Responses from a prior post:
A reader writes:
"constitutionally structured weakness of the presidency". Eh, Johnson and Nixon were no stronger constitutionally.
"constitutionally structured weakness of the presidency" and Obama's relative unwillingness to abuse his power? I don't actually know details here, I'm just speculating... or maybe congress was just more compliant with earlier presidents.
First, I'd like to qualify my comment a little bit. The presidency is constitutionally weak in the legislative context because the President has no formal influence on the legislative process. Article II of the Constitution is tellingly short, spending more time outlining qualifications and the process of selection than it does on the actual duties of the chief executive. Under the original conception of the Constitution, the Presidency was designed to execute the laws passed by Congress (hence, Executive Branch). As to what those laws should be or how the President could influence their creation, the document is silent.
So, the President cannot force legislative outcomes but he can influence them, through techniques like presidential persuasion and agenda setting. (The question of “what constitutes as part of the Presidents informal legislative influence” is a serious one, which many talented political scientists have spent years of research trying to answer.) There are numerous factors that have made the Oval Office more and more influential on how Congress acts. Examples off the top of my head include the President's foreign policy control leeching over to domestic policy, Congresses' increasing willingness to cede policy responsibility, and the advent of television. Now, all of these examples illustrate ways that the Presidency has changed since the Constitution, yet the formal powers themselves have changed very little.
So I'll repeat, while the President does posses numerous unofficial tools to influence the legislature, and numerous executives have taken advantage of them to help produce specific legislative outcomes. But, our Chief Executive does not posses a Green Lantern Ring to create policy by fiat. The structure of our government's institutions creates real and binding constraints about what individuals within government can and cannot do. Any analysis of President Obama's action, or inaction on preferred policies needs to understand that.