Mar 19, 2007

On Patience, Hard Days Ahead, and the Imperial Presidency

President Bush today marked the fourth anniversary of the start of the Iraq war by urging Congress to pass an emergency war-spending bill, and he warned of "hard days" that lurk in the future. He asked for the "patience" of American citizens in the months ahead.

The President's remarks anticipate the efforts by House and Senate Democrats to introduce measures that would create a timetable on the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. These bills, however, are full of administration-friendly loopholes, and are little more than window dressing by 2008-looking Democrats.

The truth is that the American presidency has been on a century-long cruise toward ever-increasing power, and the half-measures proposed by congressional Democrats reflect the weakened position of Congress in the Washington balance of power.

More power is wielded through Executive Orders and National Security Directives - none of which require Congressional approval - than through the thousands of pieces of Congressional legislation that are passed each year. The idea that an enfeebled Congress will actually pass legislation that can check the President is naïve.

The last time Congress collectively asserted itself was in 1973 with the passage of the War Powers Act of 1973, but Presidents since that time have found plenty of ways to get around this piece of inconvenient legislation.

Partisan politics are partly to blame for the rise of the imperial Presidency, and Democrats are surely as much to blame as Republicans. FDR was perhaps the epitome of the imperial President, but he was far from the first to enhance presidential powers at the expense of Congress. Ultimately, Congressional partisans in both parties sat idly by as their party colleagues in the White House augmented presidential powers.

Yes, there will be hard days ahead, but I suspect that the turmoil in Iraq will pale in comparison with what life will be like under the first President who assumes dictatorial powers via Executive Order 12919. And - I have to say - that President will be as likely to have a "D" after his or her name as an "R."


microdot said...

Thank you Mike, one of the most powerful posts by you that I have read! This is what Cheney has been working for since the days of the Nixon Presidency.

Hooda Thunkit said...

Wow! that was some post.

how could such a powerful piece of, I hesitate to call it legislation, sound so innocuous?

historymike said...

Agreed, Microdot, that Cheney has long advocated a stronger Presidency.

Thanks for the kind words; I was a bit fired up watching CSPAN and hearing Democrats discuss their all-but-meaningless efforts to end this wasteful war. Lots of bluster, but little in the way of bite behind their barks.

The net result of the current proposed legislation will be that Bush will ignore any timetables, and try to force the Democrats to call his bluff.

Congress, as I see it, will once again fail to meet the executive challenge, and will acquiesce.

historymike said...

They have to disguise the most odious of decrees, Hooda, or people would be up in arms.

The best recent example is the PATRIOT Act, whereby if people even raised an objection, by definition they must not be patriots.


News Grinder said...

My two cents: The turning point came when Americans rolled over and, without an uprising, allowed the US Supreme Court to select our president.

When elections are taken out of the hands of the voters, it's all downhill from there.

This is not meant as a "Gore won it" rant. I'd have the same point view if it had gone the other way. I saw that whole process as a betrayal of all that I'd been taught about Democracy as a kid -- lessons I took as truth at the time, but now know don't amount to hill of beans.

MP said...

Yes, we should not forget that part of the augmentation of Presidential powers came through the conservative lapdogs on the U.S. Supreme Court, starting in 2000.

This charge is currently led by Chief Justice John "I Walk the Party Line" Roberts, and Clarence "I'd put myself back in slavery since the Constitution said it once" Thomas, and to a lesser extent, Antonin Scalia, who really needs no introduction for his conservative dance routine (Alito soon to come!)

Fortunately, there exists some common sense on the Supreme Court because there exists a chance to cut back on the President's religious agenda with the forthcoming opinion of Hein v. Freedom From Religioun Foundation (attempting to expand taxpayer standing to challenge Executive Branch funding to religious organizations). Here's hoping.

And I'll say it: Gore won. What? Every recount said that he did.

Dariush said...

I'm afraid that Mike is right. Democrats are just as much to blame for the rise of the Imperial Presidency (a term, I think, first coined by Gore Vidal) as Republicans.

I'm glad he had the cojones to name FDR as a primary culprit. Some even say he was the one who got the ball rolling towards our present situation.

Some go even further back and pin the blame squarely on another historical sacred cow.

Btw, Mike. Great post.

The Screaming Nutcase said...

FDR...the first deficit spender.

Actually, we could go farther back than Lincoln, maybe back to Andrew Jackson, who (if I remember correctly) started the patronage system we have today, where an incoming president cleans house and installs his own cronies. And a discussion of imperial Presidents is incomplete without TR and his "bully pulpit."

-Sepp said...

The democrats are pandering to a large voting bloc while the Republicans are pandering to a large voting I the only one to see the simularities here? Bush has done his damnedest to run his party into the ground while the democrats push socialism as an alternative. I don't see where one form of dictative government allows us all to fare better than the other at this point. The only good thing I see about the Bush administration is that we can reverse his line of BS. To you pro-Chavez democrats, once your rights are gone...they're gone! Think very carefull next time you brainlessly vote for one PARTY over a candidate with a plan. If you're placing your trust in either party at this point, the worst is yet to come!