The OC Blog Back Issues Our Mission Contact Us Masthead
Sudsy Wants You to Join the Oregon Commentator

Metal Mondays: Imperial Presidency Edition

Gene Healy, at Reason, has written about the rise of the “imperial presidency” in the American political tradition. Healy traces the slow transition from the reticent early Presidents to the radical increase of Presidential authority under Franklin Roosevelt and forward to the present.

Far from exorciating the Bush Administration for being somehow unique in its “assault on some of the nation’s founding principles”, as a 2007 editorial in the New York Times put it, Healy seems to be more in line with the Arthur Schlesinger view of the evolution of the Presidency:

Throughout the 20th century more and more Americans looked to the central government to deal with highly visible public problems, from labor disputes to crime waves to natural disasters. And as responsibility flowed to the center, power accrued with it. If that trend continues, responses to matters of great public concern will be increasingly federal, increasingly executive, and increasingly military…

Today’s “presidentialists of all parties”—a phrase that describes the overwhelming majority of American voters—suffer from a similar delusion. Our system, with its unhealthy, unconstitutional concentration of power, feeds on the atavistic tendency to see the chief magistrate as our national father or mother, responsible for our economic well-being, our physical safety, and even our sense of belonging.

None of the current crop of major candidates, unsurprisingly, seem to offer any hope of change in this regard, either:

Aside from the issue of torture, there’s very little daylight between John McCain and George W. Bush on matters of executive power… In 2003 [Hillary Clinton] told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos: “I’m a strong believer in executive authority. I wish that, when my husband was president, people in Congress had been more willing to recognize presidential authority.”

Barack Obama has done more than any candidate in memory to boost expectations for the office, which were extraordinarily high to begin with.

The fault doesn’t truly lie with the candidates, of course, but rather with the electorate. McCain, Clinton, and Obama are only responding to what the American people have been demanding of their government for the better part of a century. Few indeed can be the ranks of Democratic voters who truly believe that either Hillary or Obama will work with Congress to roll back the U.S.A. Patriot Act and fewer still the numbers of libertarians and conservatives who expect John McCain to reduce the size of government. All three candidates are heirs to the imperial Presidency and as long the populace continues to venerate the President as Father of the Country, rock star, messiah, or someone who will, with the wave of their hands, fix the problems facing the country, we will continue to see power concentrated in the hands of whomever sits in the Oval Office, regardless of their political party.

Despite Senator Obama’s campaign rhetoric, the only real hope this country has for change is a radical lowering of the expectations we, the people, have of the President and of the role of government itself.

In any case, since Healy’s article is rather long, some appropriately imperial music is in order, namely “I Am the Black Wizards” by — who else? — Emperor.

I think someone stole some footage from “Fantasia” or something, and juxtaposed it with a recording of the song (which I don’t think there’s any official video of).

(Note: I would’ve embedded the video, but WordPress refuses to allow me to, so you’ll have to follow the link for now. I’ll embed it in the post once the issue gets sorted out.)

  1. Chris Holman says:

    Anything that puts it all on the electorate makes me immediately suspicious. I would like to think that the American electorate is full of highly-intelligent voters who go out and vote for what they want in intelligent ways, but somehow—at least to me—there seems to be something missing in this take on the situation. Perhaps it’s the notion that Americans want a Presidaddy and *vurp* we’re only getting what we vote for…

    How do you explain Cheney’s antics in the last 8 years as he not only consolidated power for the Office of the POTUS but also for his own office (the infamous 4th branch of government). Is Cheney just doing what the people want? What about any number of other problems over time where power has been consolidated via government machinations that your average voter has little to no knowledge of?

    For what it’s worth, I’d argue that it’s more of the government being subtle about the centralization of power (Congress pretty much laid down and licked its balls during the last 8 years for instance) and then much of the electorate is, as is typical, sold on promises and fantastic imagery and jingoism that changes depending on location and is reflected on very superficial levels with controversial, heated issues that people respond viscerally to.

    A candidate who harnesses the superficiality can get his or her way to the office, but once they are there you cannot blame the electorate. At least, not completely.

    That’s just abdicating the government of responsibility for its action(s).

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.