With less then three months to go until the Presidential election, we should prepare to hear endless talk about how important this election is since we are not just selecting the head of the executive branch but the CEO of the American economy and the "leader of (what passes for) the free world."
The drafters of the Constitution would be astounded by this talk. They envisioned the Presidency as one of limited powers, mostly relating to enforcing the small number of laws passed by Congress.
The Founders would certainly be shocked to see how modern Presidents routinely use signing statements and executive orders to write and rewrite laws. After all, they vested the law-making function in Congress.
Anyone who doubts the Founders intended the President to be subordinate to Congress should consider that the powers of the legislature is outlined in Article I of the Constitution, while the powers of the President are outlined in Article II.
And one can imagine what opponents of monarchy like Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine would have thought about modern President's power to "indefinably detain" and even kill US citizens on their command!
The Founders would also be repulsed by the way many Americans treat the President as a secular Messiah, imbued with powers to "manage" the economy, spread democracy and human rights around the globe, and even protect the people from all of life's ills.
Campaign for Liberty Chairman Ron Paul addresses the threat that a "great leader" poses to liberty in his essay "Liberty and the Great leader are Mutually Exclusive":
By Ron Paul
This morning I was asked if there was ever an ideal American president. Of course, no one is perfect, but I particularly liked Grover Cleveland who was a gold-standard guy. He was also a non-interventionist when it came to foreign policy and he vetoed a lot of bills.
My biggest issue with the modern presidency is the amount of power that the position wields. Today's president is the exact opposite of what the Founders intended. There were supposed to be "checks and balances" in our government and the office of the president was not designed to run a worldwide military empire.
If there's one recurring pattern that has repeated itself throughout history, it's that there's a great tendency for power to concentrate in the executive. America's Founders tried to figure out a way to avoid such a concentration of power, but alas they failed as well.
Power is now more concentrated in the President than ever.
I'd like for the American president to have about as much power as Switzerland's president. Few even know who Switzerland's president is! That's the way it's supposed to be.
American individuals should be free, and not constantly barraged by and focused on a 'Great Leader'.
Liberty and 'Great Leaders' are mutually exclusive. It's either one or the other. You can't have both.
America didn't become the wealthiest country in the world because of government or 'Great Leaders'. It was rather the exact opposite. It was the lack of government controls that freed up the entrepreneurial and productive energies of our ancestors.
The "land of the free" needs a good dose of freedom. Weakening the power of government (and especially the president) will get us there sooner rather than later.
Writing in The Atlantic, Connor Friedersdorf points out that the infrastructure for Presidential dictatorship is already in place, thanks to supporters of the last two Presidents. I would argue thanks to supporters of almost every President of the last 180 years.
Friedersdorf also makes the important point that, even if you trust the current occupant of the White House to not abuse power, you should ask yourself what would happen if someone with bad intentions sat in the Oval Office:
Let's assume that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, their staffers, and every member of Congress for the last dozen years has always acted with pure motives in the realm of national security. Say they've used the power they've claimed, the technology they've developed, and the precedents they've established exclusively to fight al-Qaeda terrorists intent on killing us, that they've succeeded in disrupting what would've been successful attacks, and that Americans are lucky to have had men and women so moral, prudent, and incorruptible in charge. Few Americans believe all of that to be so. Combining the people who didn't trust Bush and the ones who don't trust Obama adds up to a sizable part of the citizenry. But even if all the critics were proved wrong, even if the CIA, NSA, FBI, and every other branch of the federal government had been improbably filled, top to bottom, with incorruptible patriots constitutionally incapable of wrongdoing, this would still be so: The American people have no idea who the president will be in 2017. Nor do we know who'll sit on key Senate oversight committees, who will head the various national-security agencies, or whether the moral character of the people doing so, individually or in aggregate, will more closely resemble George Washington, Woodrow Wilson, FDR, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, John Yoo, or Vladimir Putin.What we know is that the people in charge will possess the capacity to be tyrants -- to use power oppressively and unjustly -- to a degree that Americans in 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990, or 2000 could've scarcely imagined. To an increasing degree, we're counting on having angels in office and making ourselves vulnerable to devils. Bush and Obama have built infrastructure any devil would lust after. Behold the items on an aspiring tyrant's checklist that they've provided their successors:
- A precedent that allows the president to kill citizens in secret without prior judicial or legislative review
- The power to detain prisoners indefinitely without charges or trial
- Ongoing warrantless surveillance on millions of Americans accused of no wrongdoing, converted into a permanent database so that data of innocents spied upon in 2007 can be accessed in 2027
- Using ethnic profiling to choose the targets of secret spying, as the NYPD did with John Brennan's blessing
- Normalizing situations in which the law itself is secret -- and whatever mischief is hiding in those secret interpretations
- The permissibility of droning to death people whose identities are not even known to those doing the killing
- The ability to collect DNA swabs of people who have been arrested even if they haven't been convicted of anything
- A torture program that could be restarted with an executive orderEven if you think Bush and Obama exercised those extraordinary powers responsibly, what makes you think every president would? How can anyone fail to see the huge potential for abuses?
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
Tags: Ron Paul, Presidential Powers