Monday’s Mtg: Is the Presidency Too Powerful?

Presidential abuse of power is a hardy perennial issue in American politics. Every president gets accused (often with good reason) of unilaterally expanding the scope of the office, especially in times of war, national emergencies, and political gridlock. Since all of these conditions seem permanent these days, it’s a good time to revisit an issue we last discussed in 2012: Has the executive branch grown too powerful?

Bruce wanted to talk about this subject for a more specific reason. Conservatives are extremely agitated these days about President Obama’s use of executive power. They argue that he has abused his authority – in both foreign and domestic policy – in unprecedented ways. They cite his actions on, well, pretty much everything: Immigration, environmental regulations, Obamacare implementation, war and diplomacy, etc. In case you don’t follow conservative media, you should know it’s hard to overstate how endlessly these charges are repeated in conservative circles and how widely accepted it is on the Right that Obama is a “lawless president.”

Sure, it’s easy to dismiss this as just partisanship and anger over Obama’s ability to use executive action to get around the unprecedented legislative gridlock the GOP deliberately created. (Also, where were these principled critics during Bush 43’s staggering expansion of presidential power?) I think many of the charges against Obama are exaggerated, but I also believe there are real issues here. Obama did reign in some of Bush’s worst abuses, like torture. Yet, like almost all presidents, Obama pocketed most of his predecessors’ expanded authority and has added a few more of his own. Presidential power really does just keep expanding, and has been my entire adult life.

Bruce may want us to focus on specific charges against Obama, like his altering of statutory Obamacare deadlines, and his executive orders deferring deportation of large numbers of undocumented immigrants. Fair enough. I am more interested in pondering why executive branch power keeps on expanding, decade after decade and whether it can be – and should be – stopped.

On Monday, I’ll give some brief opening remarks, then ask Bruce for his POV on the subject. Note: The links this week do not crawl into specific issues, like warrantless surveillance, drones, immigration, EPA regs.  Each one would make a good separate topic someday.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS.

  1. How and why have recent presidents acquired new/expanded authority not explicitly granted in the Constitution? Has this accumulation been “natural;” i.e., a result of the needs of the modern Presidency/state?
  2. Bush: How radical versus necessary was GWB’s expansion of power? Why did we (Congress, Media, public) let it happen?
  3. Obama: Same Qs + How did Obama/Bush differ on expanding executive power?
  4. Okay, then: What’s the alternative to an imperial president?  Who would solve national problems – Congress?  The states?  No one?
  5. Could continued extreme polarization and permanent state of war lead to a presidential “soft-dictatorship” (see links)?

SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –

G.W. Bush –

Obama –

The Future of Presidential Power:

Next Week: Free trade and the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.

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