An Imperial Presidency?

February 21, 2006

Surely no one paying attention to national politics could be missing the left’s orchestrated effort to paint President Bush not only as a man infected with poor judgment and bad policies but as a power-hungry, would-be dictator.

You know the drill. The alleged litany of Bush’s abuses is extensive. They say he’s stubborn, won’t listen to advice, won’t admit mistakes and lives in a bubble. He wants to force his “fundamentalist” religious views down America’s throat.

Liberal legend further has it that he made a “unilateral” decision to attack Iraq — as just the first step in his plan to enslave the world through democracy — both by ignoring the wishes of our allies and trying to sidestep, then dupe, Congress. He locks up enemy combatants and throws away the key, he and his henchmen have masterminded their abuse and torture, and he denies them the full protection of the Bill of Rights.

He and his fiendish vice president inhabit undisclosed locations, play hide-the-ball from the benign, well-intentioned Old Media, and conduct secret meetings to discuss schemes to deny health care to the uninsured, deprive the elderly of Social Security, and transfer the assets of the poor to the wealthy.

Worst of all, he spies on innocent Americans who deserve a little privacy when jawing with Osama. Why, he even found a federal judge for the Supreme Court — Samuel Alito — who’ll facilitate his sinister scheme to consolidate executive power in his quest for world domination a la Austin Powers’ Dr. Evil.

Think I’m exaggerating for effect? You be the judge.

Most recently, Newsweek’s misanthropic Jonathan Alter penned a column piling on Vice President Dick Cheney, titled “The Imperial (Vice) Presidency.” He demonized Cheney as insular, arrogant, unaccountable and an integral part of “a government that increasingly believes it is a law unto itself.”

But this idea has been brewing in liberal cauldrons for quite some time. Columnist Helen Thomas wrote in 2002, “The imperial presidency has arrived. On the domestic front, President Bush has found that in many ways, he can govern by executive order. In foreign affairs, he has the nerve to tell other people that they should get rid of their current leaders.”

Bruce Shapiro, writing for Slate in 2002, said, “The Bush administration rivals the Nixon White House when it comes to secrecy and unchecked power, with John Ashcroft as our modern-day John Mitchell.”

“The Nation” editorialized in 2002 on “The Imperial Presidency,” citing “the assumption of imperial war-making powers by George W. Bush and his coterie of close advisers.”

John Dean, former counsel to President Richard Nixon and permanent darling of liberals everywhere, wrote in early 2004 of President Bush’s “imperial presidency.” As evidence, Dean cited the administration’s “‘preemptive’ and ‘preventive’ military policy, its contentions that it can go to war regardless of whether Congress approves, its policies calling for American world domination, and its unprecedented blending of national security policy and domestic law enforcement.”

Fast-forwarding back to the present, The New York Times wrote just last month that “Mr. Bush, however, seems to see no limit to his imperial presidency” and noted he would be aided by “Judge Samuel Alito, the man Mr. Bush chose to tilt the Supreme Court to the right.”

These examples were retrieved from the first page of a simple Google search. A Nexis search of “George Bush and ‘imperial presidency'” was interrupted because it yielded more than a thousand entries.

You have to wonder where the likes of Jonathan Alter were when Bill Clinton openly flouted the rule of law. Was he not seeking to become a law unto himself? How about Hillary’s penchant for secrecy and her frequent flights from accountability? What about Bill’s “unilateral” bombings of Iraq and Serbia?

No, it’s not expansions of executive power that bother the left, but when they occur under a Republican presidency. Indeed, the term “the imperial presidency” was made fashionable by historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. in his book with that title, lamenting the arrogation of power by the executive branch that culminated in the Nixon presidency.

Today, the left has resurrected the term as part of its strategy to avoid a debate on policy by scandalizing and criminalizing President Bush. The claims of Bush’s dictatorial propensities are as unsupportable as they are preposterous, but liberals have run out of ammunition.

One of their greatest challenges for 2008 will be to figure out how to transfer their personalized defamation of President Bush to the Republican Party in general. Which is why we’re hearing so much today about the supposed “culture of corruption” and why they are willing to go to any lengths to frame the Abramoff affair as an exclusively Republican scandal.

This is quite an ambitious undertaking, but don’t underestimate their desperation.