The Central Question Regarding Barack Obama

Paul Krugman opens Monday’s editorial asking the central question for the left about Barack Obama (“The Obama Agenda,” The New York Times, 30 June 2008):

It’s feeling a lot like 1992 right now. It’s also feeling a lot like 1980. But which parallel is closer? Is Barack Obama going to be a Ronald Reagan of the left, a president who fundamentally changes the country’s direction? Or will he be just another Bill Clinton?

Oddly enough, I found myself a supporter of Hillary Clinton in the primaries because I suspect the latter. Perhaps that was a little naive as I also suspect that Senator Clinton is fundamentally and genuinely conservative politically and personally.

No one can fight every battle and not every battle should be fought in the most direct manner. One must marshal one’s resources for the critical moment, and more times than not maneuver is superior to grabbing the bull by the horns. I presume that Senator Obama recognizes two things: first he has to get into the White House before he can do anything else and once there he will only be able to accomplish a small number of his objectives so he needs to dispense with the lesser objectives and focus on the really important ones.

For instance, voting for the FISA bill last week was, I presume, tactical. It takes that accusation off the table for the duration of the campaign. Everyone runs a stealth campaign anymore. You’ve got to avoid at all costs doing anything that could be used to provoke the middling mind of the independent voter. Once in the White House, then he will really be in a position to address the problems of the FISA program. Again, first win the election, then come the reforms. Would losing to John McCain serve the cause of FISA reform?

Presidents can only have limited power and limited time to accomplish their agenda. Senator Obama has to be eyeing that Oval Office desk and thinking Economy, Budget, Healthcare, Iraq, Afghanistan, War on Terrorism and everything else will just have to take the back seat.

At least this is the story I am feeding myself to assuage my severe doubts that this will be another eight years of cowed liberalism. Senator Obama is giving us plenty of reason to believe otherwise.

The Most Terrible Power of All Concentrated in One Man

In response to a reader question, Matthew Yglesias says that if President Bush so decides, there is nothing anyone can do to prevent air strikes against Iran (“By Request: What if Bush Bombs Iran?,” TheAtlantic.com, 1 July 2008):

… if Bush orders air strikes against Iranian targets, nobody can stop him. A plain reading of the text of the U.S. Constitution would seem to suggest that it would be unconstitutional for the military to follow any such order absent a declaration of war or some other form of congressional authorization. But the settled precedent, ratified by key Democratic Party leaders as recently as the bombing of Serbia during the Kosovo crisis, is that no such authorization is necessary. I’m not happy with this situation and think it’s crazy that we as a country have moved away from the constitutional procedure, but the cat’s been out of the bag for a while now and if Bush wants to bomb Iran Bush will bomb Iran.

Democracy is based in part on a notion of the wisdom of crowds — or in the negative formulation, it is based on the recognition of the perfidy of powerful men. It is terrifying to think that when it comes to the most fateful questions facing a nation — the most terrible expenditure of the nations resources a country might undertake, one that throws the very survival of the country into the pot, one capable of completely remaking the social order of a people — we have abdicated that power to a single man.

On the right there is this constant carping about the founders’ intent, originalism, strict constitutionalists and activist judges, but when it comes to this issue, perhaps the most gross violation of the founders’ intent and the plain language of the Constitution, Republicans are complete subscribers to the cult of the great leader — at least until that power passes to a Democratic president, that is.

This is one of the reasons that I like The American Conservative. They actually see this situation for the massive threat to American liberties and the American way of life that it is.

Some future president, less ambitious, more moderating, ought return to the traditional confines of the office and forfeit this unofficial power. And a Congress more attune to it’s Constitutional duty than to it’s party platform ought to reassert this prerogative by threatening impeachment to any president who dares usurp it.