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The Cult Of Barack Obama’s Presidency

Four years ago, before the election, Cato’s Gene Healy wrote a book called  The Cult of the Presidency: America’s Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power in which he demonstrated the extent to which the Executive Branch has assumed more and more extra-constitutional power throughout American history, usually in response to a crisis, and how the President. As Healy points out in that book, which you can now download for free, the Presidency that we know today bears very little  resemblance to the institution created when by  Article II of the Constitution. Under that Article, the President’s primary job could be summed up in ten words set forth in Section 3 of Article II, he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed. The President’s other powers consisted of reporting the state of the union to Congress (originally a far less formal occasion than what we’re used to every January), receiving Ambassadors, and acting as Commander in Chief should Congress declare war. That’s it.

For roughly the first 100 years of the Republic, Healy notes, President’s kept to the limited role that the Constitution gave them. There were exceptions, of course; most notably when Thomas Jefferson negotiated the purchase of the Louisiana Territory, when Andrew Jackson defied the Supreme Court in connection with the removal of Native Americans from ancestral lands, and during the Civil War when Abraham Lincoln assumed a wide swath of powers with little direct control by Congress. This era also saw Presidents as James Polk who clearly manipulated the United States into an unnecessary war with Mexico simply to satisfy his ambitions for territorial expansion. For the most part, though, America’s 19th Century Presidents held to the limited role that is set forth in Article II, which is probably why they aren’t remembered very well by history. The early 20th Century the Progressive Era, though, is when things really started to change. It was in this era that we saw Presidents like Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, both of whom immensely expanded the powers of their office both with and without the complicity of Congress and the Supreme court. Presidents like Calvin Coolidge, who adhered to an early vision of what a President should be, were seen as an anachronism by some. The final nail in the coffin of the Presidency as originally intended came with the Great Depression, World War II and FDR. After World War II, the Cold War and the rise of National Security State became yet another impetus for the expansion of Executive Branch power. Most recently, the War on Terror has seen a dramatic increase in the powers of the Presidency in the name of “security,” with very few people.

It isn’t just in the area of foreign affairs and national security that one finds examples of Healy’s “Cult of the Presidency.” The modern American President, for example, has come to be viewed as some kind of “healer in chief” who must taken upon the task of comforting the nation in the event of a tragedy, whether or not that tragedy is related to the government or the military. He travels in a largely impenetrable security bubble every moment of the day, a level of detachment from the outside world that even the British Royal Family and the Pope don’t experience. And, whenever something goes wrong, people seem to think that the President must “do something” about it. A prime example of that last phenomenon during the Obama years came during the Gulf of Mexico oil spill crisis when the President was being absurdly criticized for golfing or going to a baseball game while the spill was going on, even though there isn’t a single thing that he could’ve done about the spill by himself. That work was in the hands of BP and the other companies tasked with repairing the breach at the bottom of the ocean. That didn’t matter, though, because the American people have been conditioned for decades now, thanks in now small part to the absurdly grandiose rhetoric that Presidential candidates use when running for office, that the Presidency is some “omnipotent, omnipresent, omnicompetent” cross between a Prime Minister and a King with powers that would’ve made George III jealous.

As we come to the end of Barack Obama’s first term, it’s quite apparent that the historical trend has continued unabated. This President has largely continued the War On Terror policies of his predecessor  and has enhanced those policies in several disturbing respects. Faced with efforts by family members to find out the truth about what happened to people caught in the Bush Era’s Terror Dragnet, the Obama Administration has adopted in whole the controversial “State Secrets” doctrine first developed by the Bush Administration’s John Yoo. On his own, the President ordered the death of an American citizen via drone strike and resisted efforts by family members and civil liberties organization to force the government to prove in court that the death sentence was justifiable. In pursuing that American citizen, the United States also ended up killing an innocent 16 year-old boy. The President committed American forces to a war in Libya without seeking permission from Congress and, when confronted about that, did what every President has done and denied the validity of the War Powers Act.  As Healy notes in a recent column, the Obama Administration has created a whole host of new Presidential powers that will be available for those who follow him in office to use as they wish:

When it comes to presidential cults, Barack Obama has turned out to be the gift that keeps on giving. To paraphrase Michael Corleone, “Every time I tried to get out … he pulled me back in.”

As I explain in my new ebook, “False Idol,” “No federal chief executive in recent memory has done as much as the ‘Yes We Can’ president to stir Americans’ longing for presidential salvation; nor has any recent president done quite as much to enhance the presidency’s dominance over American life.”

In an important new article for Newsweek, “President Obama’s Executive Power Grab,” Andrew Romano and Daniel Klaidman note that Obama has “expand[ed] his domestic authority in ways that his predecessor never did.” Frustrated by congressional resistance to his agenda, he’s pursued “government by waiver,” reshaping welfare, education and immigration law via royal dispensations and decrees.

