Hillary and the imperial presidency

US elections 2008: Clinton's promise to curtail executive power and restore checks and balances is belied by her record

Posted on April 30, 2008  Posted to The Guardian

Hillary and the imperial presidency

US elections 2008: Clinton's promise to curtail executive power and restore checks and balances is belied by her record

In a speech to newspaper editors earlier this month, senator Hillary Clinton denounced the "imperial presidency" of George Bush and promised to pursue a different course if she becomes president.

But that promise is hardly more believable than her claims to have dodged sniper fire in Bosnia.

Clinton's primary case for her candidacy is her White House experience during the presidency of her husband. And those years were marked by expansions of federal and executive power, secrecy and claims of executive privilege.

In her campaign she says that she would "restore the checks and balances and the separation of powers". But back in 2003, she told ABC's George Stephanopoulos: "I'm a strong believer in executive authority. I wish that, when my husband was president, people in Congress had been more willing to recognise presidential authority." She encouraged President Clinton to intervene in Haiti and Bosnia and to bomb Serbia, all without congressional authorisation.

In the case of the bombing of Serbia, Congress actually took a vote. The House of Representatives refused to authorise the air strikes, but the Clinton administration "sort of just blew by" that technicality, in the words of a White House spokesman.

President Clinton also ordered air strikes on Afghanistan, Sudan and Iraq, all without congressional approval. That's practically the definition of an imperial president, and it sharply undermines Hillary Clinton's statement in this campaign that "I do not believe that the president can take military action - including any kind of strategic bombing - against Iran without congressional authorisation."

The Clinton administration also vastly expanded the use of executive orders to usurp Congress's lawmaking powers. President Clinton used executive orders to nationalise millions of acres of land, impose pro-union rules that Congress wouldn't pass, strengthen the federal government's hand in disputes over federalism, self-authorise his military actions in Yugoslavia and more. The most succinct and pointed defence of his unilateral legislating came from White House aide Paul Begala: "Stroke of the pen. Law of the land. Kind of cool."

As William Olson and Alan Woll pointed out in a 1999 Cato Institute study, President Clinton often legislated through an even more obscure vehicle than executive orders. "Several of President Clinton's major policy actions, for which he has been severely criticised, were accomplished not through formal directives but through orders to subordinates, or 'memoranda'. Those include his 'don't ask, don't tell' rule for the military; his removal of previously imposed bans on abortions in military hospitals, on foetal tissue experimentation, on Agency for International Development funding for abortion counselling organisations and on the importation of the abortifacient drug RU-486; and his efforts to reduce the number of federally licensed firearms dealers."

In another Clinton-era study, Timothy Lynch took the administration to task for its warrantless searches and wiretapping, its unauthorised military actions and its legal claim that the federal government has "plenary powers" to legislate on any matter, notwithstanding the limitations imposed by the Constitution.

Senator Clinton told the newspaper editors: "I will restore openness in government. When I am president, the era of Bush/Cheney secrecy will be over." But the Clinton administration fought in court to keep secret the names of those who participated in first lady Hillary Clinton's task force on healthcare reform. And Bill Clinton repeatedly claimed executive privilege to resist investigations by Congress and independent counsels into his pardons of Puerto Rican terrorists, his perjury in the Monica Lewinsky case and other matters. In his battles with independent counsel Kenneth Starr, Clinton became the first president since Watergate to take a claim of executive privilege to court and lose. "Openness" is not a quality the Clintons have been noted for.

The big problem with Hillary Clinton's promise to be a less imperial president is her expansive conception of the role of the federal government in society. Clinton wants the federal government to have vast powers to do good as she sees it. She told the newspaper editors: "I believe in the power of the presidency to set big goals for America and to solve the problems of Americans, to ensure that our people have the tools they need to turn challenges into opportunities, to fulfil their God-given potential and to build better lives for themselves and their children."

At other times she has proclaimed herself a "government junkie", promised to devote herself to "redefining who we are as human beings in the post-modern age" and declared that her administration would help Americans to "quit smoking, to get more exercise, to eat right, to take their vitamins".

Any president who views the federal government as a vast, sprawling nanny, a nurturing mother for every adult, is going to view resistance to her plans as an affront to decency. And as President Bill Clinton demonstrated, if Congress won't act or votes against the president's policies, the president must act in the name of all the people to give the people what they need. Aggrandisement of presidential power has consistently gone along with growth in the size, scope and power of the federal government.

The latest Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that only 39% of Americans regard Hillary Clinton as "honest and trustworthy". It's hard to imagine that even 39% of voters would believe her promise to restore checks and balances and reduce the power of the office she seeks to occupy.

