Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Economist fail (II)

In the longer Briefing section in the same issue of the Economist as the Leader I critiqued earlier, the authors expand on the causes of paralysis. It says many of the same things, though they do a better job of examining structural causes and the general dysfunction in Washington. One section, however, stood out to me:

[A] president who cannot legislate has other ways to get things done. He can, for example, use executive authority.
Since Massachusetts, the White House’s interest in governing by regulation has grown. Rahm Emanuel, Mr Obama’s chief of staff, told the New York Times last week that the administration was reviewing a list of presidential orders and directives “to get the job done across a front of issues”
In short, a president blocked in Congress is not without resources. [...] War and economic crisis have always augmented the powers of the White House, and for the foreseeable future Mr Obama will continue to enjoy the dubious “benefits” of both.

I wasn't particularly happy with my snark about the president not being a monarch in the previous post, but this part really is a head-scratcher. Is the Economist suggesting that the President respond to a failure in America's structural institutions by gathering yet more power to himself? If there has been one constant in American history, it has been the steady accumulation of power by the Oval Office. Under Bush, this caused significant consternation on the left, but it is an old story. Teddy Roosevelt wrote in his autobiography,“The Constitution did not explicitly give me power to bring about the necessary agreement with Santo Domingo. But the Constitution did not forbid my doing what I did.”

I don't think this is a particularly good thing. President Bush made extensive use of signing statements to change laws as he signed them, essentially bypassing the legislature. Is the Economist advocating further disregard for Congress? It seems to me that the solution to a dysfunctional legislative system is reform of the legislative system, not accumulation of power in the executive. Can you blame Obama, a constitutional law professor and a liberal, for wanting to work within the system, instead of bypassing it?

It is puzzling to me.

(EDIT: Forgot the link. Fixed.)

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