Foreign Policy

Obama's Imperial Presidency

Executive power continues to expand.


Editor's Note: This column is reprinted with permission of the Washington Examiner. Click here to read it at that site.

Rising Republican star Herman Cain got quite the shock last week when he learned about the powers President Obama claims in the name of national security.

"This is the first that I have heard," Cain exclaimed to his interviewer, The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf. "You're saying it's OK to take out American citizens if he suspects they are terrorist-related. Is that what you said?!"

When Friedersdorf explained, yes, that's Obama's position, a horrified Cain replied: "If you're a citizen, no, it is not right for the president to think he has the power to have you assassinated. No."

Sure, a presidential candidate like Cain should do a better job following the news, but his unscripted reaction was the only appropriate one for a limited-government conservative—a "gaffe" only in Michael Kinsley's sardonic definition: that rare occasion when a pol accidentally blurts the truth. The truth is that American presidents have more power than we can safely entrust to any fallible human being. That was so even before the massive expansion of presidential power that followed Sept. 11.

Civil libertarians once looked to this president to right the constitutional balance. But what Obama has wrought is the same old "Terror Presidency" with new rhetoric.

Gen. Michael Hayden, President George W. Bush's CIA director, notes a "powerful continuity" between the two administrations on national security powers. Even former Vice President Dick Cheney now grudgingly praises Obama for leaving most of the Bush framework intact.

In some areas, "44" has gone even further than "43." Bush claimed "inherent power" to attack other countries at will, but never fought a war without congressional authorization.

Our new "decider" launched a war in Libya without so much as a by-your-leave to Congress. "It's nice to have a neocon back in the White House," The Washington Times enthused as the Tomahawks began to fly.

Your mileage may vary, though—especially if you worry about domestic spying. Last week's Patriot Act fight, in which the administration leaned on congressional allies to quash debate, highlighted how much Obama has "grown in office."

"No more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime." Obama promised on the campaign trail.

Yet the Justice Department's latest report to Congress shows record-high use of NSLs: More than 14,000 Americans had their records searched last year using this extraordinary legal device, which allows the government to demand sensitive personal data like phone and bank records without the inconvenience of judicial review.

Obama now wants to expand NSL authority to "electronic communication transactional records," possibly including users' browser histories.

Will these vast powers be abused? We may never know, given Obama's legal position that the "state secrets privilege" goes beyond protecting "sources and methods"—it lets him quash entire lawsuits, barring the courthouse door to citizens fearing their rights have been violated.

There's a strange disconnect in the talk-radio right's view of Obama: Apparently, he's a crypto-socialist with sinister designs on our liberties, yet it's vitally important that he have the authority to wiretap Americans at will and assassinate them while they're abroad.

Even thoughtful conservatives seem to imagine you can have a presidency that's unrestrained abroad and constitutionally confined within our borders—even though the war on terror has no fixed battlefield and foreign policy powers apply here at home.

However troubling you find the jihadist threat—lately limited to the occasional dud crotch-bomb—you should be uneasy about concentrating such vast powers in an office that can periodically be seized by a relative unknown with easy charm and burning ambition.

I worry that Obama has these powers; I worry even more that future presidents will have them as well.

Gene Healy is a vice president at the Cato Institute and author of The Cult of the Presidency: America's Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power (Cato 2008). He is a columnist at the Washington Examiner, where this article originally appeared. Click here to read it at that site.

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  1. “The truth is that American presidents have more power than we can safely entrust to any fallible human being”

    Well good thing im not just any old “fallible human being.” Send those powers my way!

    1. Due only to the historical timidity of Congress.

  2. “However troubling you find the jihadist threat?lately limited to the occasional dud crotch-bomb?”

    While I agree with your article in purpose, I think there’s a number of recently grieving families that would have to disagree with this closing.

    1. What are you talking about?

  3. How anyone ever thought this guy would be better on civil liberties is beyond me. Based on what evidence?

    1. Because he said so, ProL! That’s enough for TEAM BLUE!

      I’d trust President Camacho over this guy, or any of the current crop.

