Election 2012

The Bipartisan Imperial Presidency

On core questions of federal power there isn't a dime's worth of difference between the two tickets.

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This may be the most important election of our lifetimes, conservative opinion leaders keep insisting. We stand on the precipice of socialism; we can either plunge over or be led gingerly back from the brink by … the governor who pioneered the individual mandate. Oh, and also his running mate, one of "only six Republicans who voted yes on the auto bailout and both bank bailout votes," as Tim Carney reported yesterday.

In fairness, there are some important differences between Romney-Ryan and Obama-Biden on economic policy. Romney and Ryan at least see the need to downplay their past sins; for President Obama and Vice President Biden, bailouts and mandates are matters of principle and marks of pride.

But on other core questions of federal power—in areas where the president has much more discretion than he does over the budget—there isn't a dime's worth of difference between the two tickets. Among those questions: Can the president launch wars at will, subject American citizens to military detention and assassinate them via drone strike?

Over the last two election cycles, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Charlie Savage has done a great service by getting all the major party presidential candidates to go on the record with their views on executive power.

One of then-Sen. Obama's answers to Savage's 2007 executive-power questionnaire came up quite a bit during the president's seven-month undeclared war in Libya last year. In 2007, Obama told Savage categorically: "The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation."

That was the correct answer. "In no part of the Constitution is more wisdom to be found," James Madison summed up in 1793, "than in the clause which confides the question of war or peace to the legislature, and not to the executive department." Were it otherwise, "the trust and the temptation would be too great for any one man."

Alas, Obama "evolved," or—if you prefer—lied. It's a shame that broken promises like this aren't taken at least as seriously as breaking a "no new taxes" pledge.

Here, at least, Mitt Romney has been much more forthright than Barack Obama. In Gov. Romney's response to the war-powers question in Savage's 2011 survey, Romney promised only to "consult closely with Congress" in a similar situation—and made clear that he considers the War Powers Resolution's limitations on the president's power to be unconstitutional. Romney also affirmed he'd be willing to authorize military detention and targeted killing of American citizens.

If you have doubts about the constitutionality of that fearsome array of powers, if you worry about concentrating so much "trust and temptation" in one fallible human being's hands—and you should—then the 2012 campaign presents a pretty dispiriting choice: Do you prefer a candidate who's flagrantly violated his promises not to violate the Constitution, or one who tells you right up front that he'll probably commit the same abuses?

Quite a few conservatives denounced President Obama's executive power grabs abroad. Many more are rightly concerned about his abuses of federal power on the home front. But the two are connected. You can't expect the American presidency to operate as the Supreme Warlord of the Earth while abroad and remain a constitutionally constrained chief magistrate at home.

The National Review's Kevin Williamson put it succinctly after the Supreme Court upheld Obamacare's individual mandate last June: "A government big enough to whack its citizens with drones is big enough to make them buy health insurance."

This column originally appeared in the Washington Examiner. 

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  1. I’m a votin’ for that good Irish boy, O’Bamney!

    1. Willack O’Bamney: The Meat-and-Potatoes President of the Everyman

      1. Barney O’Willard is not amused.

  2. Nationalism, socialism; they just seem to blend together.

  3. I figure the Team Red and Team Blue folks will be along soon to give us the usual litany, which amounts to “you stupid libertarians…just ignore that stuff! Focus on the important things, like the content of the OTHER guy’s ads!”

    1. Or where Obama was born, or how many grannies Romney killed at Bain capital

      1. the number of grannies who die keeps rising everyday. Romney must be knockin em dead.

        1. I remember telling some local leftists “unfortunately, Obama was born in America”, which was followed with cat-calls of “racism”. Of course.

          Man, that was fun.

    2. Or whether the dog he murdered was a German Shepherd or a Cocker Spaniel.

  4. So, our car is speeding toward a cliff. Is there time to hit the breaks, or are we past V1?

    If there’s time to hit the breaks, then discussions like this might matter.

    If we’re past V1, then this discussion is pointless and our choice should be whoever will press the accelerator the hardest and get it over with.

    1. My money’s on the latter.

      1. LM,
        1. What does ‘getting it over with’ look like to you?
        2. What rises from the ashes?

        1. 1) I think of this as a general Federal government default (possibly in several governments of the world). Interest on government bonds going up could trigger this.

          This could take the form of a hard default, where the government pretty much stops operating and checks (SS, food stamps, civil service pay) stop going out. Pretty terrible and unrest causing.

          Or, it could take the form of a soft default where the money printing gets really cranked up and we see much higher price inflation. Eventually real debts shrink and people who saved are screwed. Generational conflict, capital flight, yada, yada, yada.

          2) This is the hard question. In a rosy scenario, after the hard default, people become more self sufficient and rebuilt a libertarian utopia. Oh wait… both scenarios will probably produce an even more despotic government powered by the hysterical whims of a desperate people.

          1. ” both scenarios will probably produce an even more despotic government powered by the hysterical whims of a desperate people.”
            We have a winner!!! The US today is not the band of rugged individualists who starting blowing off the heads of revenuers who had the temerity of trying to tax their breakfast beverage.

            What we got are the aging hippies, moonbeam wannabe flower children, statist ‘the world ain’t fair’ bed wetters and other assorted ignorant sheeple. The only good part is that the two TEAMs will brobably blow the shit out of each other. When one wins, then will come the full blown despotism.

            PS the two teams will both hunt down the libertarians like dogs. Think about the Anabaptists during the 30 years war. They got got in the middle, and were ground to powder.

    2. Actually, it should probably revolve around safe crash positions and whether and how we can jump out.

      1. do we get to kiss our asses good bye?

    3. Gee, I’ll bet a guy like you would’ve really gone over big at the Alamo. “Uh, looks like we’re gonna’ lose this one, Davey … think I’ll just put one through my head now.” No! You fight for what’s right ’til the bitter end. Remember the Alamo! If YOU want to surrender, be my guest … I know it sounds VERY sophisticated.

      1. Yeah! I bet we could prop it up for at least 4 more years! Who wants another bail out?

    4. The Republicans are like a Toyota Prius, the brakes might work, or the floor mat will fuck you uncontrollably while you speed toward doom.

      The Democrats are like Wile e Coyote, they already ran off the cliff, and they are just about to realize they are in mid air.

  5. they both believe in perpetual growth, so they both have ready-to-continue-failing economic plans. obama seems more open minded so perhaps he’d give steady state economics a chance.

  6. jameselgringo| 8.21.12 @ 6:18PM |#
    …”obama seems more open minded so perhaps he’d give steady state economics a chance.”

    That’s a lot of humor to pack into one sentence.
    It *is* humor, right?

    1. If you think it is, I got a doozy of a bridge to sell ya.

    2. I had to read that in a Bob Saget voice.

      1. It’s interesting that you think Rmoney is more open minded than Obama. It’s a moot point neither (will) have much power anyway.

        1. Do I? I was just surprised to find Obama and open minded in the same sentence.

  7. Quite a few conservatives denounced President Obama’s executive power grabs abroad. Many more are rightly concerned about his abuses of federal power on the home front. But the two are connected. You can’t expect the American presidency to operate as the Supreme Warlord of the Earth while abroad and remain a constitutionally constrained chief magistrate at home.

  8. In Gov. Romney’s response to the war-powers question in Savage’s 2011 survey, Romney promised only to “consult closely with Congress” in a similar situation — and made clear that he considers the War Powers Resolution’s limitations on the president’s power to be unconstitutional. Romney also affirmed he’d be willing to authorize military detention and targeted killing of American citizens.

  9. …..Yes, but which one hates the gays/women/abortion?

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