As President Barack Obama prepares an executive order supporting immigrant rights, the attacks on his presidential authority mounts from the Republicans, the Tea Party, right-wing talk show hosts, and some voices among Democrats and the Left. To the extent these attacks succeed, there may be no progressive policies implemented between now and 2017.
For context, here are some numbers published in the New York Times on August 18. Bill Clinton executive orders: 364. George W. Bush executive orders: 291. Barack Obama executive orders: 186. One might conclude that many Americans are unaccustomed to accepting orders from a black president. Seeing the news through unconscious filters, many may perceive Obama to be twice as "imperial" as Clinton, not the other way around.
It is legitimate for progressives to warn against the imperial presidency, or surveillance state, which has mushroomed of late. Even Obama has asked Congress to "rein in" his executive powers. As the figures show, however, Obama has been milder than his predecessors in issuing executive orders.
Where the Congress is an unmovable obstacle, Obama is well within his powers to act: deferred action on deporting Dreamers or their families, full enforcement of labor and civil rights laws, sending Eric Holder to Ferguson, lifting the ban on Americans traveling to Cuba, and so on. As his announcement of executive action on immigration rights nears, progressives in general, not just immigrant advocates, should be prepared to counter the coming screams from the Right.