For more blogs on the US elections, click here.

For more US election coverage, click here.


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Posted on April 30, 2008  Posted to Comment,Comment is free,George Bush,guardian.co.uk,Hillary Clinton,The Guardian,US politics

Hillary and the imperial presidency

US elections 2008: Clinton's promise to curtail executive power and restore checks and balances is belied by her record

Posted on April 30, 2008  Posted to The Guardian

Hillary and the imperial presidency

US elections 2008: Clinton's promise to curtail executive power and restore checks and balances is belied by her record

In a speech to newspaper editors earlier this month, senator Hillary Clinton denounced the "imperial presidency" of George Bush and promised to pursue a different course if she becomes president.

But that promise is hardly more believable than her claims to have dodged sniper fire in Bosnia.

Clinton's primary case for her candidacy is her White House experience during the presidency of her husband. And those years were marked by expansions of federal and executive power, secrecy and claims of executive privilege.

In her campaign she says that she would "restore the checks and balances and the separation of powers". But back in 2003, she told ABC's George Stephanopoulos: "I'm a strong believer in executive authority. I wish that, when my husband was president, people in Congress had been more willing to recognise presidential authority." She encouraged President Clinton to intervene in Haiti and Bosnia and to bomb Serbia, all without congressional authorisation.

In the case of the bombing of Serbia, Congress actually took a vote. The House of Representatives refused to authorise the air strikes, but the Clinton administration "sort of just blew by" that technicality, in the words of a White House spokesman.

President Clinton also ordered air strikes on Afghanistan, Sudan and Iraq, all without congressional approval. That's practically the definition of an imperial president, and it sharply undermines Hillary Clinton's statement in this campaign that "I do not believe that the president can take military action - including any kind of strategic bombing - against Iran without congressional authorisation."

The Clinton administration also vastly expanded the use of executive orders to usurp Congress's lawmaking powers. President Clinton used executive orders to nationalise millions of acres of land, impose pro-union rules that Congress wouldn't pass, strengthen the federal government's hand in disputes over federalism, self-authorise his military actions in Yugoslavia and more. The most succinct and pointed defence of his unilateral legislating came from White House aide Paul Begala: "Stroke of the pen. Law of the land. Kind of cool."

As William Olson and Alan Woll pointed out in a 1999 Cato Institute study, President Clinton often legislated through an even more obscure vehicle than executive orders. "Several of President Clinton's major policy actions, for which he has been severely criticised, were accomplished not through formal directives but through orders to subordinates, or 'memoranda'. Those include his 'don't ask, don't tell' rule for the military; his removal of previously imposed bans on abortions in military hospitals, on foetal tissue experimentation, on Agency for International Development funding for abortion counselling organisations and on the importation of the abortifacient drug RU-486; and his efforts to reduce the number of federally licensed firearms dealers."

In another Clinton-era study, Timothy Lynch took the administration to task for its warrantless searches and wiretapping, its unauthorised military actions and its legal claim that the federal government has "plenary powers" to legislate on any matter, notwithstanding the limitations imposed by the Constitution.

Senator Clinton told the newspaper editors: "I will restore openness in government. When I am president, the era of Bush/Cheney secrecy will be over." But the Clinton administration fought in court to keep secret the names of those who participated in first lady Hillary Clinton's task force on healthcare reform. And Bill Clinton repeatedly claimed executive privilege to resist investigations by Congress and independent counsels into his pardons of Puerto Rican terrorists, his perjury in the Monica Lewinsky case and other matters. In his battles with independent counsel Kenneth Starr, Clinton became the first president since Watergate to take a claim of executive privilege to court and lose. "Openness" is not a quality the Clintons have been noted for.

The big problem with Hillary Clinton's promise to be a less imperial president is her expansive conception of the role of the federal government in society. Clinton wants the federal government to have vast powers to do good as she sees it. She told the newspaper editors: "I believe in the power of the presidency to set big goals for America and to solve the problems of Americans, to ensure that our people have the tools they need to turn challenges into opportunities, to fulfil their God-given potential and to build better lives for themselves and their children."

At other times she has proclaimed herself a "government junkie", promised to devote herself to "redefining who we are as human beings in the post-modern age" and declared that her administration would help Americans to "quit smoking, to get more exercise, to eat right, to take their vitamins".

Any president who views the federal government as a vast, sprawling nanny, a nurturing mother for every adult, is going to view resistance to her plans as an affront to decency. And as President Bill Clinton demonstrated, if Congress won't act or votes against the president's policies, the president must act in the name of all the people to give the people what they need. Aggrandisement of presidential power has consistently gone along with growth in the size, scope and power of the federal government.

