Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Imperialism, and what we want in a president

Yesterday's New York Times had an excellent op-ed piece about how our Founding Fathers put war under control of Congress, and how King George has undermined that (in part, 'tis true, with Congress's cooperation):

The war is hardly the only area where the Bush administration is trying to expand its powers beyond all legal justification. But the danger of an imperial presidency is particularly great when a president takes the nation to war, something the founders understood well. In the looming showdown, the founders and the Constitution are firmly on Congress’s side.

Given how intent the president is on expanding his authority, it is startling to recall how the Constitution’s framers viewed presidential power. They were revolutionaries who detested kings, and their great concern when they established the United States was that they not accidentally create a kingdom. To guard against it, they sharply limited presidential authority, which Edmund Randolph, a Constitutional Convention delegate and the first attorney general, called “the foetus of monarchy.”

The founders were particularly wary of giving the president power over war. They were haunted by Europe’s history of conflicts started by self-aggrandizing kings. John Jay, the first chief justice of the United States, noted in Federalist No. 4 that “absolute monarchs will often make war when their nations are to get nothing by it, but for the purposes and objects merely personal.”


As opinion turns more decisively against the war, the administration is becoming ever more dismissive of Congress’s role. Last week, Under Secretary of Defense Eric Edelman brusquely turned away Senator Hillary Clinton’s questions about how the Pentagon intended to plan for withdrawal from Iraq. “Premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies in Iraq,” he wrote. Mr. Edelman’s response showed contempt not merely for Congress, but for the system of government the founders carefully created.

In his op-ed, Adam Cohen reminds us of the dangers of an “imperial presidency” — and reminds us that we must do something about it, beginning with enforcing the constitution.

Perhaps the best way to do something about it is to vote against such imperialism, against contempt for Congress and for the constitution itself, against a mode of rule that puts the ruler above the law. But it's not clear that Americans voters consider that — at all. The day before, the Times ran a story that included this graphic, showing the results of a survey of what voters care about. And it's scary, if not terribly surprising.

According to the survey, the worst thing one could be, for success in a presidential bid, is a Hispanic lesbian atheist smoker on antidepressants, without a college degree. And, in fact, the single worst characteristic is non-belief in God.

As a country, we'd much rather elect a Christian who violates every Christian ethic, who goes against his oath to support and defend our constitution, who lies, breaks laws, starts wars, limits civil liberties, puts his own beliefs and desires above everything else, and in general behaves like a monarch to the greatest extent he's able... than elect an honest atheist who obeys the law and the constitution, and who actually does live according to the Christian ethic.

We put the belief in God above all else, and we really seem to think that it's sufficient to assure us of good, ethical, moral leadership.

And we're clearly wrong. And that's scary.

It's also scary that we seem not to have learned anything from this.

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