Friday, April 06, 2007In the wake of Nancy Pelosi's visit to Syria, many on the right are claiming that the Democratic Speaker is illegitimately poaching on the President's preserve: the conduct of foreign policy. CSPAN is even having a debate on whether Presidents have a monopoly on foreign affairs.
Anyone who argues that the President has total control over foreign policy simply doesn't know what he or she is talking about. The Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war, and the Senate specifically the right to confirm ambassadors and approve treaties. Doesn't that sound like foreign policy to you?
This is all of a piece with a long-running confusion about the separation of powers. Many people believe that separation of powers requires that there be an absolute separation between executive, legislative, and judicial powers. But checks and balances requires that those powers be shared if there are going to be such checks. The President's veto is a legislative power, for example.
But the real danger is the conflation of executive powers with federative and prerogative powers. Foreign policy and war are NOT executive powers - they are federative, according to Montesquieu and Locke (the 2 chief influences on the founders). Executive powers simply have to do with enforcing federal law. Foreign policy and war are entirely different - those powers are explicitly shared among all 3 branches.
This is no nice philosophical distinction. To give the President unfettered authority over the nation's diplomacy is to invest him with dangerous powers, powers that don't belong to any person. Assuming you'd like to live in a democracy, of course.
When I hear callers say "it's not my place to question the President" - as I just heard one did - I can only those are not the words of a citizen, but a subject. It's trite to say, but Presidents are not kings. In the country we don't have rulers - but public servants. It's our job to question. And it's their job to listen to us.