Friday, January 30, 2009

The King Is Gone, Long Live The King.

When George W. Bush was President, his opponents were beside themselves with fear over the Imperial Presidency. There was hyperventilation over the so-called unitary executive and alleged suppression of speech and dissent. Fear-driven opponents of President Bush took to calling him names, Bushitler, for example.

Even government officials were not immune. Lawrence Wilkerson, an aide to Colin Powell, once accused President Bush and Vice-President Cheney of running a "cabal" that had hijacked America's foreign policy. (Here at my former blog.) Think about that. The only two nationally elected officials in the United States government were accused of hijacking foreign policy. But that's what elections are about. In a democracy, if we don't like what the present government is doing, we elect new leaders to take charge and do things differently.

That's what happened in 2008 and the country chose Barack Obama to take over and do things differently. One change that hasn't come to America, however, is cutting back on the power of the Imperial Presidency. On foreign policy, President Obama is following a similar path to that walked by President Bush. The new President has appointed special envoys, George Mitchell and Richard Holbrooke, answerable directly to him, to handle the Middle East and Afghanistan, respectively. This tactic allows the new President to bypass Congress because neither envoy requires Senate approval. This tactic also allows the new President to bypass the State Department, run by his former rival, Hillary Clinton. This tactic ultimately allows the new President to have direct control over these foreign policy matters.

I have no problem with this. I believe in the oh-so-scary unitary executive theory. All that theory holds is that the entire executive power defined by the Constitution is granted to the President. (Here.) It's not granted in pieces to lesser officials in the Executive Branch. Whatever authority lesser officials in the Executive Branch may have comes to them through the President from the Constitution. So, if the new President wants to retain direct hands-on control over foreign policy by appointing special envoys and bypassing the Cabinet, well, that's his prerogative.

The has a very good analysis of President Obama's executive power play. (Here.) He's not just bypassing the Cabinet in foreign policy. Every issue that matters to him has a policy czar in the White House.

But don't hold your breath waiting for the brave dissidents against Bush's presidency to start accusing the new President of executive overreach. Their tasks today are to disparage Congressional Republicans for not supporting the President, and to demonize talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh. From 2001 to 2008, dissent was the highest form of patriotism. In the new era of hope and change, it's now the lowest.

The more things change ...


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I suspect that, where politics are concerned, one sees what one wants to see. Be that as it may, citizens of a republic should always make themselves aware of the extent to which their elected officials are restrained by the rule of law.

"He who sacrifices liberty for security deserves neither." - Benjamin Franklin
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