      1. Mountain Dew in one-two!

      2. This is just for you Episiarch. Jeffrey Goldberg whinning about Netanyahu not being nice to Obama. You love how he claims he really didn’t like it when Chavez said mean things about Bush. Of course Golberg never bothered to say anything at the time. But he thought it. Honest he did. He is not just taking offense now that the President is on his team. Honest.…..-yesterday

        1. It’s cute that Jeffrey wants to stand by his man, but when Obama is such a craven pussy that he flees the country when Netanyahu visits, it becomes doubly hard to make him look good.

      3. I’m certainly more honest and forthright than Obama:

        Shit. I know shit’s bad right now, with all that starving bullshit, and the dust storms, and we are running out of french fries and burrito coverings.

        1. Carl’s Junior has determined that you are an unfit mother.

        2. Obama – the liberty mutilator. He’s got electrolytes!

          1. He’s got what sheeple crave!

        3. Number one, your honor, just look at him. And B, we’ve got all this, like, evidence, of how, like, this guy didn’t even pay at the hospital. And I heard that he doesn’t even have his tattoo. And I’m all, ‘you’ve gotta be shittin’ me!’ But check this out man, judge should be like
          [bangs fist on table]
          ‘guilty!’ Peace

      4. i don’t hate to say i told you so (to my leftie buddies) … i LOVE to do it. he’s just as bad as i thought he would be. they got duped big time. NOBODY expected bush to be a civil libertarian, otoh

    2. Evidence ? You mean like an actual record ? Chauncey Gardner had more of a record than this little shit.

      1. I like to watch…the teleprompter.

      2. You don’t think this talking point has lost its luster a bit now that he’s been president for 2 years? Not many can claim that experience. But by all means, keep crying in exactly the same way you did in 2008.

        1. I know you’re drinking the blue koolaid, Tony, but to anyone with even an ounce of objectivity, Obama’s 2 years do not reflect favorably on his track record.

        2. did you put some pics on the net this weekend Tony? or am I thinking of a different Tony?

        3. Yes Tony. He might have lost some of that luster when he claimed the privilege of assassinating American citizens based on secret evidence.

        4. Obama’s track record over the past two years indicates that he is way out of depth, just as his lack of record as a Senator demmonsatrted.

          1. Really? I’d say he’s been fairly successful in enacting his agenda. Isn’t that what you guys are usually in hysterics over? Or is he an overreaching tyrant or an ineffectual loser, depending on your argument?

            1. “I’d say he’s been fairly successful in enacting his agenda.”
              And that, of course, is the problem.

            2. I’d say he’s been fairly successful in enacting his agenda

              Which “agenda” would that be? The pretend agenda from the campaign trail in 2008? Close Guantanamo, end rendition, “repair” American’s relationships with the world, end warrantless wiretapping, keep unemployment below 8%, reduce the corrupt influence of Wall Street, be the “most transparent” government on record…? Batting a clean .000 there, I’d say.

              Or are we talking about an “agenda” that includes: Keep the Imperial Bush Administration powers, run up deficits 4 and 5 times larger than Bush ever did, push unemployment to 10% for two years, prolong the housing crisis, boost the price of gas to $4/gallon, appoint morons and crooks to high office, create a massive bizarre healthcare “reform” act that no one at all understands, and re-ignite inflation to “cure” the problem of crappy growth?

              ‘Cause it’s true, the that agenda is going most excellently. If Karl Rove built a robot designed specifically to rehabilitate Bush as fast as possible, it wouldn’t act any different.

              1. You even managed to blame Obama for gas prices. Karl Rove has taught you well.

        5. Lefties are still claiming Clarence Thomas is unqualified for SCOTUS and hes been there for almost 20 years.

      3. Yeah….it’s almost like Being There!

    3. There wasn’t. He just fed them a line of shit and let them project their views onto him. Now he has made all of this stuff “bi partisan” and virtually bullet proof.

    4. Based on what evidence?

      Nobel Prize. Duh.

      1. Well, there is that. That’s like the Medal of Honor–you have to kill someone to get it. So he must have killed someone right away, like at the Inauguration.

