Presidential History

Question Time With the Republican President Who Will Appoint Democrats and Reject the Unitary Executive

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John McCain gave an interesting speech this morning dreaming out loud what the world will look like in January 2013, after the first four years of his administration. The headlines from it will mostly (and inaccurately) be about "Troops Home From Iraq by 2013: McCain," on which more from me here, but there are some more concrete, semi-radical promises of interest in the speech. For instance:

I will ask Democrats to serve in my administration. My administration will set a new standard for transparency and accountability. I will hold weekly press conferences. I will regularly brief the American people on the progress our policies have made and the setbacks we have encountered. When we make errors, I will confess them readily, and explain what we intend to do to correct them. I will ask Congress to grant me the privilege of coming before both houses to take questions, and address criticism, much the same as the Prime Minister of Great Britain appears regularly before the House of Commons.

Wowza! While I am a huge fan of Question Time With the Redcoats, I would worry somewhat that the Rolling Fireside Chat Revue would place even more "bull" in the Bully Pulpit, aggrandizing an already inflated office in which (as Gene Healy taught us in this month's cover story) presidents before Woodrow Wilson thought it a bit too presumptuous to deliver the State of the Union in person.

More from McCain today, on that question of executive power:

The powers of the presidency are rightly checked by the other branches of government, and I will not attempt to acquire powers our founders saw fit to grant Congress. I will exercise my veto if I believe legislation passed by Congress is not in the nation's best interests, but I will not subvert the purpose of legislation I have signed by making statements that indicate I will enforce only the parts of it I like.

Besides being a direct (and welcome) rebuke to George W. Bush and the Unitary Executive theory, this also somewhat contradicts McCain's long track record of supporting a line-item veto, which the Supreme Court ruled in 1998 gave the executive branch powers our founders did not see fit to include in the Constitution. And more relevantly, it would seem to be in contradiction of McCain's own longstanding belief that presidents have too little power vis-a-vis Congress in the planning of foreign policy and the waging of war. Here are some of his thoughts on that subject, from his 2002 political memoir Worth the Fighting For:

My disdain of congressional interference in the conduct of the war in Vietnam made all the stronger my natural antipathy to the notion of 535 self-styled secretaries of defense second-guessing and hamstringing the president's authority in national security matters.

*

At timies, my despair [about Bill Clinton's feckless foreign policy], and the disdain it provoked, caused me to doubt principles I had held for a lifetime about the president's preeminence over Congress in the conduct of foreign policy and the imperative that American power never retreat in response to an inferior adversary's provocation.

*

On October 14, 1993, eleven days after the ambush of our rangers in Mogadishu, I offered an amendment on the Senate floor restricting funds for American forces in Somalia to the purpose of their "prompt and orderly withdrawal." […] [I]t was an encroachment on presidential authorrity and a retreat in the face of aggression from an inferior foe that I would never have contemplated in the past. […] In hindsight, I wish I had not undertaken so drastic a step.

*

[Theodore Roosevelt] invented the modern presidency by liberally interpreting the constitutional authority of the office to redress the imbalance of power between the executive and legislative branches that had tilted decisively toward Congress in the half century since the Civil War.

McCain ain't no John Yoo, but he agrees with Dick Cheney that the War Powers Act is unconstitutional, and he won't lightly brook any shackles on his ability to move troops hither and yon.

Oh yeah: Here's McCain's terrible 2013 ad:

Here's a better version:

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  1. Looks like McCain will have us out of Iraq before Obama!

  2. Yeah, provided the Shias and Sunnis and Kurds all come together and sing Kumbaya in an Iraq-wide lovefest.

    I won’t be holding my breath.

  3. Sure. I really doubt the image McCain has in his head is of him giving polite answers and the occasional quip to Congress’ questions.

    More likely pounding the lectern, lots fist-pumping and giving orders. You know who else waved his hands around a lot while orating…

  4. Great video, great ad.

    Why nothing on the President’s speech in Israel?

  5. Bramblyspam

    Obamas seems to think he can hold hands with A-mad and sing “kumbaya”.