“Obama is drafting a playbook for future presidents to deploy in response: How to Get What You Want Even If Congress Won’t Give It to You,” Romano and Klaidman write. The result is an “extraconstitutional arms race of sorts: a new normal that habitually circumvents the legislative process envisioned by the Framers.”

Alas, there’s no presidential “man on horseback” ready to ride in and restore normalcy. Presidential messianism infects the Romney camp, as well. On the stump and in his campaign ads, Gov. Romney insists that this is “an election to save the soul of America.” In a recent speech at the Virginia Military Institute, he made clear that his ambitions went well beyond preserving the Constitution and faithfully executing the laws: “It is the responsibility of our president to use America’s great power to shape history,” he told the cadets.

In Romney’s answers to an executive-power questionnaire late last year, he suggested that the president has great power indeed: He could launch a war without Congress, order the assassination of American citizens via drone-strike and use the U.S. military to arrest American citizens on American soil.

Romano and Klaidman note that Obama “has been known, during discussions about executive authority, to worry about ‘leav[ing] a loaded weapon lying around.’ ”

It doesn’t seem Obama lost much sleep over it. But for the rest of us, that metaphor ought to concentrate the mind wonderfully. Even rabid partisans ought to strive to see past the next election cycle and recognize that the powers forged in one administration usually do pass on to the next.

As Conor Friedersdorf notes, this is an issue that people ought to be concerned about regardless of which party they belong to, because a power asserted by a President you like will one day end up in the hands of a President you don’t like:

 The “cult of the presidency” thesis is one Democrats and Republicans would both do well to understand and grapple with. But it holds a lesson for everyone who is attracted to third-party candidates too. If flaws in modern attitudes toward the presidency really are a big part of the problem, it wouldn’t be enough to elect one civil libertarian president, even if he or she improbably resisted the temptations and pressures of the office. In the long run, only a strong Congress can rein in the executive branch. Expecting a Ron Paul or Jill Stein figure to do it from the White House falls prey to the same wrongheaded thinking that makes a cult of the presidency. It’s fine to vote third party, but changing Congress ought to be the more urgent priority.

As Healy puts it, “Can the president launch a war without Congress? How far do executive surveillance powers extend? Can the president use U.S. armed forces to seize an American citizen on American soil and hold him in a military brig? Can he authorize the targeted killing of an American citizen via robot assassin? These are core questions of federal power over which the president enjoys far more discretion than he does over the budget. And yet when it comes to the role of the presidency and the scope of executive power, there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between the two tickets.” He’s hardly the first to observe as much. But his explanation for why there isn’t any significant difference is as compelling and original as any I know.

This morning Conor made note off this with specific reference to the issue of the President’s drone program:

So what if Romney is elected and turns out to be much worse on drones? It could totally happen. I wouldn’t be surprised. I’ll be opposing his unaccountable killing policy from day one regardless, just as I’ve opposed Obama’s policy due to its manifold flaws. And if Romney’s drone policy turns out to have all sorts of catastrophic consequences? I hope Sullivan remembers that Obama established the bipartisan consensus behind a worldwide drone-strike strategy and set all the necessary precedents without losing the support of backers like Sullivan. (He didn’t even lose support for continuing his current drone policy itself.) A Romney drone fleet, operating in numerous countries with zero oversight from the judiciary or Congress, with American citizens in the crosshairs? Obama and his supporters built that. It would be ready for President Romney on day one.

Indeed it would, as would a whole host of other powers that Obama and his predecessors have assumed for themselves over the years, usually without Congress even lifting a finger. And yet not a single question was asked about any of this during the 360 minutes of debates that took place this month.

Barack Obama has vastly increased the powers of his office, and has set in place precedents that will allow his successors to do the same thing, and to use those powers in ways that Americans may not find acceptable. In that respect, he’s no different than the Presidents who have preceded him for roughly the past century. However, the fact that we aren’t even having a debate about this, and that the two men who were on the stage last night in Boca Raton are essentially of one mind about this issue, is something that ought to concern all Americans. One day, we’re going to wake up with a President who has used these powers in a nefarious manner, and there’s going to be very little that we can do about it.

As noted above, Healy is out with a new e-book,  False Idol: Barack Obama and the Continuing Cult of the Presidentwhich I commend to your attention. Additionally here’s a podcast from last week where Healy talked about the new book with Cato’s Caleb Brown:

Related Posts:

About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Mikey says:

    Not surprising–every President has acted in a similar fashion.

    Do Americans so desire a king that we invest our President with the kind of devotion normally accorded powerful monarchs?

    Or is the continual upward creep of Presidential power an effect of our particular structure of government, in which “the executive Power [is] vested in a President of the United States?”