The latest Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that only 39% of Americans regard Hillary Clinton as "honest and trustworthy". It's hard to imagine that even 39% of voters would believe her promise to restore checks and balances and reduce the power of the office she seeks to occupy.

For more blogs on the US elections, click here.

For more US election coverage, click here.


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Posted on April 30, 2008  Posted to Comment,Comment is free,George Bush,Hillary Clinton,The Guardian,theguardian.com,US politics

Sex, religion and conservatives

Why do conservatives support laws against discrimination for characteristics that they approve of, but not for characteristics they don't approve of?

In their attempt to oppose laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (that is, laws supporting gay rights) while supporting other such laws, conservatives have long tied themselves in knots. You shouldn't compare antigay discrimination to racial discrimination, they said, because race is an immutable characteristic, while homosexuality is a chosen behavior. Thus it's appropriate to ban discrimination on the basis of race. And also, they'll allow, all the other characteristics protected in the US by the 1964 Civil Rights Act - race, color, religion, sex and national origin.

But wait a minute, I used to say to conservatives. It's obvious to thinking people that sexual orientation isn't chosen - it may be genetic or environmental, but it certainly isn't chosen. As far as the individual is concerned, it's an innate or immutable characteristic. So if that's your standard, then discrimination against gays is just as unreasonable as discrimination against blacks. (Yes, conservatives could counter that orientation might be immutable, but sexual behavior is still chosen. Sort of like saying that you might be born Jewish, but you could stay in the closet and not practice your faith, and then you wouldn't suffer any discrimination.) And meanwhile, religion is a chosen behavior. Right? In most Christian churches, you must make a conscious decision to join the church, and that decision is normally made after reaching the age of reason.

Thus, it seems, conservatives are doubly wrong: They say that discrimination on the basis of immutable characteristics should be banned, but discrimination on the basis of chosen behavior should not. But they are wrong to say that sexual orientation is chosen, and wrong to imply that religion is immutable like race.

But then there's a twist: In fact, it always seemed to me, religion isn't really chosen. Most people join the church their parents attend. If your parents are Catholic, so are you. If your parents are Baptist, so are you. We see this in ethnic/religious disputes from Iraq to Serbia to Northern Ireland to India, where it's hard to distinguish between ethnic groups and adherents to particular religions. But we also see it among Americans who practice the faith of their fathers and often attend the actual church where their great-grandparents worshiped. So maybe the conservatives can reasonably consider religion to be biological or innate.

But now a massive new study from the Pew Research Center tells us that I was right all along, and the conservatives are indeed doubly wrong. Many people, at least in the United States, do change their religion. Indeed, it appears that 44% of Americans have switched religious affiliations, either to join another religion or to drop any religious affiliation.

So we're back where we started: Conservatives support legal protection against discrimination for chosen characteristics that they approve, but not for characteristics they don't approve of. It's not a matter of logical categories.


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Posted on February 29, 2008  Posted to Comment,Comment is free,Conservatives,Equality,Gay rights,guardian.co.uk,Religion,The Guardian,United States

Sex, religion and conservatives

Why do conservatives support laws against discrimination for characteristics that they approve of, but not for characteristics they don't approve of?

Posted on February 29, 2008  Posted to The Guardian

Sex, religion and conservatives

Why do conservatives support laws against discrimination for characteristics that they approve of, but not for characteristics they don't approve of?

Posted on February 29, 2008  Posted to The Guardian

Sex, religion and conservatives

Why do conservatives support laws against discrimination for characteristics that they approve of, but not for characteristics they don't approve of?

In their attempt to oppose laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (that is, laws supporting gay rights) while supporting other such laws, conservatives have long tied themselves in knots. You shouldn't compare antigay discrimination to racial discrimination, they said, because race is an immutable characteristic, while homosexuality is a chosen behavior. Thus it's appropriate to ban discrimination on the basis of race. And also, they'll allow, all the other characteristics protected in the US by the 1964 Civil Rights Act - race, color, religion, sex and national origin.

But wait a minute, I used to say to conservatives. It's obvious to thinking people that sexual orientation isn't chosen - it may be genetic or environmental, but it certainly isn't chosen. As far as the individual is concerned, it's an innate or immutable characteristic. So if that's your standard, then discrimination against gays is just as unreasonable as discrimination against blacks. (Yes, conservatives could counter that orientation might be immutable, but sexual behavior is still chosen. Sort of like saying that you might be born Jewish, but you could stay in the closet and not practice your faith, and then you wouldn't suffer any discrimination.) And meanwhile, religion is a chosen behavior. Right? In most Christian churches, you must make a conscious decision to join the church, and that decision is normally made after reaching the age of reason.