    5. Well, he did say some nice things. But he only said nice things when it was fairly safe to do so and he wasn’t upsetting anybody on his own partisan side. A vote immediately after 9/11 (like Feingold), or a willingness to buck your own party (Rand Paul, McCain on obviously other issues) does a lot more to demonstrate bona fides than a guy who “bravely” agrees with his base.

  4. “Civil libertarians once looked hopefully to Barack Obama to right the constitutional balance and undo the damage done by President George W. Bush.”

    LOL. You are killing me Gene. You are killing me. You need to get an act together. That is funny stuff.

    1. I found the part at the end, presumably necessary as a sop to Democratic partisans, funnier:

      I worry that Obama has these powers; I worry even more that future presidents will have them as well.

      Though I agree that Obama ratifying all of Bush’s changes plus going further sets a worse precedent. After all, there have been civil liberties excesses that were then undone by future Presidents of a different party– like Woodrow Wilson and then Harding’s pardons and return to normalcy.

      1. i missed that one John. That is a good one. If it is worrisome for such a great man like Obama to have these powers, how worrisom would it be for a (cue scary music) REPUBLICAN to have them???

        1. They simply do not think like that. The people at the top of the Democratic party don’t fear the GOP–that’s all rhetorical nonsense. They just accept that the control over the rewards system alternates on occasion. So long as they remain at the table, anything expanding their opportunities when they have the advantage is perfectly acceptable.

          We’re absolutely stupid to continue to be victims of this huge scam.

          1. The people in power know that. But their dipshit partisans, especially in the media don’t.

            1. It’s utterly mindboggling. This all starts with the voters, of course, but the political media should just spend all of its time calling out the parties for their shenanigans.

              1. Yay, Team Blue!

    2. Yeah, with all due respect to Mr. Healy (whose work I enjoy very much) I have to file that statement under “Shit, No.”

    3. How can a proponent of the ideology that the words of the Constitution are infinitely malleable ever be counted on to “right the constituational balance”? Essentially they do not believe that there is any such balance to begin with.

  5. There is nothing wrong with an empire, as long as the Democratic party is running it.

    1. Is this a spoof?

      1. No, it’s an anarchy.

        1. The greatest supporters of anarchy are those protesters in England who opposed cuts to governmental power and smashed windows.

  6. Give this man a Peace Prize!

    1. God damn, I had forgotten that he received one. Because it’s so fucking absurd.

      1. It wasn’t his fault Epi. It is not like he asked for it. They just gave it to him. It is not like he accepted the prize and strutted around with it or anything.

        1. I got a prize once. Never did live up to it.

          Also, it was an honor just to be nominated.

          1. I think you lived up to it.

          2. Ms. Tomei at least met the requirements for her dubious prize. She was the lead actress in a movie.

            Nobel Peace Prize Receiving President Obama hadn’t even chosen the stationary for his Outlook account when he received his dubious prize.

            1. It was actually Best Supporting Actress

          3. Play more sad-eyed strippers please.

      2. Lol i thought the same thing when i read that

      3. I recommended that he accept it, fly to India, and hand it to the Indian government, saying, “This is for Gandhi.”

        The fucker never listens to me.

        1. Gandhi was a douche too.

          1. Perhaps, but at least giving him a Peace Prize makes some sense.

    2. Not that you don’t know this, but Henry Kissenger and Le Duc Tho each got one the same year. I’m convinced that the Nobel Peace Prize is a surrealist joke.

      1. Instead of stubbornly attempting to use surrealism for purposes of subversion, it is necessary to try to make of surrealism something as solid, complete and classic as the works of museums.

  7. But what about Bush!!!!! I didn’t hear any of you complaining about it when Bush did it!!!! HMMMM … This hazta be because he is black!!!! There is no other reason anyone would complain about Obama!

  8. “Civil libertarians once looked hopefully to Barack Obama to right the constitutional balance and undo the damage done by President George W. Bush.”

    Only imbeciles had that expectation.

    1. like plenty HERE, who posted that they were supporting obama because he’d be better on civil liberties, would reverse the whole unitary executive thing, etc.


