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The Institution of the Presidency

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect institution of the presidency,

Wait, that can’t be right.

It would be hard to say that’s not how the Obama Administration sees things based on two recent statements from Obama spokesmen. In response to questions about the request from the Obama Administration to delay the appearance of Karl Rove before the House Judiciary Committee’s investigation of the Bush Department of Justice, we have Deputy Press Secretary Reid Cherlin saying this:

“The subpoena raises complicated legal questions” because the administration’s “obligation to protect the institution of the presidency” is “in conflict” with the committee’s “desire to get to the truth,” presidential spokesman Reid Cherlin said in an e-mail.

Then, to give a much higher profile to the stance, White House Counsel Greg Craig had this to say to Charlie Savage of the New York Times:

Addressing the executive-privilege dispute, Mr. Craig said: “The president is very sympathetic to those who want to find out what happened. But he is also mindful as president of the United States not to do anything that would undermine or weaken the institution of the presidency.

Following on the heels of a presidency in which the "unitary executive" theory was used to arrogate massive amounts of power in the "institution of the presidency", this is a very disappointing stance for the Obama Administration to take. President Obama was elected for many reasons, but very high on many lists of those reasons is that it seemed likely, especially from multiple statements during the campaign, that Obama would seek to curb the Bush claims of excessive power for the presidency.

I reacted with outrage when then-President Bush joked more than once that things would be much easier if he could just be a dictator. The outrage was based on the clear evidence of how he was amassing large amounts of power in the presidency while the efforts of Congress and courts to limit that power were not being honored.

Our government is not a dictatorship. The Constitution clearly divides power between three co-equal branches of government and they serve as checks on one another. DCLaw1, writing in Inside-Out the Beltway, reminded us recently of this passage of The Federalist No. 51:

This policy of supplying, by opposite and rival interests, the defect of better motives, might be traced through the whole system of human affairs, private as well as public. We see it particularly displayed in all the subordinate distributions of power, where the constant aim is to divide and arrange the several offices in such a manner as that each may be a check on the other — that the private interest of every individual may be a sentinel over the public rights. These inventions of prudence cannot be less requisite in the distribution of the supreme powers of the State.

Obama should not use "the institution of the presidency" as a shield to prevent testimony to Congress when Congress is carrying out its Constitutionally mandated oversight role. The presidency is not the single pedestal on which our government rests. The government rests on a three-legged stool whose three legs, executive, legislative and judicial, are of equal lengths.

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

That’s more like it.

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Jim White

Jim White

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