Sunday, July 26, 2009

are there any limits to presidential power power left?

Lost in the vital -- absolutely vital -- debate about whether the President should call a police officer "stupid" is the question of whether there are any checks left on presidential power. As the party that claims to adhere to a narrow interpretation of the Constitution, the GOP nevertheless has a legacy of being the party that believes most stridently in an unchecked executive.

An incredible piece in Time by Massimo Calabresi and Michael Weisskopf gives a detailed account of Vice President Dick Cheney's attempt to obtain a pardon for his aide "Scooter" Libby. It includes this sentence:

Cheney will continue to insist that the Commander in Chief and his lieutenants had almost limitless power in the war on terrorism and deserved a measure of immunity for taking part in that fight.
To anyone with the faintest memory of the Watergate scandal (ostensibly the worst Constitutional crisis this country has ever seen), this is a chilling phrase -- and an argument that no one would have dreamed of making in 1973.

While we wrangle about war crimes and political points and getting mad at each other over the remnants of the Culture Wars, it bears repeating that the fundamental question of whether we have a President or a King is one that is never settled -- it requires continued vigilance on the part of the people to prevent the creeping powers of the Executive Branch of government.

Unless the idea that the concentration of power in the hands of one man and his unelected aides is continuously derided as foolish, small-minded, and un-American, it will loom a larger and larger threat.

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