    Or perhaps a combination of the two?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  2. MBunge says:

    I’m sorry, but I can’t take this stuff seriously.

    1. On “cult” standards, Bush the Younger blows away anything Obama has done. Did Healy write a book about that.

    2. How is Conor shrugging his shoulders at Romney likely being far, FAAAAAAAR worse than Obama on these issues help anything.

    3. The problem is not Presidents or the Presidency. It is Congress happily abdicating its proper Constitutional role. But bitching about Congress doesn’t attract as much attention.

    4. If Congress refuses to do it’s job, you cannot fault a President for trying every way he can to get around them.

    Mike

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 28 Thumb down 4

  3. Dazedandconfused says:

    Blaming Obama for the vast increase in the power of the office? What specifically are they referring to?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  4. legion says:

    No federal chief executive in recent memory has done as much as the ‘Yes We Can’ president to stir Americans’ longing for presidential salvation

    Am I the only one who remembers the last four years? The reason Americans have longed for salvation by the President is primarily because Congress has spent the last four years with Republicans continually blocking _anything_ that might actually help Americans? Combined with our typical lack of respect for Members of Congress in general, where exactly would you _expect_ Americans to look for guidance and leadership in times of crisis?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 24 Thumb down 3

  5. nitpicker says:

    Do you realize how ridiculous all of this executive power handwringing seems when you spent the Bush years barely mentioning the topic, despite many of the powers you now complain about Obama exercising popping up during that time? Shameless.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 22 Thumb down 2

  6. Rafer Janders says:

    One day, we’re going to wake up with a President who has used these powers in a nefarious manner, and there’s going to be very little that we can do about it.

    Uh, one day? We’ve already had presidents who used these powers in a nefarious manner. Because I’m fairly sure that I can remember President Bush setting up a secret worldwide network of torture gulags, and there being not much anyone could do about it.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 0

  7. cd6 says:

    Interesting discussion. I think this “cult” is really a symptom of the entire dumbing down of America. Americans can’t name the Supreme Court Justices, they don’t know who their congressman is or that a minority in the Senate can (and does) fillibuster everything.

    But people DO know who the president is. And so, its easy/simple to blame or credit the president for pretty much everything the government does.

    When you have an opposition party and their dedicated cable news station determined to score “points” against the president by also saying he’s personally responsible for every decision made by the government, such as deciding on the number of security forces on hand at all our consulates and embassies, that’s only going to further the illusion.

    The solution is a focus on better educating voters and eveyrone else so they DO understand their government and how it functions, but with so many people who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, I don’t expect to see a change soon. Hence: we’re boned.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  8. Mikey says:

    @MBunge: 1. On “cult” standards, Bush the Younger blows away anything Obama has done. Did Healy write a book about that.

    Well, yeah, basically. Healy’s book was published in April of 2008.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  9. James in LA says:

    Cult, schmult. Howdya create a cult when every minute of your day is scheduled? Those creating the cult are the (alleged) believers, and these do not seem to be in huge supply.

    More relevantly, Obama’s support from Latinos may be being missed in the MSM’s desire to create a race. I doubt this comes from any cult-like following, but rather stems from just terrible GOP policy. This site also has a handy app where you can plug in % of the Latino vote and the %of that vote going for Romney.

    http://www.latinodecisions.com/blog/2012/10/23/why-pollsters-missed-the-latino-vote-2012-edition/

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  10. @MBunge:

    Healy deals with the Bush 43 Administration quite extensively in the original book, I recommend you read it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2

  11. C. Clavin says:

    “…Frustrated by congressional resistance to his agenda…”

    So the problem is Obama and not a reflexively obstructionist Republican Caucus?
    A Republican caucus that consistently votes against what it actually believes in?
    The problem is Obama and not a record number of filibusters?
    Or the huge number of nominations held up?
    This is what Biden would politely call…”Malarky”.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  12. David M says:

    Seems to me the dysfunction in Congress and the GOP is a much bigger issue, as that actually works to make this problem worse.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  13. The ongoing increase in executive power is highly problematic regardless of which party occupies the WH.

    The problem is that this is endemic to a separation of powers systems, especially when Congress is unserious in its oversight duties and when it shirks its governing responsibilities.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0

  14. Dazedandconfused says:

    I don’t understand the Libertarians fervent desire to replace Obama with a guy who admires Dick Cheney on the basis of Executive power running amok.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  15. cd6 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    The problem is that this is endemic to a separation of powers systems, especially when Congress is unserious in its oversight duties and when it shirks its governing responsibilities.

    And Congress does a terrible job because American voters are even more unserious and delinquent in their oversight duties.

    And yet, we’re on track to reelect 90% of the same morons who got us into the mess. But wait, here comes honey boo boo is on, can’t be bothered to get informed.

