Obama Has Taken the Cult of the Presidency to a Whole New Level

And it doesn't seem he's losing any sleep over what his successors may do with those new powers.

In the spring of 2008, well before Sen. Barack Obama had secured the Democratic nomination, I wrote a book called "The Cult of the Presidency," arguing that for too long, Americans had looked to the presidency for far too much. The hopes and dreams we'd invested in the office had transformed it into a constitutional monstrosity, too powerful to be trusted and too weak to deliver the miracles we crave.

I thought I'd said my piece on that subject. Then Barack Obama ascended to office on an unprecedented wave of adulation, promising to lay hands on "the arc of history" and "bend it once more to the hope of a better day."

When it comes to presidential cults, Barack Obama has turned out to be the gift that keeps on giving. To paraphrase Michael Corleone, "Every time I tried to get out ... he pulled me back in."

As I explain in my new ebook, "False Idol," "No federal chief executive in recent memory has done as much as the 'Yes We Can' president to stir Americans' longing for presidential salvation; nor has any recent president done quite as much to enhance the presidency's dominance over American life."

In an important new article for Newsweek, "President Obama's Executive Power Grab," Andrew Romano and Daniel Klaidman note that Obama has "expand[ed] his domestic authority in ways that his predecessor never did." Frustrated by congressional resistance to his agenda, he's pursued "government by waiver," reshaping welfare, education and immigration law via royal dispensations and decrees.

"Obama is drafting a playbook for future presidents to deploy in response: How to Get What You Want Even If Congress Won't Give It to You," Romano and Klaidman write. The result is an "extraconstitutional arms race of sorts: a new normal that habitually circumvents the legislative process envisioned by the Framers."

Alas, there's no presidential "man on horseback" ready to ride in and restore normalcy. Presidential messianism infects the Romney camp, as well. On the stump and in his campaign ads, Gov. Romney insists that this is "an election to save the soul of America." In a recent speech at the Virginia Military Institute, he made clear that his ambitions went well beyond preserving the Constitution and faithfully executing the laws: "It is the responsibility of our president to use America's great power to shape history," he told the cadets.

In Romney's answers to an executive-power questionnaire late last year, he suggested that the president has great power indeed: He could launch a war without Congress, order the assassination of American citizens via drone-strike and use the U.S. military to arrest American citizens on American soil.

Romano and Klaidman note that Obama "has been known, during discussions about executive authority, to worry about 'leav[ing] a loaded weapon lying around.' "

It doesn't seem Obama lost much sleep over it. But for the rest of us, that metaphor ought to concentrate the mind wonderfully. Even rabid partisans ought to strive to see past the next election cycle and recognize that the powers forged in one administration usually do pass on to the next.

"I've abandoned free market principles to save the free market system," President George W. Bush famously proclaimed in December 2008. By so doing, he made sure that President Obama would inherit staggering new powers over the U.S. economy, effectively becoming commander in chief of the American auto industry, and much else besides.

Obama's successor -- whether eventual or immediate -- will inherit an expanded National Surveillance State and a presidential "kill list" that includes American citizens.

The "Cult of Obama" is fading. But the powers we've ceded to the office will remain -- a loaded weapon for future presidents to wield.

This column originally appeared in the Washington Examiner.

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  • Whiterun Guard||

    Wait, I'm confused about the movie ... so the cops knew Internal Affairs was setting them up?

  • ThatSkepticGuy||

    BATMAN!

    I mean, LEADER!

  • Randian||

    Oh great. Everyone clear the thread so Ken Shultz can bore us all to death.

  • CampingInYourPark||

    You first. Tell us all about your last Star Trek convention.

  • Randian||

    U mad bro?

  • Fatty Bolger||

    He's genuinely uninterested.

  • Zombie Jimbo||

    Maybe we need a man on horseback with a bayonet? Wait that doesn't work too well, I guess maybe a man on horseback with a saber, or a 300 ship navy. Ahh, all of that stuff is outdated anyway.

  • kinnath||

    Cult of personality.

  • Atanarjuat||

    They should really update the music video with a shot of Obama after the images of Mussolini and Kennedy.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Like Obama!
    And Kennedy!
    I'm the Cult of Personality!
    The Cult of Personality!
    The Cult of Personality!

