Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Imperial Presidency

An editorial in today's New York Times is unusually blunt in its criticisms of President Bush, who, according to the piece, "seems to see no limit to his imperial presidency." This is a point that has been made previously with respect to President Bush by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., the author of the classic work entitled The Imperial Presidency. Schlesinger's original argument, summarized in a more recent book he wrote entitled War and the American Presidency, is this:

Confronted by presidential initiatives in foreign affairs, Congress and the courts, along with the press and the citizenry too, often lack confidence in their own information and judgment and are likely to be intimidated by executive authority. The inclination in foreign policy is to let the president have the responsibility and the power--a renunciation that results from congressional pusillanimity as well as from presidential rapacity.

The imperial presidency is, or ought to be, a matter of concern to both Republicans and Democrats who believe the system of checks and balances on which the Constitution is based is worth preserving. After all, "congressional pusillanimity" at present is Republican pusillanimity. Thus far, however, most Republicans in Congress--with the noteworthy exception of Sen. John McCain--have willingly acquiesced in almost every post-9/11 expansion of presidential authority. Fortunately, Sen. Arlen Specter has promised to hold hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee on the legality of President Bush's domestic eavesdropping. But whether those hearings will represent a reassertion of legislative authority or merely the appearance of a genuine check on the executive remains to be seen.