Thus, it seems, conservatives are doubly wrong: They say that discrimination on the basis of immutable characteristics should be banned, but discrimination on the basis of chosen behavior should not. But they are wrong to say that sexual orientation is chosen, and wrong to imply that religion is immutable like race.

But then there's a twist: In fact, it always seemed to me, religion isn't really chosen. Most people join the church their parents attend. If your parents are Catholic, so are you. If your parents are Baptist, so are you. We see this in ethnic/religious disputes from Iraq to Serbia to Northern Ireland to India, where it's hard to distinguish between ethnic groups and adherents to particular religions. But we also see it among Americans who practice the faith of their fathers and often attend the actual church where their great-grandparents worshiped. So maybe the conservatives can reasonably consider religion to be biological or innate.

But now a massive new study from the Pew Research Center tells us that I was right all along, and the conservatives are indeed doubly wrong. Many people, at least in the United States, do change their religion. Indeed, it appears that 44% of Americans have switched religious affiliations, either to join another religion or to drop any religious affiliation.

So we're back where we started: Conservatives support legal protection against discrimination for chosen characteristics that they approve, but not for characteristics they don't approve of. It's not a matter of logical categories.


theguardian.com © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Posted on February 29, 2008  Posted to Comment,Comment is free,Conservatives,Equality,Gay rights,Religion,The Guardian,theguardian.com,United States

An unsuitable job

US elections 2008: If John McCain wins the nomination, he shouldn't put a foreign policy novice like Mike Huckabee a heartbeat away from the presidency

With John McCain's narrow wins in New Hampshire and South Carolina making him a shaky Republican frontrunner, people have engaged in some absurdly early speculation as to whom he might choose as a running mate. One early favourite is former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, the darling of the evangelicals. But if McCain is the man he and his supporters say he is, he won't do that to the country.

McCain's official campaign biography says: "As the son and grandson of distinguished Navy admirals, John McCain deeply values duty, honour and service of country." That's the theme of his campaign. His determination to prove his own integrity inspired his decade-long fight to impose strict new regulations on campaign finance. Told that his support for the Iraq war might doom his presidential candidacy, McCain repeatedly says: "I'd rather lose an election than a war." Newspaper endorsements, like this one from the State in South Carolina, echo those sentiments:

John McCain has shown more clearly than anyone on the American political scene today that he loves his country, and would never mislead or dishonour it. He is almost unique in his determination to do what is right, whatever the cost.

McCain will also be 72 years old if he is inaugurated a year from now, however, making him the oldest man ever to enter the White House. He likes to talk about his 95-year-old mother to illustrate his good genes, but the presidency is a very stressful job, there are indeed terrorists out to get the American president, five and a half years in a North Vietnamese prison can't be good for your health and he has had a bout with skin cancer. Furthermore, his mother's age notwithstanding, his father died at 70 and his grandfather at 61. So he has to recognise the possibility at least that he might not serve out his term. At a time of international turmoil, it is essential that a president, especially one so committed to duty, honour and country, leave the country in capable hands in that eventuality.

Could McCain honourably serve his country by putting Mike Huckabee a heartbeat from the presidency? There's some political plausibility. Huckabee is younger. He would reassure religious conservatives who might be sceptical of McCain. He's a charming and effective campaigner.

But from a policy perspective, he's a conservative candidate who is also a big-spending nanny statist. He bills himself as a "Christian leader" and says that his rise in the polls can only be attributed to God's will. As I wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle: "Huckabee doesn't just want a government that will stamp out sin. He wants a government that will worry about your body as much as your soul." He says that "it is government's responsibility to try to create a culture of health", including pressuring employers to "encourage" healthier lifestyles among their employees. He wants a federal ban on smoking in the workplace and other public places. He's even threatened to ban cigarettes altogether. He wants federal regulation of local schools and restaurant menus.

But more importantly for McCain, Huckabee has no experience and apparently no knowledge of foreign policy. When the journal Foreign Affairs inexplicably asked him for an essay, he wrote about the "Bush administration's arrogant bunker mentality" - and then, when his remarks were reported, he ran away from them. He demonstrated his minimal knowledge about Pakistan in his remarks on Benazir Bhutto's assassination. He spouts the usual nonsense about energy independence and veiled protectionist rhetoric like "We can't have free trade if it's not fair trade." When asked about the blockbuster National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear capability, he said that "nobody's going to be able, if they've been campaigning as hard as we have been, to keep up with every single thing, from what happened to Britney last night to who won Dancing with the Stars."