    Shoot me in the face, please

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  16. mantis says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    The problem is that this is endemic to a separation of powers systems, especially when Congress is unserious in its oversight duties and when it shirks its governing responsibilities.

    Indeed. I am disturbed by the president’s expansion of power and use of drones, but what is to be done about it? Congress won’t budge, the parties want to keep the expanded powers for when their guy is in the WH, and the media are much more interested in binders and blowjobs.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  17. @cd6: Yes, the voters deserve a lot of the blame. Of course, the fact that state-level politicians draw the boundaries so that a huge number of districts are safe R or safe D makes it all the worse.

    Quite frankly, our electoral system is heavily to blame as well.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  18. Dazed,

    I dislike both of the major party candidates for President relatively equally

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 6

  19. Franklin says:

    I think this is a pretty good topic of discussion, although I don’t have anything to add right now. Keep harping on it, though, and maybe it’ll get more widespread attention.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  20. Davebo says:

    @Dazedandconfused:

    I don’t understand the Libertarians fervent desire to replace Obama with a guy who admires Dick Cheney on the basis of Executive power running amok.

    That’s because you make the classic mistake of believing that Doug is a classical libertarian when a brief review of his posts prior to the 2008 election would easily dispel that notion.

    He’ll deny it as he always does but Doug, like most self described Libertarians, is just another Republican who’s ashamed to admit it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  21. swbarnes2 says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    I dislike both of the major party candidates for President relatively equally

    Let’s put aside your feelings for a moment. Votes are more important than feelings, yes, even yours.

    You are going to vote for a Republican for President, correct?

    And you’ll vote for more Republicans for other offices, like house of Reps, right? And governor, if that race were being held this year?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  22. Mikey says:

    @Davebo:

    He’ll deny it as he always does but Doug, like most self described Libertarians, is just another Republican who’s ashamed to admit it.

    I can’t speak for Doug, but for me, the GOP’s embrace of intellectual mediocrity, dismissal of science, and embrace of medieval religion chased me out.

    I’m not ashamed to admit I was a Republican, but I’d be ashamed to admit I was still one.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  23. Curtis says:

    Ultimately, this is the largest failure of the Constitution.

    The Founders developed a separation of powers that assumed all virtuous members of the republic would have roughly the same objectives, and they designed the institutions to be able to compete with each other for authority.

    However, we don’t all have the same objectives, and we have sorted ourselves into political parties for accountability, but we are operating under a system designed for a non-partisan nation. So we have both institutional gridlock and partisan gridlock.

    Congress, since at least the Civil War, has been unable to function effectively but in brief stretches because of the combination of the two gridlocks is worse there than anywhere else. We went until 1957 before there was any meaningful civil rights legislation after the passage of the 14th and 15th amendments because of how messed up the legislative process is in this country. As Congress adbicated its responsibility, the courts and especially the president have stepped into the vacuum.

    This is a problem that has been going on for 150 years, at the very least. And neither political party is doing much about it because each has benefitted and each expects to benefit again from it. I am a Democrat, and I don’t want Obama to have any power that I wouldn’t want Bush to have – because there is going to be another Bush (figuratively if not literally) in the Oval Office someday. I am with you in principle. Right now I am faced – or at least until 3 hours ago because I voted at lunchtime, so my die is cast – with a choice between two flawed candidates. I picked the one I thought would make the better president.

    When primary time comes around, I will be working within my party to find those candidates willing to make a commitment to the institutional role of the Congress, and willing to reduce the role of the executive. This is my biggest disappointment with Obama. But in the general election with only two credible candidates, Romney simply isn’t a better alternative on these issues. But show me those candidates in the primaries, and I will donate some money, make some calls, and knock on some doors.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  24. Rafer Janders says:

    People haven’t really mentioned it, but this is one of the key factors in a presidential as opposed to a parliamentary system. The US has gotten very, very lucky, and has avoided slippping into autocracy through a happy combination of historical accidents. But strong presidential systems are inherently unstable and tend over time to concentrate more and more power in the executive in a way that parliamentary systems don’t. It’s a structural and systemic problem baked into the very fabric of our Constitution.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  25. Moderate Mom says:

    @swbarnes2: I thing he’s voting for Gary Johnson.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  26. OzarkHillbilly says:

    the Obama Administration has adopted in whole the controversial “State Secrets” doctrine first developed by the Bush Administration’s John Yoo.

