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.
Oh yeah: Here's McCain's terrible 2013 ad:
Here's a better version: