Sunday, September 1, 2013

Walking back the imperial presidency

Whether anyone will admit it or not, much of political discourse in this era has moved away from the concept of a democratic republic and towards an imperial presidency. We tend to see that more clearly on the right (ie, Dick Cheney) but the left critics of President Obama exhibit the same thing when they lay all issues at the President's feet, completely ignoring the role of Congress and the people who elected them.

One of the main reasons why I originally signed up to support Barack Obama's candidacy was that I saw in him someone who wanted to reverse that trend. He knows its a long game, but when you really listen to what he's saying, its clearly his overriding concern (especially in this second term).
But we also believe in something called citizenship — citizenship, a word at the very heart of our founding, a word at the very essence of our democracy, the idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations...

As citizens, we understand that America is not about what can be done for us. It's about what can be done by us, together through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government. That's what we believe.
And so it should come as no surprise to us that yesterday the President called on Congress (the people's elected representatives) to take up the question about intervention in Syria.
Yet, while I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization, I know that the country will be stronger if we take this course, and our actions will be even more effective. We should have this debate, because the issues are too big for business as usual...

So to all members of Congress of both parties, I ask you to take this vote for our national security. I am looking forward to the debate. And in doing so, I ask you, members of Congress, to consider that some things are more important than partisan differences or the politics of the moment.

Ultimately, this is not about who occupies this office at any given time; it’s about who we are as a country. I believe that the people’s representatives must be invested in what America does abroad, and now is the time to show the world that America keeps our commitments. We do what we say. And we lead with the belief that right makes might -- not the other way around...

...our democracy is stronger when the President and the people’s representatives stand together.
Those who don't understand the primacy of restoring our democratic processes seem stunned that this morning Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated exactly what President Obama said yesterday...that he has "the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization," but is choosing not to use that authority. After all, that's not a "manly" thing to do (and is therefore inconceivable) - which is why some on the right are calling the President's position "weak."

But we must never mistake the boldness of what President Obama is doing. He is slowly walking back the imperial presidency. We've seen that lately in his proposals to finally end perpetual war, to provide more oversight and transparency in our intelligence practices, and now on the question of intervention in Syria.

As a believer in the long game, its clear the President isn't making sudden leaps in this process. That would be foolish - especially given the lunatic caucus that currently holds power in the House of Representatives. But he is certainly working to change the course our ship of state has been on lately. That, more than anything else, is why I support him. This Community Organizer-in-Chief is the perfect leader for these times.
America will soon belong to the men and women — white and black and Latino and Asian, Christian and Jew and Muslim and atheist, gay and straight — who can walk into a room and accept with real comfort the sensation that they are in a world of certain difference, that there are no real majorities, only pluralities and coalitions. The America in which it was otherwise is dying, thank god, and those who relied on entitlement and division to command power will either be obliged to accept the changes, or retreat to the gated communities from which they wish to wax nostalgic and brood on political irrelevance.


  1. Excellent analysis, and precisely THE strength of this president. He has pushed back against the Cold War drive toward executive usurpation of authority. He has made profoundly clear that democracy at all levels from policy to practice is NOT a spectator sport. He said that at the March on Washington Wednesday. He is saying it here. We must engage - even in difference - to create an agreement that sets the national standards and actions. There is no choice but that. Thank you for saying this so clearly.

  2. And as always, it's so sad how bad the media is about this.


    usa today 5 months ago:

    usa today the other day:

  3. Jack Goldsmith says that Obama going to Congress will NOT hamstring future presidents. So it's not quite the rollback of the imperial president that the OP claims.

    It's interesting that Goldsmith wrote, "What would have been unprecedented, and a huge development for separation of powers, is a unilateral strike in Syria."


    1. My point was the precedent it sets when a president goes to Congress when he's clear he doesn't need to.