In March 2003, amidst simmering legislative controversy over the future of Chicago’s lakefront airport, Meigs Field, then-Mayor Richard M. Daley sent bulldozers in the dead of night to carve the letter “X” several times into the runway, rendering the airport useless and ending the debate. That stunt is a model for President Barack Obama’s second term, in which he is determined to exceed the boundaries of his power.

On every front, the Obama administration is testing its constitutional limits. Yesterday’s announcement of 23 executive orders to implement gun control without the consent of Congress is only the most recent example. Obama knows that some of the orders will not stand, just as some of the legislation he has proposed will not pass. But if he can make even a small dent in the Second Amendment, he can change the debate forever.

Likewise on the debt ceiling, where Obama has indicated bluntly that he will not even negotiate with Republicans. In 2006, Obama railed against a new debt ceiling increase, when the national debt was $8 trillion–half of what it is today–just as he raged against what he saw as the expansion of executive power under President George W. Bush. Now that he is the one in control, Obama is determined to seize whatever he can.

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