  6. I think the War Powers Act is unconstitutional, too, but probably not for the reason that McCain does.

    If a President goes to war — or uses the military in any way that passes the duck test of participating in a war — without a prior declaration of war by the Congress, then he or she should be automatically impeached. As I read the Constitution, the President has the power of life and death only in two general instances: deciding whether or not to grant a Presidential pardon, or deciding how to deploy military personnel during constitutionally authorized situations (declared wars, pursuit of pirates, repelling invasions of US territory, etc.). If the President puts our military in harm’s way without being able to justify it by citing a declaration of war or some other legitimate purpose as explicitly provided for in the Constitution, then he or she has broken the oath of office and — especially if anyone is injured or dies as a result of the deployment — deserves impeachment or worse.

    A satisfactory replacement War Powers Act might actually require the Congress to impeach the President for illegal warmaking. We should all live so long as to witness its passage via supermajority over the President’s veto.

  7. McCain is just blowing smoke here. He expects a large number of troops to be in Iraq until the mid East runs out of oil. Gotta protect our supply of the black gold, ya know.

  8. “I will ask Democrats to serve in my administration.”

    Lieberman as secretary of state?

  9. “”I will ask Democrats to serve in my administration.”

    Zell Miller!!

  10. I’ve seen the British system on C-SPAN, the Prime Minister gives and takes pretty hard, it’s way cooler than anything our leaders have to do.

    Also, isn’t saying “we’ll be done with combat in four years” basically setting a timetable for retreat? Which our enemies would hear, and then just wait out? Conservatives, i’m looking in your direction?

  11. I think this Question Time is the best idea McCain’s come up with.

    But it’s not enough to make me vote for him.

  12. That is SUCH a rip off of the Babylon 5 opening monologue!

    However, it does explain who is behind Hillary… Is there a Mr. Morgan on her staff?

  13. Listen to the first 60 seconds of this:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=02bueOnZtNo
    They are even imitating Michael O’Hare’s voice! What a rip off is that?

    J. Michael Straczynski call your office for copyright infringement! This from the man who trashed the 1st Amendment!

  14. I’m utterly *shocked* that Neil thinks highly of Zell “I’ll fucking kill you, with PISTOLS” Miller.

    As for McCain, he’s been up the unitary executive’s member so long, it’s awfully hard to believe he’ll do anything to stop its malignant, STD-like spread.

  15. We should not have sent troops to Somalia, but once we were there, we should not have retreated so hastily. Look at the present situation in Kosovo vs the situation in Somalia. Kosovo declared independece without firing at Serbia. The EU calmed Serbia with diplomacy, and pro-West leaders did well at the recent Serbian election. Somalia is still torn by civil war. Somanli refugees suffer the results. The conflict also affects other countries. The waters around Somalia now have pirates that threated crews from many nations. Just last month, Somali raders took a Spanish ship hostage. Retreating does not just bring us back to where we started. Retreating normally makes the bloodshed greater than it was when we first got involved.

  16. Zell Miller is a Patriot and a true JFK Democrat who is weeping as his party goes down the drain.

  17. It reminds me of George Carlin’s comment re Nixon’s proposed “pullout” from VietNam:

    “…we’re pulling out, all right…through Laos, Thailand and Cambodia…”

  18. Zell Miller is a Patriot and a true JFK Democrat

    Your evidence for this extraordinary statement is…?

    He threatened to kill a man on national TV? He betrayed his party for a pat on the head from the other side? He has a bigger ear-span than Obama?

    Also, Neil, keep in mind that in the time of JFK, the Democratic party was a bunch of segregation-loving racist fucks; fully half the party spent most of its energy keeping the black man down. So, if you meant to imply that Zell Miller was a Georgia democrat in the the mold of a Georgia Democrat from JFK’s time, I’m not so sure that’s a complement…

  19. Just a misprint or could there be several layers of irony in this word in the original post: “inacurrately”

  20. “He expects a large number of troops to be in Iraq until the mid East runs out of oil. Gotta protect our supply of the black gold, ya know.”

    Not really. We have a pretty shitty relationship with Venezuela and they supply more of “our” oil then any middle eastern country. If your an oil producer you have to sell to someone. The best thing the US could do from an oil consumers standpoint is denounce Israel and make peace with the Arabs and Persians. Foreign policy is driven by ideology, not economics.

  21. Foreign policy is driven by ideology, not economics.

    It’s driven by both, and by pragmatic concerns besides. If that were not so we would have bombed half the countries on Earth into oblivion by now, you know, to make the world “safe for Democracy”.

  22. We must stand with our staunch ally Israel.

    NOW and FOREVER!

  23. We must stand with our staunch ally Israel.

    NOW and FOREVER!

