Not even close

NOT EVEN CLOSE…. The LA Times‘ Andrew Malcolm played a little fast and loose yesterday, commenting on President Obama’s directive on Bush’s signing statements. (thanks to reader J.R. for the heads-up)

Bill Clinton actually used signing documents way more than George W. Bush. But No. 42 is a Democrat and his wife currently works for Obama. So No. 44 is on a big tear right now to distance himself instead from No. 43, the Republican, who’s back in Texas and doesn’t care but just hearing his name trashed makes Democrats feel good. […]

Obama doesn’t say he won’t ever use signing documents. He just says he’ll work with Congress about them. Which means he will, of course, sign some, but right now he wants today’s news coverage to be on more change to sort-of believe in.

No, this wasn’t written by the Republican National Committee to be read on-air by Fox News personalities; it just seems like it.

Did Clinton use signing statements “way more than George W. Bush”? It’s a highly misleading claim, based on a count of the individual documents, instead of the number of provisions to which the signing statements have been applied. In reality, Bush “broke all records” while abusing this presidential tool, “using signing statements to challenge about 1,200 sections of bills over his eight years in office, about twice the number challenged by all previous presidents combined.”

To hear Malcolm tell it, President Obama is just playing a silly partisan game, “trashing” Bush when Clinton was worse, just to make Democrats “feel good.” This is lazy, partisan, and disingenuous analysis.

What’s more, Obama didn’t rule out the use of signing statements, which Malcolm concludes makes yesterday’s announcement “change to sort-of believe in.” This, again, is misleading. Obama’s decision is entirely in line with historic presidential authority. The problem isn’t with the signing statements themselves — the practice has been around for nearly 200 years — but with Bush’s unprecedented abuse of the presidential tool. The 43rd president took the practice to new heights (or depths, as the case may be), using signing statements to ignore parts of laws he didn’t like.

That Obama might, at some point, use signing statements is not controversial, and certainly doesn’t point to more of the same. Why Andrew Malcolm is arguing otherwise is a mystery.