December 26, 2005
Beyond the Imperial Presidency
President Bush is a bundle of paradoxes. He thinks the scope of
the federal government should be limited but the powers of the
president should not. He wants judges to interpret the Constitution
as the framers did, but doesn't think he should be constrained
by their intentions.
Al Gore for trusting government instead of the people, but insists
that anyone who wants to defeat terrorism must put absolute faith
in the man at the helm of government.
allies say Bush is acting to uphold the essential prerogatives
of his office. Vice President Cheney says the administration's
secret eavesdropping program is justified because "I believe
in a strong, robust executive authority, and I think that the
world we live in demands it."
theory boils down to a consistent and self-serving formula: What's
good for George W. Bush is good for America, and anything that
weakens his power weakens the nation. To call this an imperial
presidency is unfair to emperors.
who should be on Bush's side are getting queasy. David Keene,
chairman of the American Conservative Union, says in his efforts
to enlarge executive authority, Bush "has gone too far."
the only one who feels that way. Consider the case of Jose Padilla,
a U.S. citizen arrested in 2002 on suspicion of plotting to set
off a "dirty bomb." For three years, the administration
said he posed such a grave threat that it had the right to detain
him without trial as an enemy combatant. In September, the U.S.
Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit agreed.
rather than risk a review of its policy by the Supreme Court,
the administration abandoned its hard-won victory and indicted
Padilla on comparatively minor criminal charges. When it asked
the 4th Circuit court for permission to transfer him from military
custody to jail, though, the once-cooperative court flatly refused.
In a decision
last week, the judges expressed amazement that the administration
would suddenly decide that Padilla could be treated like a common
purse-snatcher -- a reversal that, they said, comes "at substantial
cost to the government's credibility." The court's meaning
was plain: Either you were lying to us then, or you are lying
to us now.
not enough to embarrass the president, the opinion was written
by conservative darling J. Michael Luttig -- who just a couple
of months ago was on Bush's short list for the Supreme Court.
For Luttig to question Bush's use of executive power is like Bill
O'Reilly announcing that there's too much Christ in Christmas.
hardly the only example of the president demanding powers he doesn't
need. When American-born Saudi Yasser Hamdi was captured in Afghanistan,
the administration also detained him as an enemy combatant rather
than entrust him to the criminal justice system.
the Supreme Court said he was entitled to a hearing where he could
present evidence on his behalf, the administration decided that
was way too much trouble. It freed him and put him on a plane
back to Saudi Arabia, where he may plot jihad to his heart's content.
Try to follow this logic: Hamdi was too dangerous to put on trial
but not too dangerous to release.
that the president authorized secret and probably illegal monitoring
of communications between people in the United States and people
overseas again raises the question: Why?
the government could have easily gotten search warrants to conduct
electronic surveillance of anyone with the slightest possible
connection to terrorists. The court that handles such requests
hardly ever refuses. But Bush bridles at the notion that the president
should ever have to ask permission of anyone.
that he can ignore the law because Congress granted permission
when it authorized him to use force against al Qaeda. But we know
that can't be true. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says the
administration didn't ask for a revision of the law to give the
president explicit power to order such wiretaps because Congress
-- a Republican Congress, mind you -- wouldn't have agreed. So
the administration decided: Who needs Congress?
have now is not a robust executive but a reckless one. At times
like this, it's apparent that Cheney and Bush want more power
not because they need it to protect the nation, but because they
want more power. Another paradox: In their conduct of the war
on terror, they expect our trust, but they can't be bothered to
2005 Creators Syndicate