    Doug, I have stated this before and at the risk of being repetitive will say it again:

    The State Secrets doctrine was NOT first developed by John Yoo during the 2nd Bush Administration. The first invocation of the State Secrets privelage came during Jefferson’s administration:

    In this case, it was alleged that a letter from General James Wilkinson to President Thomas Jefferson might contain state secrets and could therefore not be divulged without risk to national security.[1]

    It was first recognized by the Supreme Court during the Truman Presidency:

    The privilege was first officially recognized by the Supreme Court of the United States in United States v. Reynolds, 345 U.S. 1 (1953). A military airplane, a B-29 Superfortress bomber, crashed. The widows of three civilian crew members sought accident reports on the crash but were told that to release such details would threaten national security by revealing the bomber’s top-secret mission.[1][2][3][4][5][6][9][10] The court held that only the government can claim or waive the privilege, but that it “is not to be lightly invoked” and that there “must be a formal claim of privilege, lodged by the head of the department which has control over the matter, after actual personal consideration by that officer.”[1] The court stressed that the decision to withhold evidence is to be made by the presiding judge and not the executive.[1]

    Yes, after 9/11 there was a dramatic increase in it’s invocation, and I more than suspect John Yoo had something to with that, but he did not first develop it.

    And yes, the quotes are from wikipedia, but it largely confirms what I already knew from other sources.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  27. Dazedandconfused says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    How can you view somebody who admires Dick Cheney and is still on the record as supporting torture as equal to Obama?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  28. NickTamere says:

    Any discussion of increased/added presidential powers that doesn’t mention the massive expansion (and subsequent rollback) of presidential signing statements from 2000-2008 is incomplete at best and dishonest at worst. And to get any equivalence out of the way- has Obama used them? Yes. Has he “abused” it? Potentially- especially with the IMF and the defense bill in late 2011*. But this was something that was (ab)used over 700 times in 8 years of the Bush presidency, versus…. fewer than 30 as of today. Historically, you’ll find that our current PoTUS use of it is in line with most other presidents, while Dubya used it as a line-item veto.

    (*his signing statement for the defense bill was “administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens.” On some level this represents a “power grab” for the executive, but it’s also pushback against congress violating the constitution)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  29. Nick,

    Read “The Cult Of The Presidency,” all of that is discussed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  30. swbarnes2 says:

    @Moderate Mom:

    I thing he’s voting for Gary Johnson.

    Who is a Republican. He was a Republican when he was governor of New Mexico, and he was part of the Republican primary for President.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  31. NickTamere says:

    Healy may have discussed it, but you’re the one who titled this “The Cult of Barack Obama’s Presidency” and stated that “as we come to the end of Barack Obama’s first term, it’s quite apparent that the historical trend has continued unabated”, which is contradicted by the record on signing statements. Just saying.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  32. Ebenezer_Arvigenius says:

    People haven’t really mentioned it, but this is one of the key factors in a presidential as opposed to a parliamentary system.

    All systems that distinguish between executive and legislative bodies (including parliamentary democracies) face this problem. The phenomenon is well-known since at least the 1920s (Max Weber’s “Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft. Grundriß der verstehenden Soziologie”).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  33. Steve Verdon says:

    @MBunge:

    1. On “cult” standards, Bush the Younger blows away anything Obama has done. Did Healy write a book about that.

    As has been noted, see the first book.

    2. How is Conor shrugging his shoulders at Romney likely being far, FAAAAAAAR worse than Obama on these issues help anything.

    He had an article about that. In his view Obama is so bad with regards to things like drone attacks it is hard to imagine that Romney is going to be worse. Perhaps you should find it and read it.

    3. The problem is not Presidents or the Presidency. It is Congress happily abdicating its proper Constitutional role. But bitching about Congress doesn’t attract as much attention.

    And Presidents who use that abdication to expand their powers.

    4. If Congress refuses to do it’s job, you cannot fault a President for trying every way he can to get around them.

    Sure we can. Doing something wrong, even if people wont stop you, does not make it right.

    Really, those last two were just stupid.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 6

  34. Steve Verdon says:

    @NickTamere:

    Any discussion of increased/added presidential powers that doesn’t mention the massive expansion (and subsequent rollback) of presidential signing statements from 2000-2008 is incomplete at best and dishonest at worst.

    You’re ignorance is screaming through loud and clear if you think Healy is a fan of Bush. Perhaps you should do something strange….like read Healy’s first book that you can download for free now.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  35. Steve Verdon says:

    To the ignorant buffoons commenting with “But what about Bush!!!!!1!!!11!!!Eleven!!!ONe

    From the introduction of Healy’s Book Cult of the Presidency

    Nearly six years earlier, September 11 had inspired similar rhetorical excess, but with far greater consequence. The week after the attacks, President Bush invoked America’s ‘‘responsibility to history’’ and declared that we would ‘‘answer these attacks and rid the world of evil.’’5 A mission that vast would seem to require equally vast powers. And the Bush administration has made some of the broadest assertions of executive power in American history: among them, the power to launch wars at will, to tap phones and read e-mail without a warrant, and to seize American citizens on American soil and hold them for the duration of the War on Terror—in other words, perhaps forever—without ever having to answer to a judge.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  36. OzarkHillbilly says:

    the Obama Administration has adopted in whole the controversial “State Secrets” doctrine first developed by the Bush Administration’s John Yoo.

