What the White House Needs Is More Power

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Rich Lowry does a nice job summarizing the right-of-center complaint du jour: That the congressmen, journalists, and 9/11 commissioners who are criticizing the Bush Administration's conduct in the War on Terror (and over-obsessing about Abu Ghraib) are basically weak-kneed, publicity-hogging frivolity-peddlers who are "emasculating" America's ability to defend herself.

True or not (and I'd vote "not"), this critique amounts to a full-throated endorsement of the Executive Branch expanding its power at the expense of the legislative, judicial, and journalistic. When a "grandstanding" congressman calls Donald Rumsfeld onto the carpet and makes an ass of himself in the process, well, that's kind of how this messy checks-and-balances thing works, as far as I can tell. Thankfully for Lowry, this administration, made up of many figures who were scarred by the post-Watergate reform era, has been consciously (and effectively) scaling back many of those mid-1970s restrictions on Executive Branch power and secrecy. It will be interesting, and possibly amusing, to see if those who agree with Lowry's basic sentiment will be singing the same "stop yer bitchin'!" tune if and when a different political party takes charge of a considerably strengthened White House.

NEXT: Kerry Kerry Not Contrary

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  1. Executive Branch expanding its power at the expense of the legislative, judicial, and journalistic.

    "and journalistic"? Was that a Freudian slip? 🙂

  2. Methinks Matt was alluding to the historic concept of the press as the Fourth Estate, with (at least in a US context) the first, second and third estates being the three branches of the federal government.

    http://www.campwood.com/FourthEstate.htm

  3. It will be interesting, and possibly amusing, to see if those who agree with Lowry's basic sentiment will be singing the same "stop yer bitchin'!" tune if and when a different political party takes charge of a considerably strengthened White House.

    Don't be silly. Supporters of both major parties care only for "more power for our side". Arguments centered on process, are made only out of convenience, with no guiding principal at all. When ?they? are in office, ?they? are unlawful abusers of power. When ?we? are in office, ?we? use power to do what ?we? know to be right (proving that ?they? are evil because ?they? try to stop us from doing it).

    For me, this is one of the most attractive qualities of libertarians (the big L variety too), policies are shaped by principals, not the other way around.

  4. Methinks Matt was alluding to the historic concept of the press as the Fourth Estate

    Presumably. That's just silly, though; journalists were never supposed to have any special rights, powers, or privledges. They're just ordinary citizens like the rest of us.

  5. Dan -- Yes, this is an allusion to the "Fourth Estate" formulation, which (in my reading) requires absolutely no extra constitutional privilege beyond what the First Amendment provides all of us. The way that an Executive Branch power-grab could come at the expense of the Fourth Estate is simple -- you could, say, drastically expand your interpretation of the 1978 Presidential Records Act to give the White House and all living ex-presidents veto power over documents that were previously scheduled to be released in 12 years (which is exactly what Bush did in November 2001). Or, you could have your Attorney General issue a directive to all federal agencies that, specifically contra to a Janet Reno directive in the early '90s, instructs bureaucrats to err on the side of non-disclosure in the face of Freedom of Information Act requests (Ashcroft, October 2001). These acts don't affect the First Amendment, but they block the Fourth Estate (and the rest of us) from accessing literally tens of millions of government documents.

    I would also point out that some people, such as Glenn Reynolds, have been warning of late that if the press continues to piss off the American public with its biased carping, then even those First Amendment protections may be eroded.

  6. I thought it needed more Cowbell.

  7. Matt: You might work around foreign retaliation over journalist visas by traveling as an "Ambassador of Information" or some other diplomatic credential, now that you're part of a branch of government... 🙂

  8. Mark -- Excellent idea.... I just want diplomatic plates, so I can smuggle cigarettes.

  9. I don't know, Matt.

    Perhaps you can say what you think will happen if the mainstream press continues its unofficial Kerry for President campaign. How do you think the Republicans should treat a press that is determined to give Kerry hundreds of millions of dollars worth of free slant, bias, cheerleading, and Bush-bashing? Does it surprise you when they consider the bulk of the press a hostile enemy?

    I'm not in favor of censorship, but the incredible bias against this administration by the bulk of the press who put on airs of "objectivity" is frightening, just like the huge liberal bias in our educational institutions is frightening. How can democracy work when two hugely influencial institutions work so hard to subvert the outcome to follow the bias of the hard-left who tend to populate schools and newsrooms?

    I would think that libertarians would be concerned about this, since the media and educational establishment have done so much to damage the cause of economic and personal liberty over the past hundred years.

  10. I don't know, Matt.

    Perhaps you can say what you think will happen if the mainstream press continues its unofficial Kerry for President campaign. How do you think the Republicans should treat a press that is determined to give Kerry hundreds of millions of dollars worth of free slant, bias, cheerleading, and Bush-bashing? Does it surprise you when they consider the bulk of the press a hostile enemy?

    I'm not in favor of censorship, but the incredible bias against this administration by the bulk of the press who put on airs of "objectivity" is frightening, just like the huge liberal bias in our educational institutions is frightening. How can democracy work when two hugely influencial institutions work so hard to subvert the outcome to follow the bias of the hard-left who tend to populate schools and newsrooms?

    I would think that libertarians would be concerned about this, since the media and educational establishment have done so much to damage the cause of economic and personal liberty over the past hundred years.

  11. For eight years, the Republicans worked tirelessly to rein in the imperial presidency. I guess you can guess which eight years. Fortunately, there are still a few Republicans in the Bob Barr/Ron Paul wing of the party who have some integrity. Others, like Orrin Hatch, Tom Delay and Richard Shelby, would have voted Caligula's horse to the Senate.

