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Hullabaloo


Thursday, August 29, 2013

 
If the President gets to act like a King in foreign policy, people will make the same assumption in domestic policy

by David Atkins

One of the indicators that a person has an intelligent grasp of domestic policy is the understanding that the President can't just get whatever he or she wants from Congress. This point seems obvious to the sort of person who would read Hullabaloo, but it shouldn't be taken for granted. In addition to the "green lantern theory" of presidential power espoused by some journalists, there are a large number of voters who attribute imperial power to the President, and who automatically blame him if the economy goes sour or if there is a failure to pass needed laws. It's the President, not the Congress, who takes the blame. This is unfair, particularly in an era where the Republican Congress is acting with an intransigence not seen since the pre-Civil War Congress. Those of us who know it's unfair tend to look down on those who think the Presidency is essentially an elected kingship, and who believe that the President can simply enact universal healthcare, deftly reduce the deficit and end student loan debt with a wave of his hand.

But why shouldn't they believe that, after all, when the President can simply decide to drop bombs on another country without an act of Congress? Why should it be easier for the President to unilaterally decide whether and when to go to war, than to decide whether Wall Street should have more stringent regulations? Matters of war and peace are emotional and highly newsworthy. People notice, and take their cues from them as to how the government works.

It's obvious that Presidents since World War II have enjoyed the broader authority granted to the Executive Branch in matters of war and peace. But in a time of gridlocked government, Presidents should think twice about the signal that failing to get Congressional approval for acts of war sends to the American people.


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