  9. KKK confronts Westboro Baptist protesters at Arlington Cemetery – CNN…..tml?hpt=T2

    1. That is great. Those people are such scum the fucking KKK will go to bat for Obama against them.

      1. That is pretty telling.

        1. Hmmm….


  10. But let’s not forget that Mr. Obama went to Germany during the campaign, thus proving that he was a cultured gentleman of the world and was more than qualified to dictate foreign policy and move it in a new direction. Wait, what?

    1. “And now, ladies and gentlemen, from what was only an inarticulate mass of lifeless tissue, I give you a cultured, sophisticated man about town.”

      1. “COOPER DOOPER!”

  11. I don’t know if it will be Obama, but it’s only a matter of time before one of these assholes declares himself El Presidente For Life and demands that we refer to him as the Maximum Leader.

    1. Pretty much inevitable if we keep going the way we’ve been.

      1. I think we were already there about 70 years ago. And the people were thrilled at the prospect.

    2. It is probably a century off. I never liked the 22nd amendment, but a sure sign that a President for Life is imminent will be its repeal.

      1. I figure they’d go with a “temporary” suspension of the Constitution (well, what little of it still exists) due to an “emergency” that never ends. They can toss that card with little or no warning.

        1. I doubt our transition to full-blown tyranny will involve changing or suspending the Constitution at all. Like Rome, we’ll still have all the trappings of a constitutional republic.

          1. What would full-blown tyranny look like to you?

            Police breaking down doors and killing the family pet?

            Poking through personal information without judicial oversight?

            Needing only to smell evidence of a crime to bust down a door and then an innocent man?

            Seriously dude, what would full-blown tyranny look like to you?

            1. then *kill* an

            2. There are degrees to these things, of course. More tyrannical would be you and me locked up for what we say here. For instance.

              1. Does the average Cuban think they live under tyranny?
                Did the average Soviet citizen consider their government to be tyrannical?

                Do people living under tyranny know that they’re living under tyranny, or is tyranny something observed from the outside?

              2. Pro L: The catch 22 is, it’s kinda’ too late to do anything about it at that point, isn’t it?

                Me, I’m a coward. I’ll be taking the ‘vote with my feet’ option the moment I’m not laughably broke. I hear New Zealand has some nice weather.

                1. That’s my back-up nation, as well.

                  It’s not too late for us, but we’re well on the path to inevitability. The next 20-30 years will be critical, I think.

  12. Of course, it would help if the SCOTUS would actually read the Constitution instead of reading what it OUGHT TO HAVE SAID.

    For all the crap Scalia has pushed about being an Originalist, he has certainly interpreted the Bill of Rights in ways that would have appalled Madison and Jefferson, as well as Justice John Marshall.

    1. You mean by applying it to the states?

      1. Hello?

        1. Certainly, the Founders knew the Constitution would get amended, and to do so in order to ensure that civil liberties were fully protected isn’t some huge stretch.

  13. Heh, the “thoughtful conservatives” are no doubt fantasizing about President Sarah Palin giving the order to whack some evil towel-head.

    They’re probably also fantasizing about what she’s wearing while she does it…

    1. She’s advanced from MILF to GILF status which is, unfortunately, too high on my ILF rankings.

  14. There’s a strange disconnect in the talk-radio right’s view of Obama: Apparently, he’s a crypto-socialist with sinister designs on our liberties, yet it’s vitally important that he have the authority to wiretap Americans at will and assassinate them while they’re abroad.

    That’s not much of a disconnect at all. Obama being a statist is not at all incompatible with being a socialist. Neither is being a statist incompatible with neo-con “liberties”, which include carrying guns and low taxes but not gay rights, pot smoking or abortion.

    Statism is as statism does, momma always says…

  15. The presidency has been steadily gaining power since Lincoln. They’ve never let a crisis go to waste, after all.

    As such, I don’t expect things to change, whichever asshole manages to get themselves elected. Unless it’s Ron Paul or Gary Johnson. Which it won’t be.

    1. Which it probably won’t be.

    2. No libertarian-ish candidate is going to get anywhere as long as they’re against the drug laws.

      Now, a candidate who supported the drug laws in principle but said that we need to de-prioritize the enforcement aspect, to deal with other problems…that might get somewhere. And in practice it would be almost as good.