    Neil, given this rhetoric, it is almost impossible not to ask…

    If Israel, hypothetically, were to start rounding up and shooting Palestinians for fun, would you still wish to stand with them?

    For that matter, if America started rounding up, well, anyone and started shooting them for fun, would you still be proud to be an American, and believe America can do no wrong?

    Do you believe in Santa Claus?

  24. Why all the worry over whether or not the President stomps on the constitution in regards to congress when the US government has been stomping on it the last 70 years?

  25. Matt,

    The War Powers Act IS unconstitutional for structural Constitutional reasons that have nothing to do with “neocons”, the “unitary executive”, or Dick Cheney.

    I truly wish you would try to understand some of these issues before you start writing about them through the simple prism of: MCCAIN BAD, MCCAIN BAD.

    If I want glib unreflective thought, I can get that from the Rush Limbaugh show. I expect a little better from the Editor-in-Chief of a journal that styles itself “REASON”.

  26. I will ask Congress to grant me the privilege of coming before both houses to take questions, and address criticism, much the same as the Prime Minister of Great Britain appears regularly before the House of Commons.

    Anyone else find this to be the most offense part of the speech? “Much the same as the Prime Minister of Britain…”

    wow, just, wow…

  27. And thank Zeus that Bush ran on a humble foreign policy.

  28. Neil:
    We must stand with our staunch ally Israel.
    NOW and FOREVER!

    This kind of talk can’t help but remind me of the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty.

    Loss of Liberty – the video

  29. Matt, just to echo an earlier comment: I get that you’re anti-McCain. But I mean, damn. Dude.

    I have a really hard time associating a US version of “question time” with some clever underhanded method of inflating the Imperial Presidency. And I was one of the people who pre-ordered Healy’s book on Amazon. I thought we were for more sunshine and more access.

    I understand (and heartily agree with, despite my moniker) the idea that we oughtn’t want the President to “take on the airs” of a king. But I would be jumping up and down with joy if I could see him answer questions from a non-drooling-syncophantic audience on a regular basis. And if he actually holds to the promises on signing statements and vetoing earmarks, then… wow. I’m not holding my breath, but it’s a damn sight better than I hear elsewhere.

  30. Just a misprint or could there be several layers of irony in this word in the original post: “inacurrately”

    Several layers of ineptitude, more like it. (Hope I didn’t misspell “ineptitude.”)

    I have a really hard time associating a US version of “question time” with some clever underhanded method of inflating the Imperial Presidency.

    As do I! Though the point of Healy’s analysis is more that executive power gets expanded as much through benign tradition and public expectation as anything else…. As I mention in the post, I’ve long advocated a U.S. Question Time, on purely entertainment grounds.

    And in general, just because I highlight something McCain says, it doesn’t mean I’m disagreeing with him! I like the calls for transparency, I like the no-signing-statements, I like the (late-breaking) separation of powers rhetoric, I like the (very late-breaking) occasional nods to the potency of what Americans do when the government leaves them alone. I like the idea of nominating a Democrat or two in the Cabinet. And etc.

  31. A decade ago I really liked McCain, and I was hoping he’d beat Bush and go on to win the presidency. I disliked McCain’s stance on many of his key issues (campaign finance reform, global warming) but I felt he had a lot more integrity than I see in most politicians. I liked, and still like, that he bucks the republican party line on a lot of issues – it shows he has guts and principles. I’d take someone like that over a party hack any day.

    Unfortunately, he’s on the wrong side of the “war on terror” stuff, and that trumps all other issues for me.

  32. Headline from 2112:

    “Priests of Syrinx Agree to Withdrawal Final Troops From Iraq”

  33. As I mention in the post, I’ve long advocated a U.S. Question Time, on purely entertainment grounds.

    I have a feeling that a Q&A between a President Queeg and the largely inarticulate jackasses in Congress would be more tragic than comic.

  34. It’s hard to know exactly what happened leading up to the USS Liberty incident, but the situation was tragic.

  35. McCain has earned the presidency; Fast Barry has earned some more time in the Senate to learn…

  36. Sure, let’s have question time, only if it’s televised. Give every right-wing fundamentalist Republican freak in Congress a chance to show the world how warped and out of touch they are with the real world. I can hear the campaign cash rolling in for the Dems right now…

    No one ever gives up power once obtained. Bush has redefined the presidency into an imperial presidency. McCain will never give up the power Bush has created for the presidency. Never.

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