If a lot of executive orders makes a president a tyrant, Obama is the opposite

Some critics of President Obama are rather upset by his statements about using executive orders in the future. They say this makes him a tyrant or a bully, and thoroughly out of line for all American presidents.

This turns out to be not only unsupported by any actual evidence but also contrary to the facts. And that’s easily shown by examining the historical record.

(Issuing executive orders are also not a form of personal rule, for they can be checked by the judiciary.  They’re regularly challenged in court and sometimes overturned. Like laws and regulations, they may be thrown out by judges.)

As the below chart from Talking Points Memo shows, Obama has had an exceedingly light rate of issuing executive orders.

In fact, you have to go back to Grover Cleveland — who left office in 1889 — to find a president who issued executive orders at a slower pace than Obama.


Obama would have to speed up considerably to end up with more executive orders than other recent presidents.

According to the American Presidency Project, Obama has issued 147 in his first term and 21 in his second term, for a total of 168.

Gerald Ford, who didn’t serve even one full term, issued 169, one more than Obama so far.

And George H.W. Bush, who served one term, issued 166, two fewer than Obama, who has served one more year so far.

Just take a look at the executive orders in the last 50 years. 

Data from http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/data/orders.php

Data from http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/data/orders.php

Now, none of this says that making policy by executive order is always a good move. Not only are some out of line (and those can be overturned by a court) but those actions can be changed quite easily by another president.

But, truly, if issuing a lot of executive orders makes a president a tyrant, Obama is the opposite.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.