    Neon Lights!

    Nobel Prize!

  • H. Reardon||

    I exploit you still you love me
    I tell you one and one makes three
    I’m the cult of personality

  • Paul.||

    Romano and Klaidman note that Obama "has been known, during discussions about executive authority, to worry about 'leav[ing] a loaded weapon lying around.' "

    Nice analogy. And it's going to help me blame everthing Romney does with executive power on Obama.

  • R C Dean||

    Obama shows the occasional familiarity with Iron Laws,* after all:

    Me today, you tomorrow.

    Of course, where he fails is acting on them. "Hmm. I may not want to set this precedent, because I wouldn't want President Santorum to have a free hand."

    *He has certainly embraced the one about money and power.

  • Paul.||

    President Santorum, I like that.

    I remember a few years ago where I asked a liberal if they felt comfortable having President Huckabee have the same executive power he wanted his president to have.

  • JW||

    Romano and Klaidman note that Obama "has been known, during discussions about executive authority, to worry about 'leav[ing] a loaded weapon lying around.' "

    Does he ever think about putting on a blindfold, spinning and firing randomly with it at a playground?

  • Paul.||

    It's the equivalent of a rolling right turn at an intersection at 2am. Don't see what the problem is.

  • ||

    He worries about leaving loaded weapons around? Then why the fuck has he spent the last four years loading and scattering as many as he possibly can?

    Obama is a craven and mendacious toad.

  • Bardas Phocas||

    He should think about his daughters' weddings.
    President Palin might want some payback and, shit, who can tell what a bunch of secret muslims are doing from 500 feet up.
    Release the Drones.

  • ΘJΘʃ de águila||

    OUCH! But, I guess if the President did it, it wouldn't be illegal. Right, Tricky Dick and Slippery Barry? Complete with follow-up strikes on the rescue crews.

  • FD||

    “The ‘Cult of Obama’ is fading. But the powers we've ceded to the office will remain -- a loaded weapon for future presidents to wield.”

    An-Cap author and head of lfb.org, Jeffrey Tucker, writes often on this phenomenon. In fact, from a recent essay. “You will be Betrayed,” he eloquently parallels Matt’s quote.
    “The permanent bureaucracy pays little attention to the comings and goings of the pretty and cunning boys and girls who are elected to occupy designated offices on a rotating basis. The pictures on the walls of the bureaucracies change, but not much else. The drones just keep droning regardless. Even the most powerful politician cannot touch them.”

    Just brilliant. Indeed the monster transcends Obama and his presidency, Romney and his governorship, Congressmen’ terms, even when decades long.
    The oligarchy, which ain’t so small anymore, smiles through the circus punches. Left or Right doesn’t matter. As long as we keep our eyes on the ironic puppets, the boxers who duke it out for the title, leviathan grows and satiates the greed of all the backroom Don Kings who depend on the theatrics, cashing in on public dole.

  • FD||

    Sorry, I meant Gene's quote, not Matt's.

  • Paul.||

    As long as we keep our eyes on the ironic puppets, the boxers who duke it out for the title, leviathan grows and satiates the greed of all the backroom Don Kings who depend on the theatrics, cashing in on public dole.

    Agree with it, but told in an entirely too sunny prose. Needs more darkness and despair.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    And it's going to help me blame everthing Romney does with executive power on Obama.

    And on whose shoulders does the blame for Zero the Magnificent's vast powers fall?

  • Pro Libertate||

    Bush. The buck stops, um, back there, somewhere else.

  • JW||

    He thew the last 2 envelopes away on his first day. They were just cluttering up the desk.

  • LTC(ret) John||

    +1 Politburo

  • The Late P Brooks||

    nor has any recent president done quite as much to enhance the presidency's dominance over American life.

    Some days, I try to convince myself it's really just the President's perceived dominance over American life, but I've been having a lot of trouble with that, lately.

  • FD||

    In either three months or four years, Obama will ride into the sunset. But the bureaucratic and tyrannical landscape will remain. And grow.