    Doug, I hate defending John Yoo as much as the next guy…. Personally I would like to blame him for everything from the gulags to the crucifixion of Jesus. But he didn’t do those and he did not do this.

    A simple acknowledgement would suffice.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  37. Steve Verdon says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Hmmm…did Yoo first develop it? No. Did he push it for the Bush Administration, it appears so.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  38. David M says:

    @Steve Verdon:

    4. If Congress refuses to do it’s job, you cannot fault a President for trying every way he can to get around them.

    Sure we can. Doing something wrong, even if people wont stop you, does not make it right.

    I’m not sure that’s a realistic expectation, which is why the Congressional dysfunction is more problematic.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  39. swbarnes2 says:

    @Steve Verdon:

    The complaint isn’t about Healy, it’s about Doug’s selective criticism of Obama when Bush did the same stuff, if not worse.

    Saying that Healy really did criticize Bush doesn’t help Doug’s argument be any more evenhanded. Doug’d have to point to his “The Cult of George W. Bush” writings for that to fly. And I don’t think Doug can do that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  40. @swbarnes2:

    I wasn’t writing at OTB when Bush was President, but I was a frequent and loud critic of his Presidency. I’m not sure what else to say to you about that. Apparently, criticism of Bush is acceptable in your eyes, but criticism of Obama is forbidden.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  41. Liberty60 says:

    Libertarianism is an economic theory that, when scaled up into a political theory, is self-negating.

    While the libertarian voter wants, for example, a cutting of taxes AND a curtailment of rent-seeking, by decreasing the power of government and allowing private power to grow unchecked, the sole remaining power centers are the ones that want only tax cutting, and no curtailment of rent-seeking.

    There is no effective mechanism in libertarian politics for combatting private power centers that want to deviate from libertarian economic theory.

    This is why there are no libertarian governments in existance, no matter how small or local.

    So why do they almost invariably caucus with Republicans? Because for most libertarians, cutting taxes and cutting rent-seeking are not equal motivators; one is decisive, the other only a mild preference.

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  42. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Curtis: I wish you luck in your quest for better candidates. Unfortunatly, by the time a person is running for county council, the party knows whether the candidate in question is suitably whore-like to be allowed to run for higher office.

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  43. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Steve Verdon: Have you noticed that Steve Verdon has started jumping into the thread when Doug is starting to be overwhelmed by the opposition?
    I realize the Steve is an actual person too, but in this case is his role “Doug sock puppet?”

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  44. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Doug Mataconis: No, I see him as just asking you to be more evenhanded in your “both sides do it” blather.

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  45. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    Let me expand on a couple of Doug’s points:

    On his own, the President ordered the death of an American citizen who had not even been formally charged with a crime via drone strike and resisted efforts by family members and civil liberties organization to force the government to prove in court that the death sentence was justifiable. In pursuing that American citizen, the United States also ended up killing an innocent 16 year-old boy.

    The President committed American forces to a war in Libya without seeking permission from Congress but with the permission of NATO and the Arab League and, when confronted about that, did what every President has done and denied the validity of the War Powers Act – not even acting “consistent with” as other presidents had. Obama, rather, simply said that it didn’t apply because he said so.

    (bolded parts added by yours truly)

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  46. Herb says:

    @Steve Verdon:

    “To the ignorant buffoons commenting with “But what about Bush!!!!!1!!!11!!!Eleven!!!ONe”

    Not sure I’d be so eager to call these people ignorant buffoons.

    Seems to me the true “ignorant buffoons” are the ones who think they’ll win arguments complaining about the “Imperial Presidency.” Seriously, guys….

    How can you write this statement:

    In that respect, he’s no different than the Presidents who have preceded him for roughly the past century.

    And then pretend that a strong executive isn’t A) normal and B) the consensus preference?

    That’s right….civil libertarians prefer a weak executive hindered by process, but they are few. And nearly everyone else has a different view.

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  47. Herb says:

    the President ordered the death of an American citizen who had not even been formally charged with a crime via drone strike

    This is a perfect example of what I mean above by the disconnect between regular people and your average civil libertarian.

    Who was Al-Awaki? To hear these guys tell it, he was an American citizen enjoying his vacation in Yemen when evil Obama sent drones for no reason.

    Problem is, the guy was an American citizen by birth and a Yemeni citizen in practice. On paper, he was both. But why should we call him an “American citizen” when he lived here only to go to school? Why no mention of his Yemeni citizenship?

