Thursday, March 10, 2016

Tyrant-proofing the White House

Amidst all the hysteria in this Presidential Election cycle, one thing that's often forgotten is that the Presidency was never supposed to matter this much. The Founding Fathers did not give the President the power to declare war, and they certainly didn't give him the power unilaterally assassinate people based on suspicion.

In fact, if you look at Article II of the Constitution, where the Presidency is defined, it doesn't give the President much power at all. He can make treaties if the Senate confirms them, and he can appoint judges and officials, which the Senate must also confirm. Beyond that, he's basically charged with giving a State of the Union address and ensuring that the "laws be faithfully executed". Indeed that's why it's called the Executive Branch. Not because he's empowered to execute people; but because he's empowered to execute the laws passed by Congress.

Of course, I realize 1789 was a while ago, and we stopped adhering to many parts of the Constitution long before President Obama. But the underlying principles remain the same. The Founders did not grant significant powers to the President, because they did not want that much power to be concentrated in a single individual. That made sense in 1789. It still makes sense now.

Fortunately, as the election of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump grows increasingly likely, the folly of having an all-powerful President is becoming more clear. Even if you trust your team's guy (or gal) with those powers (including making war, torturing, indefinitely detaining people, assassination, warrantless surveillance, etc.), hopefully you're not willing to trust the other team's. And in an election year where the remaining slate of candidates is this uniformly bad, that realization could become widespread.

To that end, we're recommending an exceptional piece at The Atlantic by Conor Friedersdorf, in which he catalogs the most expansive and readily abused powers of the President today and suggests a common sense case for tyrant-proofing the White House. 

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