      1. “No libertarian-ish candidate is going to get anywhere as long as they’re against the drug laws.”

        Yup. Without drug laws then children would have access to drugs, there would be drug addled people walking the streets and driving cars, it would be anarchy!

        On a serious note…

        I wonder about the quantity of illegal drugs purchased with tax dollars by people on state assistance.

        I bet it’s a lot. Like a measurable percentage.

        1. some states have proposed mandatory testing for those on aid

          1. That’s racist!!

  16. Do we have to use a picture of a Marine saluting Obama? Can we not do a cartoon or pay townhall to do one for us? Something cute like Obama dressed in a toga wearing some green crap on his head? Perhaps laughing while DC burns? Come on, REASON, SKOA! (Stop Kissing Obama’s Ass)

    1. The picture is relevant b/c it’s Obama bumping into a Marine saluting him, and breezing by like nothing happened

      1. Not so much as a by your leave!

      2. Aw, I think all presidents do that. Besides, we didn’t see the earlier footage, maybe he already saluted and he’s walking away. Besides, it’s still a nice flattering picture, perfect for Newsweek, wrong for reason.

    2. I’m sorry, I skimmed the article and I must have missed the ass-kissing part. It seemed pretty scathing to me.

      1. I was talking about the picture. would have never used such a flattering picture, since Libertarians aren’t supposed to like Obama, I was expecting better from reason.

  17. The US president has the most absurdly powerful trappings of tyranny in the history of the world (namely, the ability to end civilization), coupled with some of the weakest legislative powers in the modern world. Like most aspects of our system, the presidency is flawed and could use some tweaking.

  18. “Executive power continues to expand.”
    What would stop it???

  19. This is the exact reason why I never voted for the man…but then again McCain would have been worse. Obama was like every other president that has come to power. They are all used car salesman. You people got told what you wanted to hear and you ate it up hook, line and sinker. A bunch of people got suckered into the ‘Hope and Change’ campaign. It was a perfect setup. The country already in disarray from Bush…sorry I mean Cheney. And the rest was up to mass media and the party who had deeper pockets. Too bad most people don’t even realize that we have more domestic enemies(in office) than we do overseas.

  20. Any consideration of the current president should begin with an understanding of the fact that virtually the entire paper trail of his existence has never been released or allowed to be subjected to any sort of scrutiny.

    American voters of all political persuasions can recall the Obama 2008 campaign repeatedly promising that their administration would place a special emphasis on the practice of transparency.

    A vast majority of these voters believe that the process of running for President of the United States should be the toughest public job interview on the planet.

    The sad fact remains that the current president, according to longstanding government clearance protocols, could not be hired as a janitor in a federal building with the amount of personal background information that he has provided.

    Run for President? No problem.

    Get any other federal job? No way.

    Quite apart from the issue of any sort of birth certificates, real or imagined, genuine or forged, is the fact that Barack Obama’s school records, SAT and LSAT scores, college and law school admission records and scholarship paperwork and grade transcripts and thesis papers, medical records, passport history, Illinois state senate tenure records, presidential campaign foreign donor lists, complete White House visitor logs and many other relevant records and documents have all never been released or allowed to be scrutinized, despite several years of repeated requests for disclosure by numerous individuals and non-traditional media organizations.

    The Obama 2008 campaign and subsequent administration have to date spent a substantial sum on legal fees, estimated in the millions of dollars, to fight Freedom of Information Act filings and other motions and requests to examine some of this material.

    The powerful international law firm Perkins Coie, the counsel of record to the Democratic National Committee, has been their primary provider of these services and continues in that role.

    It had become customary in postwar modern times for presidential candidates to allow for the release and scrutiny of the substantive body of their personal records and credentials, up until 2008 largely because of a strong interest from the mainstream media.

    The appearance of Barack Obama upon the national political stage changed that tradition, and he was given an astonishing special exception from this important unofficial practice that American voters had come to expect.

