was to be abused as well, with the president attempting to establish a new climate agreement by taking a solo end-run around the Senate. In his second term especially, this has become a favorite approach — the product of a deep-seated confidence that the country is more closely wedded to his political program than it is to the settled legal order. “I promise you,” Obama affirmed earlier in the month, “the American people don’t want me just standing around twiddling my thumbs and waiting for Congress to get something done.”
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