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.

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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

Signs of Free Speech

George Will has another great column on threats to political speech in modern America. He reports the story of some people in Parker North, Colo., who didn’t want to be annexed to the larger town of Parker. When some residents proposed annexation, others

began trying to persuade the rest to oppose annexation. They printed lawn signs and fliers, started an online discussion group and canvassed neighbors, little knowing that they were provoking Colorado’s speech police.

One proponent of annexation sued them. This tactic — wielding campaign finance regulations to suppress opponents’ speech — is common in the America of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. The complaint did not just threaten the Parker Six for any “illegal activities.” It also said that anyone who had contacted them or received a lawn sign might be subjected to “investigation, scrutinization and sanctions for campaign finance violations.”

Quite a chilling effect on the speech of a few local residents. Fortunately, Will notes, the Parker Six (why not the Parker North Six? After all, Parker is what they don’t want to be part of. But who am I to question George Will?) are represented in their defense of their First Amendment rights by the Institute for Justice.

Meanwhile, in another section of the same Washington Post, a similar story is playing out in Virginia. A Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives began placing campaign signs in supporters’ yards a full year before the election. Botetourt County officials reminded people of a longstanding ordinance about how long political signs can be displayed. In this case it’s the ACLU of Virginia threatening to sue. But Botetourt (pronounced BAHT-uh-tott) officials are not deterred in their determination to protect law, order, and the Botetourt way:

“If we don’t have some semblance of order, we’d just have a libertarian society where anything goes,” said Jim Crosby, a longtime resident and former chairman of the Botetourt Republican Party.

Yep. First political signs in someone’s yard, then a bunch of competing churches, school choice, deregulation, women working outside the home, and pretty soon you’d have a libertarian society where anything goes.

Posted on April 28, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Atlas Shrugged . . . the Movie . . . at Last?

Scott Holleran at Box Office Mojo is all over the Atlas Shrugged movie project. A few days ago he talked to Michael Burns, vice chairman of Lionsgate, the studio that is planning to make the film. He confirmed that Angelina Jolie will star as Dagny Taggart. Burns says John Galt should not be played by a movie star but by an actor with “an incredibly remarkable face, a face that just pops out at you,” to which his Randian interviewer responds, “A face with no fear, no pain, no guilt?”

Burns, who attended Ayn Rand’s memorial service as a young Wall Streeter in 1982, describes the movie’s theme this way:

Think about it: the world’s great minds and great contributors to society—which really are the entrepreneurs—are being taken advantage of—and they are; if you make money, you’re giving up pretty close to half of your income, though the United States is still the greatest country in the world, and Ayn Rand would have said that as well—so, what would happen if these great minds went on strike? Would society move forward? It’s a great [dramatic] scenario, like that P.D. James novel, Children of Men, which is about [what would happen] if, all of sudden, everyone is sterile. Atlas Shrugged is as pertinent today as it’s ever been.

A week earlier Holleran had interviewed director Vadim Perelman, best known for The House of Sand and Fog. Perelman, who was born in the Soviet Union and left in 1977 at the age of 14 when the government was letting some Jewish people leave, said the novel’s emphasis on “individualism and [the] entrepreneurial spirit” resonates with him. He cited a favorite Ayn Rand quotation: “If there’s a more tragic fool than the businessman that does not realize he’s an extension of man’s highest creative spirit—it’s the artist who thinks that the businessman is his enemy.” But he brushes off the uber-Randian question, “In making Atlas Shrugged, do you want the approval of Miss Rand’s heir, philosopher Leonard Peikoff?”

Perelman told Holleran that the budget would be about $70 million, that they’re still working on the script and the casting, that he hopes to start shooting later this year, and that the look of the movie would be the Forties.

Posted on April 28, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty

The Milton Friedman Prize Goes to a Hero

The 2008 Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty has been awarded to Yon Goicoechea. Goicoechea was a key leader of the Venezuelan student movement that ralled the country to vote down Hugo Chavez’s referendum on a constitutional change that would have turned Venezuela into a socialist dictatorship. More on Yon here, as well as information on the gala May 15 dinner in New York at which the Prize will be presented.

It’s interesting to reflect on the diversity of the first four recipients of the Prize. The first Prize in 2002 went to Peter Bauer, presumably in recognition of his lifelong scholarship on development economics and the sources of wealth. (I say “presumably” because the Selection Committee doesn’t formally explain its decisions. But the announcement of the award referred to “his pioneering work in the field of development economics, where he stood virtually alone for many years as a critic of state-led development policy with its emphasis on central planning and external foreign aid.”)

The second Prize went to Hernando de Soto, an author of two books on economics but more importantly a tireless crusader and activist on behalf of poor people and their need for property rights.

