Posts Tagged ‘imperial presidency’

Power unleashed

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

Two fascinating books are sitting on my desk right now while I frantically make last-minute revisions to mine. One’s Schlesinger’s THE IMPERIAL PRESIDENCY; though he revised/updated/republished it in 2004, my copy is the original edition, released in 1973, in the throes of Watergate. The other is Charlie Savage’s TAKEOVER, released last year and detailing the extraordinary expansion of powers under Bush II, with that president asserting a radical new theory of executive authority that (among other things) gives him the right to imprison “enemy combatants”/U.S. citizens indefinitely.

What’s particularly interesting in perusing Schlesinger’s original work is that you can really see the extent to which Watergate gave us a temporary reprieve from the nightmare that’s been shoved down our throats these past eight years. Nixon was planning many of the same things that Bush/Cheney have carried out:  the attempt to use culture wars and dirty tricks to ensure a permanent Republican majority, the classification of opponents as enemies of the state (or, if you like, terrorists), the accrual of almost unlimited wartime powers . . . all of it was part of the GOP playbook in the wake of the 1968 election, and all of it got totally derailed in the wake of the 1972 one.

But this time around there was no Watergate; today’s White House is far more adroit/sophisticated than Nixon’s ever dreamt of being.  Instead of bugging themselves, they destroy their papers.  Instead of ending wars, they declare wars that can have no end.  Instead of relying on Silent Majorities, they hack the vote itself.  There is much irony in all of this.  It was predictable enough that, from a constitutional perspective, the principal beneficiary of America’s great power status in an industrialized age would be the executive branch.  But the Founding Fathers would have been appalled at just how quickly the presidency has expanded its powers these last few years.  Those men knew all too well what would happen should one of the three branches of government break out of the checks/balances which they constructed.  It’s taking place right in front of our eyes, and regardless of who wins on November 4th, it’s a process that may have already attained an irreversible momentum.