>> Monday, February 16, 2009
Seeing venezuala repeal their term limits on the office of the presidency has brought to mind something about executive power in our own country. This is the "trust me" idea. The idea that as citizens what we need is to trust our presidents to use their expansive power wisely and that by simply highlighting past abuses or saying that they wont happen again. I feel that simply airing dirty laundry from the Bush administration or discovering the truth is not enough to prevent future abuses by the executive. In this light i would like to see President Obama and the Congress take more concrete steps to prevent a repeat of the Bush administration in the future and to roll back the executive branch's power.
Dave Waldmen presented a question about Obama and the use of signing statements to avoid having to enforce the executive pay measures passed in the stimulus bill.
Whatever the differences, let's be clear about what it means that Congress has passed this set of restrictions, and President Obama is signing them into law tomorrow. Any changes he'd like to see made, he ought to seek to have made legislatively. After two weeks of seeing the stimulus bill watered down and slashed in a futile attempt to "reach out" to Republicans who all eventually gave him the finger, do you think we could maybe, possibly not have the President unilaterally take an axe to a wildly popular provision added to the package by members of his own party?
I'm not a presidential adviser, of course. But I'm thinking that maybe this ought to be approached with a bit more caution, and more signals need to be sent that the President is committed to making any fixes he wants through the legislative process. Any ambiguity isn't likely to help him when it comes time to sell another $2 trillion round of TARP funding in the coming weeks. The constant worry of Obama's most critical allies on the Hill with respect to the TARP is that Congressional oversight not fall by the wayside. If the White House's opening move on oversight is to announce its intention not only to make decisions unilaterally, but to brush aside enacted statute in doing so, we're going to be in for a bumpy ride.
I view presidential signing statements as unconstitutional. To me the represent the executive making a determination about what is and is not constitutional that is reserved for the courts. The presidents job is to faithfully execute the laws not to alter clear language and modify statutes for political purposes. If Obama where to make a signing statement that established his intent not to enforce the executive pay cap that would be an unconstitutional act. He would be making law, not enforcing it. When an executive simply rewrites the laws passed by a duly elected legislature he takes on the character of a dictator.
Similarly, when the executive branch labels a topic protected by national security and orders law suits thrown out they are acting in a dictatorial manner. The executive should not be able to simply throw out law suits based on alleged national security requirements without a review by the judiciary as the legitimacy of that assertion. Congress should pass legislation to end the governments assertion of such a broad state secrets provision.
These are just two of the most obvious examples of how a president acts in an undemocratic and dictatorial manner. It is now, when we have Obama as President that we need congress to step to the plate and firmly roll back, in law, the unitary executive style expansion of power that has been happening since Reagen. Congress during the Bush years managed to let the executive branch have whatever it wanted because Bush was Keeping us safe. This exact language is the language of subjects not citizens. The President is not a paternalistic figure who takes care of all our problems, Presidents are supposed to be leaders. Leaders are not empowered to simply do whatever they think is best, especially under our constitution. Presidents, even the good ones are not all powerful.
While i believe Obama is of sound moral and ethical character we are a nation of laws and not of men. As a country we cannot simply sit back passively as our elected leaders "do whats good for us". We need laws, accountability, and checks on a leader be it Obama or any one else. I do not want a benevolent despot who leads me like a sheep where he says is best, otherwise id be a conservative. We shouldn't need to trust our leaders not to torture or spy on us. Just say no to benevolent dictators.