The Corner

How Can Anyone Think Both Of These Things?

At the American Scene, Conor Friedersdorf gives me credit for being honest but wonders how I could think both that Obama has revolutionary, dictatorial tendencies (anti-constitution, anti-individual liberty, criminalizing polciy disputes, putting politics above the rule of law, etc.) and that the chief executive has expansive powers during wartime. I’m afraid I don’t see how the two things are inconsistent. 

I acknowledge the danger (well-documented in books by Jonah and Mark Levin) that a president can pretextually use his daunting wartime authority to expand his powers over spheres intended by the Constitution to be the domains of Congress, the courts, the states or the people. But doing that is an abuse of power, and the Constitution provides us with remedies to address such abuse (e.g., impeachment, Congress’s power of the purse, the states’ ability to defy unconstitutional presidential excesses). On the other hand, the framers vested in the office of the president all the might of the nation necessary to overcome foreign threats to national security. When the president uses those powers — which are undoubtedly awesome because threats may be awesome — for their proper purpose, that is not an abuse.

Mr. Friedersdorf asks: “How can men [like moi] who make these claims about Barack Obama simultaneously insist that a country governed by him is well served by an executive branch given expansive powers during war time?” The answer is straightforward — though not necessarily simple. The president is given expansive war powers during war time. Not expansive power in general — not a warrant to remake the government or our society.

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