Monday, October 01, 2012

It's not the job of the sitting president to rein in the powers of the executive

UPDATE II: Conor Friedersdorf won't vote for Mitt either.

UPDATE: Just came across this post from Kevin Drum (don't know how I missed/forgot it). Kevin, inspired by Daniel Klaidman's Kill or Capture book, says that Obama caved on national security because of lack of support from Democrats. I take that as an argument in support of this post. Bottom line is that the voting public aren't putting pressure on Democrats which means there's no pressure on Congress.

I've read Conor Friedersdorf (@conor64) for years, and I've come to respect his independent thought and criticism of Republicans and Democrats alike.

Recently, he explained why he won't vote for Obama. It comes down to Obama's doubling down on the civil liberty violations that George Bush Jr. started after 9/11. With regular drone killing of Pakistanis Obama has left Bush in the dust (read almost anything by Glenn Greenwald for more.)

Now, I was as outraged as the next guy over Bush's secret prisons, torture, and all the rest. And I was very disappointed to see Obama continue most of these "police state" policies (sans the torture). But unlike Conor I have come to accept this side of Obama over the years. Does that make me an Obama apologist like most of these people?

Maybe, but I don't think so. Because it's not the job of the sitting president to rein in the powers of the executive.

I would be willing to bet Obama was genuinely outraged by the civil liberty violations under the Bush administration. But when he came into office, he realized the Commander in Chief is responsible for a huge security apparatus with hundreds of thousands of people. And these people need a leader in order to be effective and keep America safe. And if there ever were another 9/11 style attack, these people and the American public would want to know that their leader had done everything in his power to prevent it.

I think Conor should direct his verbal firepower at other branches of government, notably Congress. Just like it's not the JP Morgan CEO's job to reform the financial industry, I don't think it's the sitting president's job to curb executive power. Especially when there's no public relations benefit to doing so.

Agree? Disagree? Reply or follow me on twitter -- @mkvalsvik.

1 comment:

Chris Butler said...

I'm not sure president has responsibility for Congress, but he sure does have responsibility for executive power. Key transformations in the country occurred (e.g. Washington forming a cabinet) as a result of president action. Presidents are a true role model for the government's social contract with the citizen.

Now is Obama obligated to reverse former executive power-reaches? I think the golden rule applies here - treat others are you expected to be treated yourself. I think the president sidestepped the issue mostly because of politics, and there is little benefit to looking "soft on terrorism" to reverse his predecessor destructions of personal freedoms.

While I understand the complexities of protecting the country, I don't believe that our greatest threats come from within. And even if they do, you need a proportional response - I'd note that people are perfectly fine with ten of thousands of people dying by car crash or staph infection caught at a hospital. I think the trick is walk a "prepared yet optimistic outlook", with decisions based on potential weighted outcomes. Politically, perhaps, this is less feasible. I'm just not convinced that giving up such freedoms has given us that much greater security... proportionally, of course. ;-)