To be sure, neither Bill Clinton nor George Bush had much foreign policy experience as governor either (and we've seen how well that worked out), but Huckabee seems to have far less background even than they did.

It's hard to imagine that a man who values national security and his own duty as much as McCain does would put a self-styled "Christian leader" who doesn't read foreign policy stories in the newspaper a heartbeat from the Oval Office.

For more blogs on the US elections, click here.


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Posted on January 24, 2008  Posted to Comment,Comment is free,Foreign Policy,John McCain,Mike Huckabee,The Guardian,theguardian.com,United States

An unsuitable job

US elections 2008: If John McCain wins the nomination, he shouldn't put a foreign policy novice like Mike Huckabee a heartbeat away from the presidency

With John McCain's narrow wins in New Hampshire and South Carolina making him a shaky Republican frontrunner, people have engaged in some absurdly early speculation as to whom he might choose as a running mate. One early favourite is former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, the darling of the evangelicals. But if McCain is the man he and his supporters say he is, he won't do that to the country.

McCain's official campaign biography says: "As the son and grandson of distinguished Navy admirals, John McCain deeply values duty, honour and service of country." That's the theme of his campaign. His determination to prove his own integrity inspired his decade-long fight to impose strict new regulations on campaign finance. Told that his support for the Iraq war might doom his presidential candidacy, McCain repeatedly says: "I'd rather lose an election than a war." Newspaper endorsements, like this one from the State in South Carolina, echo those sentiments:

John McCain has shown more clearly than anyone on the American political scene today that he loves his country, and would never mislead or dishonour it. He is almost unique in his determination to do what is right, whatever the cost.

McCain will also be 72 years old if he is inaugurated a year from now, however, making him the oldest man ever to enter the White House. He likes to talk about his 95-year-old mother to illustrate his good genes, but the presidency is a very stressful job, there are indeed terrorists out to get the American president, five and a half years in a North Vietnamese prison can't be good for your health and he has had a bout with skin cancer. Furthermore, his mother's age notwithstanding, his father died at 70 and his grandfather at 61. So he has to recognise the possibility at least that he might not serve out his term. At a time of international turmoil, it is essential that a president, especially one so committed to duty, honour and country, leave the country in capable hands in that eventuality.

Could McCain honourably serve his country by putting Mike Huckabee a heartbeat from the presidency? There's some political plausibility. Huckabee is younger. He would reassure religious conservatives who might be sceptical of McCain. He's a charming and effective campaigner.

But from a policy perspective, he's a conservative candidate who is also a big-spending nanny statist. He bills himself as a "Christian leader" and says that his rise in the polls can only be attributed to God's will. As I wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle: "Huckabee doesn't just want a government that will stamp out sin. He wants a government that will worry about your body as much as your soul." He says that "it is government's responsibility to try to create a culture of health", including pressuring employers to "encourage" healthier lifestyles among their employees. He wants a federal ban on smoking in the workplace and other public places. He's even threatened to ban cigarettes altogether. He wants federal regulation of local schools and restaurant menus.

But more importantly for McCain, Huckabee has no experience and apparently no knowledge of foreign policy. When the journal Foreign Affairs inexplicably asked him for an essay, he wrote about the "Bush administration's arrogant bunker mentality" - and then, when his remarks were reported, he ran away from them. He demonstrated his minimal knowledge about Pakistan in his remarks on Benazir Bhutto's assassination. He spouts the usual nonsense about energy independence and veiled protectionist rhetoric like "We can't have free trade if it's not fair trade." When asked about the blockbuster National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear capability, he said that "nobody's going to be able, if they've been campaigning as hard as we have been, to keep up with every single thing, from what happened to Britney last night to who won Dancing with the Stars."

To be sure, neither Bill Clinton nor George Bush had much foreign policy experience as governor either (and we've seen how well that worked out), but Huckabee seems to have far less background even than they did.

It's hard to imagine that a man who values national security and his own duty as much as McCain does would put a self-styled "Christian leader" who doesn't read foreign policy stories in the newspaper a heartbeat from the Oval Office.

For more blogs on the US elections, click here.


guardian.co.uk © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Posted on January 24, 2008  Posted to Comment,Comment is free,Foreign Policy,guardian.co.uk,John McCain,Mike Huckabee,The Guardian,United States

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