I have often criticized any number of recent Presidential administrations, in particular the Bush administration, for their various power grabs that attack the spirit, if not the letter, of Constitutional separation of powers.
One issue I have never really thought about, mainly because I really can't stand thinking about political strategy and am not very good at it, is just how bad use of executive power can be in carrying off an ideological agenda.
I think many folks have become aware that there is a short list of executive orders that are the routine first step of any administration when the party in office has shifted. I can't remember them all -- they include some abortion funding issues and some union rules issues -- but Obama, like Bush before him and Clinton before him, issued them as one of his first acts. Most of these aren't world-shattering issues, and they act as a quick sop to the ideological base, but the whole point of the rule of law in this country was that we didn't have to do the constant bob-and-weave people had to go through with Medieval kings or modern banana republics to adjust to the new ruling clan.
But it is pretty clear that the Republican's strategy over the last 8 years of letting Bush take the heat on tough ideological issues by trying to tackle them with executive action rather than legislation is a complete flop. Much of the Republican Congress probably agreed with Bush's environmental regulation philosophies, but were content to let Bush try to implement them through regulatory policy (or non-policy) rather than legislation. Now, though, much of Bush's position has been thrown out in court, and the remainder will likely be changed by Obama.
Seriously, looking back on it, did the Republican Congress between the '01 tax cuts and prescription drug disaster and when they were tossed in '06 leave any kind of legislative footprint behind? Jeez, Republicans are whining now about all kinds of stuff, but what were they doing for 6 years? Offshore drilling is a classic example. They whined about the Democrats blocking more drilling last year, but what did they do about it the previous years when they controlled Congress and the White House? I honestly think they were waiting for Bush to do something by executive order and take away any political responsibility off their shoulders.