    It’s almost as if instead of dealing with the facts, you’re trying to skew the argument.

    No wonder it has no traction…..

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  48. Mikey says:

    @Herb: I don’t think anyone poses al-Awlaki as just some guy vacationing in Yemen. We all know what he was involved in. But he was also an American citizen because he met the Constitutional criteria for being an American citizen. That is more than a simple arbitrary distinction, and no individual, not even a President, should have the authority to unilaterally nullify it, or arbitrarily dictate that its protections no longer cover a citizen–especially not when the determination is made using secret panels and secret evidence.

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  49. Herb says:

    @Mikey:

    “But he was also an American citizen because he met the Constitutional criteria for being an American citizen. That is more than a simple arbitrary distinction,”

    Who said it was arbitrary?

    I’m saying it’s irrelevant. The guy worked with Al Qaeda. The president was granted authority by Congress to make war on Al Qaeda and used that authority to launch a military strike on him, resulting in the man’s death.

    And yet we have to listen to “the president is assassinating American citizens” claptrap. Look, I’m glad everyone who repeats that has already bought it. They should not wonder why the case is unpersuasive. It ignores salient facts (the Al Qaeda team-up, the AUMF) and instead focuses on distortions (assassination???) and ephemera (the convenient half of the guy’s citizenship status).

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  50. Mikey says:

    @Herb:

    Who said it was arbitrary?

    It was treated as arbitrary when the President unilaterally declared it irrelevant. It was treated as arbitrary when a secret panel used secret evidence to issue a secret memo so the President could issue a secret order to kill the guy.

    I’m not saying he was innocent, or that he didn’t work with al Qaeda, or that he wasn’t a genuinely bad guy. I’m saying he was entitled to due process as an American citizen under our Constitution and he didn’t get it.

    There would be other circumstances in which I would not be against killing him–if, for example, he were engaged in combat against our forces in a battle. Obviously at that point he is a direct and imminent threat. But that wasn’t the case, unless you accept Bush’s assertion that the whole world is a battlefield and anyone we call “terrorist” is fair game.

    I’m not ignoring any salient facts. I am simply treating them as subordinate to the Constitutional considerations. The creation of a “but he’s a TERRORIST!” loophole in the Fifth Amendment is a very dangerous thing.

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  51. mantis says:

    The president was granted authority by Congress to make war on Al Qaeda and used that authority to launch a military strike on him, resulting in the man’s death.

    Apparently, to some among the wingnut crowd, killing an active enemy engaged in terrorism against the United States for many years, while we are at war with his terrorist organization, is wrong. If the president is a Democrat. Funny how that’s all it takes for them to become terrorist sympathizers.

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  52. mantis says:

    @Mikey:

    It was treated as arbitrary when a secret panel used secret evidence to issue a secret memo so the President could issue a secret order to kill the guy.

    Apparently you think we should broadcast our military moves ahead of time. That would be rather stupid.

    I’m saying he was entitled to due process as an American citizen under our Constitution and he didn’t get it.

    Not if you are actively engaged in war against us, you don’t. You get a rocket up your ass in that case.

    There would be other circumstances in which I would not be against killing him–if, for example, he were engaged in combat against our forces in a battle.

    Recruiting terrorist and planning terrorist attacks is no different. In fact, it makes one a far more dangerous enemy than some goat farmer with an AK-47 in the hills of Afghanistan. Pretending that this guy was not actively engaged in war against us is ridiculous.

    But that wasn’t the case, unless you accept Bush’s assertion that the whole world is a battlefield and anyone we call “terrorist” is fair game.

    There is a huge difference between rounding up poor schlubs in Afghanistan and calling them all terrorists and Al-Awaki. He was a proven terrorist and a major threat to the United States.

    The creation of a “but he’s a TERRORIST!” loophole in the Fifth Amendment is a very dangerous thing.

    For people at war with the US in other countries, maybe. It’s ok if they experience more danger.

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  53. Mikey says:

    @mantis: Well, in any case, your opinion prevailed. I will say that of course I don’t believe we should broadcast our military plans ahead of time. But there are provisions for due process that can involve classified information, so doing that would not have been necessary.

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  54. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    I’ve lived in Texas, where “some people just need killing” is almost a legal tenet. I got no problems with Awlaki getting blowed up real good.

    I’m just trying to reconcile how the people who are OUTRAGED!!!!! that KSM was waterboarded have no problems with the entirely extralegal assassination of Awlaki, and the death of his 16-year-old son (also an American citizen) as collateral damage.

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  55. Nick says:

    @Curtis: Thanks for the comment–more informative than any other comment or the original post. But this blog always has at least one comment that blows the original post out of the water.