  12. The way that an Executive Branch power-grab could come at the expense of the Fourth Estate is simple

    The point, Matt, is that there IS no Fourth Estate; there is no journalistic branch of government, literally or metaphorically. Replace the word "journalistic" with "agricultural", "musical", or "engineering", for example -- see how silly that sounds? None of those "branches" of government exist. The press isn't losing any special power that belongs to it by right; it's the people as a whole who are losing power. The Executive is expanding its power at the expense of the Judicial and Legislative branches of government and the *people* of the United States. If the President declared that he had the right to have anyone in the country shot anytime he felt like it, we wouldn't say that this power-grab came at the expense of Congress, the courts, and used car salesmen, would we?

    I've seen far too many journalists act as if they were a higher class of citizen, with special rights, powers, and privledges we lesser mortals aren't particularly entitled to. Maybe that's not how you meant it, but I kind of got that impression.

  13. Kevin, select another imperial analogy: Most classics scholars believe that Suetonius "sexed up" the account of Caligula's horse. Don't get me wrong, "The Lives of the Caesars" is still a great read.

    Perhaps you can say: "Delay, Shelby and Hatch have willingly forded the rubicon with the nefarious neocons."

  14. Rich Lowry:

    But the foundation for American values is America, and those values won't endure unless the nation withstands assaults by enemies who care nothing for Miranda rights or any other legal niceties.

    What?? Miranda rights aren't just "legal niceties"; they are American values. They have their roots in our Constitution.

    Lowry also tries to slip a fast one by us by implying that the Iraq War is part of, or at least justified by, the "War on Terror". Much of his piece is symptomatic of the government excesses that can occur in so nebulous a "war".

    When Reagan was involved in the fight against international communism, in the days before He became president, he responded to calls for curtailing civil liberties in order to better wage this fight, by making the point that if we did that; we would lose the struggle by voluntarily giving up our freedom and adopting the ways of communism

    This piece is another example of how far removed from the traditional, limited government right National Review can be at times, due to its being too infused with the neocon agenda

  15. The trouble is when the Fourth Estate acts like a Fifth Column.

    Etymological extra: The original first three estates refer to British Parliament, the Lords Temporal, the Lords Spiritual and the Commons.

  16. Rick, Rick, Rick, you had me and you lost me. So the trouble with the National Review is they don't respect the Constitution due to their "neocon" agenda? What is this crap? NR is paleocon, and they've long had troubles with the Constitution as you see it. The Nation is on the other side of the war and they also have lots of problems these days with certain consitutional rights as well.

    Neocons, if that word means anything (it actually doesn't), simply want to spread freedom and democracy throughout the world by using America's influence. To pretend it's they who make National Review refer to constitutional rights as "technicalities" shows a blinding lack of interest in history.

  17. Dan -- What part about "no extra constitutional privilege beyond what the First Amendment provides all of us" are you not grokking?

    You described it as a fourth branch of government, complained about its loss of power without without mentioning the fact that it's actually *all* of us who are losing that power, then used the term "Fourth Estate" (which, as you know, traditionally *does* carry with it a lot of "we're more important than ordinary people") baggage. I apologize for getting the wrong impression, but in my defense I don't think it was an unreasonable inference.

    I actually like the spirit behind the thing, which (as I read it) is to point out that the press should also be serving as a check on governmental power, regardless of which party holds it.

    I guess. The press seems to spend most of its time arguing in favor of increased government power -- higher taxes, bigger spending programs, more and more draconian regulations on "hate speech", business, education, etc...

    I'm unconvinced the news media provide any real value to me, actually. Most of the rights I've lost during my lifetime have been lost in part because the media came out in favor of me losing them. What little I retain in the way of, for example, property rights or political-speech rights, I retain in spite of the media, not because of it. The only right the news media care about is their right to earn a living peddling infotainment to the public.

    Bush is curtailing public access to classified data. That worries me as a person; I might want that data someday. It doesn't worry me that the press will lose access to the data, because their only reason for wanting it will be to spin it, misinterpret it, or openly lie about it in order to manufacture the new scandal du jour and rake in more advertising revenue.

  18. Imagine if Nixon had told the Supremes he would release white house tapes only if the Supremes released transcripts of their deliberations on the subject?
    And what if Reagan, after being told he could not use line item vetos, did so anyway and dared the courts to stop him, and turned off the electricity to the court building just to bug them?
    And what if some judge told some reporter that since his press freedom was just a subset of freedom of speach, the press had no rights superior to individuals?
    And what if J-Lo enlisted in the National Guard?

  19. Here's what one famous radical said about the press:

    "The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them."--Thomas Jefferson to Edward Carrington, 1787. ME 6:57

  20. Captain:

    NR is paleocon

    "That's not logical Captain", to quote a certain Vulcan. To be polite with your statement, I will say that NR is more paleocon than "The Weekly Standard". BTW, did you read where Bill Kristol said that the neocons could well switch sides to that of the more hawkish liberals and dump conservatives all together?

    Also, after you said that, "neocon" actually doesn't mean anything, you then proceeded to contend what they want to do (albeit way oversimplified) and also what they didn't do. Again; "That's not logical Captain"

  21. 'But the foundation of American values is America...'

    One problem we, as a nation, currently have is sorting out intrinsic values. If torture is a means to a 'good' end, then we should use it to find the Truth.

    If we kill all non-Americans, then we will win!

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