Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation: — "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
— United States Constitution, Article 2, Section 1, Clause 8
As students of the presidency well know, the responsibilities of that office have grown enormously over the course of the country's development, reaching their dizzying apex in the modern presidency. The Depression in the 1930s and Presidents Hoover and Roosevelt’s contrasting responses to it established national economic well-being as a presidential responsibility. The aftermath of World War II, the onset of the Cold War, and the catastrophic terrorist attack on the United States on 9/11 added worldwide responsibilities for American national security to that list.
The public has endorsed these large expectations, even as new and established interest groups added their own large and growing list of policy wishes to the mix. As a result, large segments of the public and the country's national political leadership have come to look to the president as the necessary and legitimate source of most important domestic and foreign policies.
In response, presidents have increasingly centralized power and authority within the office of the executive in an effort to keep up with and successfully meet public expectations. The history of the modern presidency is littered with the failures to successfully do so.
Decades ago, long before President Obama failed miserably to meet the enormous leadership expectations he has been instrumental in helping to arouse, political scientists were lamenting the fact that the presidency was an office in which power had been invested, but whose promise remained unfilled.. This president's lackluster performance in office has given rise to another round of laments that "its virtually impossible to be a successful modern president." Like Captain Renault in "Casablanca" telling his men to "round up the usual suspects," the conventional wisdom singles out its usual culprits for this presidential failure: polarization, the decline of the bully pulpit, and the "splintering of the mainstream media." Little thought is given to the idea that these factors, to the extent that they are structurally true, might represent circumstances to which an effective leader might have to take into consideration and perhaps even adjust by finding new strategies of accomplishment.
As a result, far less attention has been paid to another parallel development in the presidency – the rise of "heroic" presidential candidates. I use that term to reflect the view of many modern candidates that it is their responsibility, fueled by their own ambitions, to give the public what it says it wants – a president mounting the policy barricades and leading the charge for a wide array of policies that favored constituencies demand.
In this framing of what a "good presidency" entails, it is the amount of major legislation, not its quality, that counts. Nor is much attention paid to how this goal is accomplished – whether by economic bribery, political coercion, legislative tricks, or administrative fiat.
This is not true of every modern president, but that trend has reached its apogee in the transformational ambitions of President Obama. That is one major reason his presidency is floundering, if not failing, and why his administration will soon be defending itself in court against the charge that he has failed to abide by his oath of office.
And nowhere has this been truer, as a matter of policy, than in the area of immigration.