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  56. mantis says:

    @Jay Tea’s sock puppet Jenos Idanian #13:

    I’m just trying to reconcile how the people who are OUTRAGED!!!!! that KSM was waterboarded have no problems with the entirely extralegal assassination of Awlaki, and the death of his 16-year-old son (also an American citizen) as collateral damage.

    There is a big difference between what we do with people in custody and what we do to combat terrorists at large. See the Geneva Conventions for more info.

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  57. Mikey says:

    Apropos the current topic: How Team Obama Justifies the Killing of a 16-Year-Old American

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  58. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @mantis: Bug-boy, KSM chose to exclude himself from the Geneva Convention in several ways. As an illegal combatant, we could — and maybe should — have just executed him on the spot.

    But since the summary executions are being done by Barack The Light Bringer, that’s just fine and dandy. And that teenage boy? He must have been asking for it. Besides, he probably would have done something bad some day, so he had it coming.

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  59. mantis says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    KSM chose to exclude himself from the Geneva Convention in several ways.

    We didn’t.

    But since the summary executions strategic strikes on high value enemy targets are being done by Barack The Light Bringer the United States military and CIA, that’s just fine and dandy.

    FTFY

    And that teenage boy? He must have been asking for it.

    War is hell. I never saw you once express any concern for the innocent people killed as collateral damage in the wars you supported. Until a Democrat was elected president, that is.

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  60. Herb says:

    @Mikey:

    “I’m not ignoring any salient facts. I am simply treating them as subordinate to the Constitutional considerations.”

    There are no Constitutional considerations here. Congress authorized the war. The president was operating under that authority.

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    “I’m just trying to reconcile how the people who are OUTRAGED!!!!! that KSM was waterboarded have no problems with the entirely extralegal assassination of Awlaki, and the death of his 16-year-old son (also an American citizen) as collateral damage.”

    Of course you are.

    “Extralegal assassination” is the first clue you’re trying to reconcile…..something.

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  61. Mikey says:

    @Herb:

    There are no Constitutional considerations here. Congress authorized the war. The president was operating under that authority.

    Congressional authorizations supersede the Constitution?

    Quick, somebody tell the Supreme Court!

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  62. Herb says:

    @Mikey:

    Quick, somebody tell the Supreme Court!

    Please…..

    I feel sorry for people who think the Supreme Court is the mirror that reflects their personal opinions. They’re often shocked when it doesn’t shake out like that.

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  63. Habbit says:

    I didn’t read past like the fifteenth comment because it seems that the great majority of the participants here haven’t left the fifth grade yet, so maybe this has been addressed, but how does, “Oh hey, the current president (one who promised a “transparent” administration) is not giving a **** about what he can and can’t do way more than the last president didn’t give a **** about we he could and could not do” invite an onslaught of BUTUTUUTTUTUTUTUTUUUUUT BUUUUUUSSSSSSHHHHHHH.

    Cult?
    Sounds like it to me.

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  64. Habbit says:

    @mantis:

    There is a big difference between what we do with people in custody and what we do to combat terrorists at large.

    dat skawy 16 yeer old tewwawist

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  65. Tillman says:

    …usually without Congress even lifting a finger.

    Yet we blame the Presidents, who are, like all men, cravers of power.

    What I love about libertarian bashing of the increase in executive power over time is that they always hold the presidents accountable, as if all men were by nature virtuous and restrained, and not the institutions surrounding the presidents with the most power to stop them.

    And people wonder why I call libertarians optimists.

    The book shouldn’t be called “The Cult of the Presidency.” It should be called, “Why Congress Sucks: A Primer.”

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  66. Mikey says:

    @Herb: I think it should be obvious the Supreme Court would not look kindly on a Congress that asserted one of its authorizations somehow carved a hole in the Due Process Clause, or a President who tried to use a Congressional authorization as a defense for unilaterally creating an exception.

    My problem with this is two-fold. First, the whole thing is done in the Executive Branch. There’s no oversight from Congress and no judge looks at any of it. It’s just the President’s lawyers giving the OK, and if you remember the name “John Yoo” you understand why that’s problematic.

    Second, there’s the issue of creating exceptions to due process for certain people or groups. Is that a door we want to have opened? Everyone seems to think if the “right” people open it just a crack, we don’t have to worry about it getting kicked all the way open, but what happens if the “wrong” people get hold of it? Given the nature of Presidents to always seek expansion of their powers, how can we predict what might happen in 5, 10, 20 years?

    Anyway, as I told Mantis, it’s moot at this point, the deed is done and my disagreement is clearly the minority opinion. But thanks for the discussion.

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  67. Habbit says:

    @Mikey: Anyone who opens the door a crack is the “wrong” person. Be it Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, or Obama. There’s no justification in it for anybody, regardless of what Obama fanatics say after they finish sacrificing their first-born to the him.

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