The Imperial Presidency Is Real, And No One’s Paying Any Attention

Posted by Fullcouch on January 18, 2012, 7:35am

“I’d like to bypass Congress and change the laws on my own. Believe me, the idea of doing things on my own is very tempting. I promise you.” — Barack Obama, July 25, 2011

Jack Kelly – Liberals once expressed great fear of an “imperial presidency.” Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich, then chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, held hearings on the subject in 2008.

“George W. Bush is the imperial president James Madison and other founders of this great republic warned us about,” wrote columnist Robert Scheer in 2007.

To the founders, Mr. Bush “would seem less like a president than a king,” Adam Cohen, assistant editorial page editor of The New York Times, wrote that same year.

Mr. Bush pushed “the most massive and rapid expansion of presidential might America has ever known,” wrote Texas Democrat Jim Hightower in 2006.

They were upset chiefly with measures Mr. Bush took to fight the war on terror. “The danger of an imperial presidency is particularly great when the president takes the nation to war,” Mr. Cohen said.

But, said Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute, Mr. Bush’s “overall behavior is consonant with what the Constitution’s framers would have expected from a president facing such a threat.”

Most of Mr. Bush’s critics must secretly agree with Dr. Schmitt, because when President Barack Obama continued policies they’d railed against, they grew considerably quieter. Few complained when Mr. Obama flouted the War Powers Act to conduct military operations in Libya — in contrast to Mr. Bush, who sought — and received — approval from Congress before going to war in Iraq.

Another sign of Mr. Bush’s “imperial presidency,” liberals said, was that from time to time when Congress passed a bill that contained a provision of which he disapproved, Mr. Bush would issue a “signing statement” indicating he wouldn’t bust a gut enforcing it.

“It is a clear abuse of power to use such statements as a license to evade laws that the president does not like,” Sen. Barack Obama said in a 2007 interview.

Critics of Mr. Bush’s signing statements mostly have been mute when President Obama has issued signing statements, most recently on New Year’s Eve, when he said he would ignore key provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act. He stated, for instance, that he “will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens.”

The charge that President Bush had made an “unprecedented” power grab was false. The national security measures he took were authorized by statute, and were more modest than those taken by Franklin Roosevelt in World War II or Abraham Lincoln in the Civil War. Signing statements originated with President James Monroe (1817-1825).

Mr. Obama often has ignored laws with which he disagrees. Many other presidents, including George W. Bush, have pushed against the boundaries of their authority. But Mr. Obama took matters a shocking and dangerous step further Jan. 4 when he deliberately took an action forbidden by the Constitution.

Normally, appointees to federal departments, agencies, boards and commissions may not assume office until confirmed by the Senate. But the Constitution (Article II, Section 2, Clause 3) gives presidents the power to make temporary appointments when Congress is in recess. This provision was important when Congress would leave Washington for months at a time. Now, presidents tend to make recess appointments only when their nominees are too controversial to win Senate confirmation.

But Congress was not in recess when Mr. Obama appointed former Ohio attorney general Richard Cordray director of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and filled three vacancies on the National Labor Relations Board.

The Senate was in de facto recess but in session pro forma, a tactic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., pioneered in 2007 to keep President Bush from making recess appointments. At the time, liberals said the gambit preserved the constitutional balance of powers between the legislative and executive branches.

But now that an actual imperial presidency is emerging, liberals have fallen into silence — or worse. Many — including Sen. Reid — applauded when Mr. Obama flouted the Constitution.

The lesser point is that these liberals are hypocrites who will say, do, or excuse anything in their pursuit of power.

The Founding Fathers provided for a strong presidency, but not for a dictator. The president is bound by the Constitution. He is obligated to support and defend it. He isn’t above it. When Mr. Obama acts as if he were, he departs from the American tradition, and embraces that of a banana republic. A constitutional crisis has begun.

Liberals don’t seem to fear the “imperial presidency” anymore


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