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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

the imperial presidency revisited « Previous | |Next »
December 31, 2007

Sidney Blumenthal at Open Democracy has an interesting long view perspective on the 2008 US Presidential campaign, that is different from that of Paul Krugman.

Blumenthal says that this campaign pits two parties running on diametrically opposite ideas of the presidency and the constitution. There has not been such a sharp divergence on the foundation of the federal system since perhaps the election of 1860. Two models of the presidency are at odds, one whose founding father was George Washington, the other whose founding father was Richard Nixon.

The former model is limited presidential power within a system of checks and balances within constitutional government. The latter model is one of unlimited executive power. The Republican Party's interpretation of this model is the imperial presidency.

Blumenthal says:

In ways that Nixon did not achieve, Bush has reduced the entire presidency and its functions to the commander-in-chief in wartime. And in order to sustain this role he has projected a never-ending war against a distant, faceless foe, ubiquitous and lethal. Fear and panic became the chief motifs substituting for democratic persuasion to engineer the consent of the governed.... The imperial president must by definition be an infallible leader. Only he can determine what is a mistake because he is infallible....Projecting violence against accused terrorists in an endless war is a deep political strategy to forge and fortify a new regime.

Bush's presidency is now accepted as the only acceptable version for major Republican candidates who aspire to succeed him. All of them have pledged to extend its arbitrary powers. Their embrace of the imperial presidency makes the 2008 election a turning-point in constitutional government.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 4:26 PM | | Comments (5)


That's a pretty scary idea, but there's an inevitability about it. The country is reduced to being a war machine with a symbolic god king at the head. It makes sense when the Republicans own the gun toting religious vote.

You point out that two models of the presidency are at odds, one whose founding father was George Washington, the other whose founding father was Richard Nixon. But I wonder if ever the Nixon point of view has been accepted as a model by anybody?

Nixon's model was the constitution is a defective instrument that can be remedied by unlimited executive power.This has been accepted by Bush and Cheny who have acted on it.It is also accepted by Rudolph Giuliani, one of the top tier Republican Presidential candidates.

Given the 'success' of both the Nixon and Bush Jnr presidencies, its not too hard to imagine the next US election determining the future of democracy in america. If the US public are convinced by the Spectacle of an imperial presidency, or, more likely ambivalent towards it, debacles like Iraq and Katrina will inevitably be repeated. Even Giuliani, who may be more pro-active than Bush (who seems to believe leadership itself is a Spectacle) will be susceptible to a Republican party enamored by its own mythology.

The decay of institutional checks and balances already in decline will further erode public participation and confidence in the political process. The hope being fostered by growing networks of public political blogs etc will be increasingly marginalized from a political class of individuals wealthy enough to buy themselves into the realms of power.

The new political class will have been too long divorced from analysis, debate, review and cooperation and will be too subservient to vested interests to make any return to the ideals inherent in the US Constitution possible only by an act of revolution.