  • ant1sthenes||

    Well, you're technically right. I don't know how much capacity the president has to control the executive branch, really.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Obama has "expand[ed] his domestic authority in ways that his predecessor never did." Frustrated by congressional resistance to his agenda, he's pursued "government by waiver," reshaping welfare, education and immigration law via royal dispensations and decrees.

    Signing statements are good, as long as Booooosh isn't using them to subvert the Will of the People!

  • Mensan||

    I think that was referring to executive orders rather than signing statements.

  • Romulus Augustus||

    Will the Tea Party be as quick to denounce Romney's use of extra-constitutional powers as they were of Obama's? If so, in alliance with all the leftists who will awaken from their Obama hibernation,
    maybe those powers can be rolled back.

  • sarcasmic||

    Will the Tea Party be as quick to denounce Romney's use of extra-constitutional powers as they were of Obama's?

    I dunno about that, but Cindy Sheehan and the war protesters will be back in the news.

  • ThatSkepticGuy||

    They don't realize it, but Democrats desperately, sorely NEED for Romney to win. Then they can go back to pretending they give a shit about anything other than stealing other people's money and the Cosmic Balance will begin anew.

  • FD||

    They won't have the chance.
    But if they did, oh!...those Tea Partiers would have rolled back government, stepwise, in all facets, such that in four years the populace is weaned off of dependency. No government program would be off limits and a strict constructionist view of the constitution would be embraced and implemented.
    Come on, maaan!

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Americans have become helpless damsels in distress and want a big, strong, gallant President to ride in on horseback and save them from their own stupidity.

    So far, all they've gotten is various incarnations of Ser Gregor Clegane.

  • LTC(ret) John||

    Moe like Don Quixote? The VPs could be Sancho Panza.

  • Aresen||

    Only the ONE TRUE KING PRESIDENT can be trusted with the Ring of Power.

    And when I finally have it, those of you who didn't believe in me are going to be sooooo sorry.

  • NeonCat||

    Aren't you Canadian, Aresen?

    We don't hold with no foreign-born bein' Pressedent in these here Unided States.(spits, hits spitoon with a ding)

  • Aresen||

    Oh, you think that magical constitution will protect you, do you?

    My Nazgûl have been working on that for decades.

  • LTC(ret) John||

    The SCOTUS works for you?!

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    The Nine ride the lands!

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    Nine robed Government Employees to protect you from the government!

  • JW||

    And you already have Biden as a built-in Gollum.

  • Rasilio||

    I've actually started writing an article based on this very metaphor several times and always about halfway through it occurs to me that it is hopeless, the political left in America is immune to logic or pursuasion and abandoned it.

  • Aresen||

    Shit, the left positively GLORIES in the concept of "sticking it to the man" when they get power.

    To them, Obama is a disappointment because he didn't do more of it.

  • BarryD||

    " Presidential messianism infects the Romney camp, as well. "

    But is the disease so severe anywhere, as it is among Ron Paul supporters?

    Libertarians are guilty as sin. We want a libertarian President when we don't even bother with trying to get Libertarians on the local city council, county board or state legislature. We don't want to change the political landscape from the grass roots. We just want one figure to come and save us.

    Much as I can't stand Obama or his cult, this is a case of "And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?"

  • Whahappan?||

    That may be a strategic blunder, but it doesn't imply a cult of personality, or messianism. Ron Paul supporters will generally criticize him on particular issues, and his appeal is that he wants the government to leave people alone as much as possible to solve their own problems, either individually or through voluntary collective action, not that he will wisely lead people to the promised land, solving every problem personally.

  • Rick Santorum||

    There's a vast difference between "the President is going to put Top Men in charge and pass the Right Laws to get us out of this mess" and "the President is going to eviscerate the parasitic bureaucracy feeding on our society and stop the government from killing people overseas."

    The Republicans and Democrats want a federal gargantuan to fix things. Paul does not.

  • ThatSkepticGuy||

    "We want a libertarian President when we don't even bother with trying to get Libertarians on the local city council, county board or state legislature."

    Speak for yourself.

  • ΘJΘʃ de águila||

    Paul's supporters do not consider him to be the new Infallible Pope/Jeezus.

    Obama's cult, on the other hand.....

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