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September 2007
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Who Will Unbuild?

I think the point made in this article, and the one it links to is very pertinent…

The Master Narrative that Went Missing During the Bush Presidency
(Jay Rosen, Huffington Post)

Boston Globe Reporter Charlie Savage actually supplied at TPM Cafe the missing master narrative for the Bush years: “The agenda of concentrating more unchecked power in the White House.” This was confirmed by the testimony of a former insider, Jack Goldsmith, who is out with a book about doing battle with the Bush forces inside the terror presidency.

In one of the first posts I wrote when I started blogging (Sep. 2003), I adapted the term master narrative to mean, in press coverage, “the story that produces all the other stories.” Consider campaign news on the horse race model. There, the basic narrative is winning; what it takes to win the race is the “master” from which thousands of copies–the horse race stories themselves–get made.

My thought was: change the master, come up with a better one, and it changes the coverage. Well, Savage came up with a better one. The drive to concentrate unchecked power in the White House, commanded by Cheney, backed by Bush, centered in the Office of the Vice President, a radical project in governance that was mostly–but not entirely–hidden from view.

Read the whole article, and the TPM Cafe one. They are good.

But in any case, I think the point is correct. It may not be what the big issue becomes in the next election, but it is what the big issue SHOULD be… what the limits on the executive branch should be, and how to roll back the massive expansion that has occurred… frankly not just in the Bush Presidency, but for many decades before that. Executive power has been gradually expanding… well, OK, ever since George Washington… but it has accelerated lately. The balance has gotten way out of wack. And neither congress nor the courts seem to be particularly interested in reversing the direction. This is extremely worrying.

So, as the article asks, would your candidate roll back presidential power? I frankly don’t see many of the candidates who are running that would. Certainly none of the front runners. And this certainly isn’t a Republican vs Democratic thing. Would Hillary repudiate outright any of the power W has accumulated? Hell no. She would use it in very different ways, I am sure, but is she about to say, “You know, no, I can’t push forward this agenda that I believe in deeply because I don’t have the power.” No, I don’t think so. She would use every bit of power she inherited to do what she thought was best.

And more to the point, even if a new president actually did refrain, and didn’t use any of the expanded powers, that would not be enough. Once the precedent is set, even if the power is unused, it is still there, ready to be used by the next president who DOES want to use it. No, to roll back expanded powers, you would actually have to actively seek to reverse it. New laws or even constitutional amendments to make absolutely clear the boundaries of executive power. Or aggressive prosecutions of members of the previous administration for overstepping their bounds (this might not even be possible in most cases). Just not using the power, just not enough. You would need to create new counter-precedent that explicitly reversed previous expansion.

And unfortunately, I just don’t think that will happen, no matter who wins. Even the limits on executive power after Watergate were short lived. Congress (and the courts) just have not had the mettle to aggressively protect their own prerogatives and resist the expansion of the powers of the presidency. And that is a horrible shame.

Three Eye