One thing I’ve realized during the presidential transition is that I don’t understand the use of last minute executive orders by an outgoing president. The advantage for the outgoing president is that he gets to do all sorts of unreasonable things without having to face reelection, or even to harm the prospects of his party’s presidential candidate. It’s obvious why that’s bad for the rest of us.
What I don’t understand is why the executive orders should be left on the books. After all, they’re executive orders, so the incoming executive could rescind them. Nor do I think it would be bad for the new president’s popularity: many of Bush’s regulations are in “puppy-kicking territory.” If Obama was worried about having to make hard distinctions, he could’ve announced last week that all of Bush’s lame duck executive orders would be presumed invalid, unless he, Obama, found important cause to keep them (i.e. executive orders with a bearing on the current financial crisis). This might exacerbate the problem where nothing gets done during the presidential transition, but it’s hardly the case the US system is optimized for efficient decision making.
Is this just some sort of weird courtesy between presidents? It’s true that having the precedent of last minute executive orders makes any given president slightly more powerful, but at the expense of having someone they dislike exercise the same power.