Barack Obama is not the first president to “issue” “goals.” John F. Kennedy also did, although he was more mindful of the constitutional niceties:
“This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”
That’s a goal! No wiggle room. A monkey on the moon won’t count, nor an unmanned drone. We need an actual living American standing on the surface of the moon holding Old Glory by December 31, 1969.
Whoever’s writing Obama’s speeches these days either has a tin ear — you don’t “issue” goals, you set them — or he has a very refined sense of the ersatz nature of contemporary political discourse. Old-school monarchs issued “edicts.” One thinks of King Charles the Bald in his Edict of Pistres in a.d. 864, announcing among other things that henceforth selling a horse to a Viking would be punishable by death. No doubt the odd equine transaction slipped through the regulatory net, but historians seem to agree that the sale of mounts to Norsemen certainly diminished. And more to the point his courtiers would have thought Charles the Bald was an even bigger schmuck than they already did if, instead of an edict, he was issuing a new goal to reduce the sale of horses to Vikings by 50 percent by the year 884.