    In their eagerness to “make history” by helping to elect The Chosen One as the first black president, the mainstream media failed in their essential national responsibility to report with thorough impartial objectivity. They ignored their duty to search for the truth and should be regarded with disdain by all people who value information in a free society.

    Democratic incumbents at all levels of government, as well as rank and file voters, might well demand to know exactly how Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and the rest of their party leadership allowed a person who was clearly given only the most cursory sort of vetting to become their presidential nominee.

    Barack Obama was presented in 2008 as a brilliant intellectual with stellar Ivy League credentials whose cool low key style would transform the culture of Washington, leading America into a new harmonious postracial era with an administration of great transparency, all while achieving miracles of bipartisan cooperation.

    It has become quite apparent to rational people of all political persuasions how that ridiculously naive wishful fantasy has really played out.

    There exists a widespread and growing international speculation that an objective examination of Barack Obama’s extensive hidden paper trail would clearly reveal that his meteoric rise up the educational and career ladders was largely the result of multiple affirmative action preferences and an adoring uncritical mainstream media, and that his vaunted intellect was greatly exaggerated.

    In short, Barack Obama is just another left-posing big city machine politician, one with more than a touch of narcissism and a proven record of ruthless self-serving dealmaking and deception, who has clearly demonstrated his allegiance to powerful corporate and financial interests.

    The past associations, ideological convictions, behavioral influences and ongoing relationships of the man of mystery known as Barack Hussein Obama are matters of great concern to a vast number of people who just want to understand the truth about this man.

    This is the sort of information about their presidential candidates that American voters believe they have the need, and the right, to know.

    The sort of information that Obama and his handlers are obviously quite determined to continue to keep from them.

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  22. Hey, rubes: Take a little-known hack who thrived in the notoriously corrupt fields of Chicago and Illinois politics, baste liberally with mad teleprompter skillz, add a penchant for sticking his nose in the air like a latter-day Mussolini, and marinate thoroughly with white racial guilt. When ready, elect this doofus to the most powerful office in the world.

    Hell, what could go wrong?

    I mean, as we were told so often in 2008: only racists and idiots could possibly doubt that Obama would run the cleanest, most transparent, smarterest, most competent, bestest Prez administration evah!!

    And the absolutely worst part is that far too many rubes will vote for him again in 2012.

    Hope & Change 2012: Electric Boogaloo, bitchez!!!!!!!

    1. Florida and NY are factually the most corrupt states in the USA.

      Chicago has had some Alderman that took 10,000 to 100,000 deals here and there and hired family, but nothing on the level as other municipalities with millions in fraud.

      Yes, and a few governors. Blago trial is a joke. Who cares about him or what he said. It is pointless. Worse stuff happens every year in every other state.

  23. Yeah GWB didn’t have to target American citizens for assassination, instead he let let them (Osama’s family) fly out of the US after 9/11 without question.

  24. “Quite apart from the issue of any sort of birth certificates, real or imagined, genuine or forged, is the fact that Barack Obama’s school records, SAT and LSAT scores, college and law school admission records and scholarship paperwork and grade transcripts and thesis papers, medical records, passport history, Illinois state senate tenure records, presidential campaign foreign donor lists, complete White House visitor logs and many other relevant records and documents have all never been released or allowed to be scrutinized, despite several years of repeated requests for disclosure by numerous individuals and non-traditional media organizations.”

    This statement is a “red-herring” or more like untrue. This discredits the entire article. I like this site, but it seems like in every article there is one completely false statement. Again, Independents again have only one choice in 2012. It is obvious what the Republican platform will be, because Obama has done such a good job in 2 years. Speaking of vetting, who is running for the Primaries for GOP. Hmmm…Maybe they will figure that out in time for vetting to actually take place?

  25. Obama is a twat. Plain and simple.

  26. Interesting discussion. You should post your viewpoints about this on!

  27. Obama should be impeached for violating the War Power Act

    Here is the truth about the NATO War. It is a war to stop African Development and an African Central Bank and African Monetary Fund…..pment.html

    Then join our “Day of Rage in D.C.….._2011.html

  28. ty rights, etc. seem like a more accurate measure of freedom than democracy.

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