Friday, June 15, 2007

The Imperial Presidency Vs. Democracy

Many people believe that the Imperial Presidency is a new phenomenon, initiated by George W. Bush. However, the foundation of the Imperial Presidency was laid prior to 9/11 in a series of steps and maneuvers by several different presidents. With each new officeholder not only reinforcing the previous officeholder’s position, but also expanding it as they saw fit. But, what is an imperial president and what if anything can be done to restrain that unchecked power? Many will say the separation of powers built into the Constitution is designed to keep the president in check, but that doesn’t seem to be working out to good.

Imperialism is the policy of extending a nation’s authority by territorial acquisition or by the establishment of economic and political hegemony over other nations, countries, or colonies. This is either through direct territorial conquest or settlement, or through indirect methods of influencing or controlling the politics and/or economy. The rule of authority of a country is based on territory, economic establishment and political influence. The term is used to describe the policy of a nation’s dominance over distant lands, regardless of whether the subjugated nation considers itself part of the empire. It is also considered the action by which one country controls another country or territory accomplished by military means to gain certain advantages. Imperialism helps one country gain power and domain over other areas.

When did the Imperial Presidency begin and why was it allowed to go unchecked? The beginning of this trend began with Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the implementation of the New Deal. FDR inherited the country in calamitous circumstances which required bold and extraordinary steps to remedy. There are many today who still decry those steps and the Congress that allowed him to execute them. Many conservative Republicans have made it their life’s work to rescind the policies and laws that define the New Deal. Prior to FDR, the president had been for the most part a caretaker who implemented the policies of Congress. The seeds of the Imperial Presidency were planted with FDR and continue to this day. The current President Bush many would argue after 9/11 inherited a country in a frightful state that required extraordinary steps to overcome the threat. It’s funny that many of the opponents of this President were curiously quiet when the extent of the threat was still being analyzed. This of course gives rise to the many conservative complaints of flip-flopping on the part of the critics.

There are four planks of the Imperial Presidency that I would like to highlight as important rungs on which the privilege is based.

1)Executive Orders – which allow the President to bypass Congress and the separation of powers, checks and balance provided for in the Constitution. These are opportunities for abuse and have been expanded to include anything the President can’t get his way on through normal channels.

2) Military Industrial Complex – warned of by Ike, these war profiteers have continued to influence our foreign policy and helped to insulate the President from the Congressional oversight mandated by the Constitution. Due to their influence many of the Presidents have felt emboldened to participate in misguided foreign entanglements.

3) Global War on Terror – what began as a response to 9/11 has now been reduced to a “bumper sticker” with no real meaning or direction. What is this thing and when and where will it end? It is this little gem that has allowed our current officeholder to usurp Congressional power (by choice) and ignore the will of the electorate. All is fair in war!

4) Spectator Citizens – this is the most important enabler of the Imperial Presidency. As long as we are more concerned with “Desperate Housewives” and “American Idol” these guys can do anything they want. These people count on our slothfulness; it is factored into their calculations. As long as all we do is complain, whine and take no action the Emperor is safe. You get the government you tolerate; this is true in the third world as much as it is in the first world. We wax poetically about the ills of other “less civilized” people and their tolerance of bad governance and yet look at our own refusal to act here at home. Get the splinter out of your own eye before you start trying to do laser surgery on the rest of the world.

The War Powers Act of 1973, was supposed to help rein in the Imperial President from just indiscriminately becoming entangled in foreign conflicts. It was designed to keep the President from committing American troops to combat without Congressional oversight. Glad we have that in place today, huh? It was suppose to restrict that ability by requiring:

1) The president has to inform Congress in writing 48 hours after he commits troops into a hostile situation.

2) Sixty days after committing troops into a hostile situation, Congress has to declare war or authorize continuous commitment. This gives Congress the power to recall the troops.

3) Congress, at any time, can pass a concurrent resolution (a resolution passed by both houses of Congress) to recall the troops. The president cannot veto this resolution.

The Congress has the power to recall troops that the President has committed to a hostile situation and does not have to stand idly by and watch the President decimate our military, our international allies and goodwill, or hold the rest of the world hostage. The reason that this is allowed to continue is that despite their protesting the majority of politicians of any ilk supports the Empire. Which can be further extrapolated to the fact that the majority of American voters support the Empire world view, too. Oh, of course not today with it going so poorly in Iraq, but the theory that we have the “Manifest Destiny” to democratize the world is prevalent, to impose our will on the uncivilized populace.

Unfortunately, the problem with the War Powers Act is that every president beginning with Nixon and including George W. Bush has claimed that the War Powers Act is unconstitutional and has refused to be bound by its terms. The Supreme Court has so far refused to rule on the constitutionality of the act. So, there you have it, for the Imperial President it is a mere courtesy to inform you of his war plans and exit strategies. It is past the time for all good men and women to stand against tyranny.

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