The third Prize, in 2006, went to Mart Laar, the youngest prime minister in the history of Estonia, who led his country out of the Soviet Union and into the European mainstream. He slashed taxes and transfer payments, privatized state agencies, liberalized international trade, and created one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, dubbed the “Baltic Tiger.”

And this year the Prize goes to a young man who is not–not yet, at least–a scholar, an author, or an elected official. He’s just a law student who stood up when others wouldn’t and helped to create a movement that prevented a strongman from becoming a dictator.

I think the diversity of the recipients reflects the many ways in which liberty must be defended and advanced. People can play a role in the struggle for freedom as scholars, writers, activists, organizers, elected officials, and many other ways. Some may be surprised that a Prize named for a great scholar, a winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, might go to a political official or a student activist. But Milton Friedman was not just a world-class scholar. He was also a world-class communicator and someone who worked for liberty in issues ranging from monetary policy to conscription to drug prohibition to school choice. When he discussed the creation of the Prize with Cato president Ed Crane, he said that he didn’t want it to go just to great scholars. The Prize is awarded every other year “to an individual who has made a significant contribution to advance human freedom.” Friedman specifically cited the man who stood in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square as someone who would qualify for the Prize by striking a blow for liberty. Yon Goicoechea not only stood in front of the tank, he stopped it. Milton Friedman would be proud.

I notice that the Prize has gone each time to someone almost a generation younger than the previous recipient. I’d guess that trend won’t continue, unless President Obama’s daughter convinces him to privatize Social Security.

Posted on April 25, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty

No District for Fishermen

The Washington Examiner reports on how carefully your taxpayer dollars are spent by both federal and local governments:

The District of Columbia has agreed to pay $1.75 million to head off a lawsuit alleging that the city bilked the federal government out of money to educate children who didn’t exist, The Examiner has learned.

For decades, District schools took in millions of dollars in grants to educate the children of migrant farmworkers and fishermen. But, as first reported by The Examiner in August, a 2005 audit discovered there were no such children in the system.

Posted on April 22, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty

The Truth about Milton Friedman

Peter Goodman writes in the New York Times that we live in a laissez-faire world created by Milton Friedman and that that wild, unfettered market has led to our current economic problems.  David Henderson, the first editor of Cato Policy Report, begs to differ. David R. Henderson is a research fellow with the Hoover Institution, an economics professor in the Graduate School of Business and Public Policy at the Naval Postgraduate School, and the editor of The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics (Liberty Fund, 2008). Here’s his critique of the Times article:


Posted on April 21, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Law and Order

The Virginia Supreme Court “reined in police searches yesterday, overturning convictions in two 2005 drug cases in which the court said police had conducted searches based on vague suspicions.” L. Steven Emmert, a Virginia lawyer-blogger, told the Washington Post he wasn’t surprised: “While Virginia is still one of the law-and-order states, the Supreme Court is very respective of Bill of Rights types of cases.”

I think “while” is the wrong conjunction in that sentence. Maybe it should be “Because Virginia is still one of the law-and-order states, the Supreme Court is very respective of Bill of Rights types of cases.”

“Law and order” is a phrase often used to imply “tough on crime” policies, perhaps suggesting harsh legal penalties harshly applied. Wikipedia notes, “The expression also sometimes carries the implication of arbitrary or unnecessary law enforcement, or excessive use of police powers.”

But law and order are necessary for the flourishing of human life. Advocates of liberty and limited government should not concede the concept of “law and order” to those who engage in “excessive use of police powers.” Those who actually believe in law and order would hold police and prosecutors, as well as criminal suspects, to the rule of law; and that seems to be what the Virginia Supreme Court did. So here’s to justices who understand that “law and order” and “the Bill of Rights” are allies, not enemies.

Posted on April 19, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Go Communists! Defend Freedom!

Responding to concerns over ultra-thin models in fashion magazines and advertisements, the French National Assembly has approved legislation that would make the promotion of extreme dieting a crime punishable by up to two years in jail.

France is not alone in its paternalist concern for young women lured into “unrealistic standards of beauty” by the fashion industry.

Spain has banned models with less than a specified body mass index. Last year, Italy barred girls under 16 from its runways and started requiring all models to present health certificates proving they do not suffer from eating disorders. New laws in Britain require models with anorexia or bulimia to prove they are being treated for the disorders before they can participate in London Fashion Week this September.

Some fashion editors objected to the bill. And there were a few opponents in the Assembly:

Most of the left-wing opposition deputies abstained on the vote, with some calling it repressive. “Criminalizing behaviour has no place in public health policy,” said Jacqueline Fraysse, a Communist Party lawmaker.

Vive la France, a country where the Communists denounce the un-libertarian policies of conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose party voted unanimously for the bill.

Posted on April 18, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty

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