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Breaking the Presidency

Friday, July 20, 2007
I wrote a quick post this morning suggesting in half-seriousness that we de-fund the White House. I expected that my level of fury would decline once I hit "publish," which is after why I have a blog - it reduces my chance of rage-induced conniptions.

But despite the fact that it's Friday, and that I am looking forward to eating sushi this evening, I have not calmed down. In fact, I am more outraged than ever. I've spoken in the past about Bush's reckless disregard for the Constitution, and the broader problem of overweening executives in American politics (most dangerously at the national level, but also in states & localities). But the present tactics of the Bush Administration are so egregious, and the response to his actions so tepid, that it calls into question that viability of our Constitutional design. If a President can brazenly break the law, and then use absurd interpretations of executive power to protect himself and his cronies, and yet nothing happens - how good a system is this really? Worse yet, the likelihood that he will "get away with it" means that all future Presidents will be sorely tempted to follow in his footsteps. Perhaps they won't be as malevolent as he (although that is quite a gamble), and maybe they won't be as incompetent (although incompetence has prevented Bush from consolidating his gains), but the fact the temptation to imitate him will remain. Our democracy will reside solely on the sufferance on the executive's good will.

The ability of such a willful fool as Bush to act with impunity, and the catastrophic damage done to the country and the world during his tenure in office, points to a fundamental truth: no man can be entrusted with too much power. Whether we like them, or approve of their policies, the principle is the same: Presidential power has been allowed to expand to undemocratic proportions. Something must be done to reverse this trend.

I think that a concerted, determined effort has to be made to, quite simply, break the Presidency. First off, the White House size should be dramatically shrunk is size. It is an instrument for centralizing power in the executive, and would be the best single step in weakening our bloated presidency.

Second and relatedly, the President should be denied any role - and I mean any role - in formulating domestic policy other than in his exercise of the veto. For far too long we have allowed Presidents to "set the agenda." Why, pray tell, do we give him this power? Out of convenience? It is up to Congress to write the laws, not the President. The Presidents should no longer be able to propose a budget. Why should he? His job is only to execute the laws.

Third, the Senate must restore its "advise" role in the "advice and consent" process of nominating judges. It must demand a role in the selection of names, not just wait tamely for the President to select them. We must end the presumption that an executive deserves deference in appointments.

Fourth, and most difficult, we must reduce the President's scope for action in foreign affairs. At present the executive has de facto power to start a war whenever he likes. I am not entirely sure as to how practical it is do end this capacity, but we must think creatively on how to make the War Powers Act mean something. At a minimum, the Congress should never again "authorize" the use of force in a way that gives the executive a blank check. Perhaps it is time to re-evaluate U.S. foreign policy in light of how our imperial adventures are dangerously strengthening the Presidency.

None of this will be easy, but no one said that democracy is easy. Americans have become far too accustomed to looking to the Presidency to lead us. It is long past time we led ourselves instead.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 11:30 AM
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