Limiting the power of the executive branch has long been a concern. From the beginning of our very being as a nation it was debated. When congress first met to begin to write the Constitution it was of great importance. In a letter from Jefferson to Madison, Jefferson indicated that he would have preferred a single term presidency. He was of the mind that the president should only be focused on doing his job and not keeping his job. After considering several different types of executive arrangements such as two and three man executives and even a figurehead president our founders arrived at our current arrangement.
Patrick Henry and other anti federalists were concerned about the presidency tending toward monarchy or empire. On the other side men like Alexander Hamilton were pitching for a strong executive. In the end, at least on paper the anti federalists and federalists alike compromised on our current structure of the executive. I believe like Henry that the executive branch does in fact tend toward empire in the case of America.
Over the past 100 years or so the presidency has expanded its power with the acknowledgement of congress. Now the President sits atop of a massive shadow government, filled with bureaucracies and a vast military industrial complex. Surrounded by czars and other enforcers the President wields power though the Constitution grants that power only to congress. In an ever growing way the executive branch has usurped power from congress even as the federal government has usurped power from the states. It’s as though today that we regularly ignore the tenth amendment to the Constitution that all laws not specifically given to the federal government are to be left to the states or to the individual.
The executive has created since the Federal Reserve, FBI, the CIA, Homeland security and other shadow government agencies that citizens have virtually no say. I’m not suggesting that these agencies are bad or evil; I’m only questioning how they function and looking at the natural rights of man and what we lose as they exist. When we the people give up liberty it seems as though our government usurps it and grow ever larger. It is this very idea that both Jefferson and Madison had feared in creating our founding documents.
Since World War II a standing army has been a permanent feature of our defense. As we can see a standing army can do little to protect us from a surprise attack such as occurred on 9/11. There is only one reason that America has a large standing army since the 1940s and that is to maintain foreign bases around the world. We need to have a large standing army to meet the commitment of being the world’s policeman. Our founders had no intention and the very idea of standing armies like we have today would have been absurd to them. Perhaps a smaller domestic army would be needed to defend our shores.
It was originally decided in the Constitution that only congress would have the power to declare war. Yet even that very simple and basic principle has been usurped by the imperial presidency especially over the past fifty years or so. Today the reality is that the president doesn’t need to inform and get the consent of congress because he can exercise war powers granted to him by the war powers act which makes an illegal end run around the Constitution. President Bush did get congressional backing for the war on Iraq, but he didn’t actually need it because he had been granted the power to make war on his own.
President Obama continues the tradition of not consulting congress, when he decided that Afghanistan would become his new focus. Both congress and even the American public have accepted this war without any regard to its constitutional or congressional approval. It has almost become second nature to Americans to accept this imperial presidency as normal. When it is anything but normal in terms of our Constitution and the duties and obligations there stated.
Few Kings have achieved the power of our modern Presidents. Our history even regales the citizenry with tales of the war presidents, like Lincoln, Wilson and Roosevelt. Great men we are told that saved our nation, who ended slavery, helped to keep Europe free and got rid of the scourge of the Nazi’s and fascism. These men who in cases suspended habeas corpus, invaded the privacy of their citizens, arrested and even executed those who performed seditious acts against the government. Not to mention that these president’s decisions lead to the death of over one million American soldiers in total. We really don’t look much beyond at how these men while leading us certainly during times of crisis, sometimes made the crisis.
I’m certainly not going to defend slavery; it is a stain against our nation. Whether or not we had to fight a war is of course another story for another time. Suffice to say that Civil War cost America dearly to achieve an end that really took almost another hundred years to achieve. Wilson however entangling us in World War I totally unnecessarily is another story. We had no business what so ever in that clearly foreign war. I also won’t argue the necessity of World War II, only the manner in which we made the peace and the following cold war and globalization of our military.
The past hundred years have confirmed the fears of James Madison and Thomas Jefferson both. The age of imperial executive power has been the age of warfare, budget busting spending, higher taxation and inflation. Since Woodrow Wilson began his imperial presidency after his election in 1912 the executive branch has become the focal point of power, ambition and control.
There is a long, honorable and mostly hidden tradition of antiwar thought and action among the traditional Conservative movement in America. It stretches from the Federalists of old who opposed the War of 1812 and the civic-minded elite critics of the Spanish-American War. The history continues through the Isolationists who formed the backbone of the pre–World War II America First movement and the conservatives who voted against U.S. involvement in the League of Nations, NATO and Vietnam.
Although they are barely audible amid the hawkish clamoring of today’s shock-and-awe Right, libertarians and traditional conservatives are among the sharpest critics of the Iraq War and the imperial project of the current neo con Republicans.
The question becomes how do we deconstruct this empire? I believe that part of the answer lies in an original Jeffersonian concept of a one term president. Perhaps a six year term so that once the president is elected he is no longer a candidate for office and can focus 100% of his energy to his job, instead of continually running for office and campaigning for his job and poll watching. Also by restoring to the congress the full obligations and duties spelled out in the Constitution. It would also force our congressman to accept the awesome responsibility that is their job. Without the executive or the courts to hide behind congress would have to accept the responsibility and get the credit or take the penalty. Each representative can now be responsible locally for their actions to the people. Finally to utilize the tenth amendment and stop using the federal government to make laws that is more properly made at the state and local level. Once the focus and scope of congressional power is settled they can begin to do better work on behalf of the people that they represent.
We also need as a nation and as a people to deconstruct what we call ourselves and the labels that we hang on one another. You know that all liberals are bad or good and that all Conservatives are the other. It’s not a case in our country of left or right, it’s a case of right and wrong. Every free thinking person who is not coerced will believe in the rights of life, liberty and property. All we need to convince people of is where these rights come from. That they are not granted to us by government, but rather by our creator and that these rights are indeed inalienable.
I would argue that while it is true that the left who often can’t figure out if they’re liberals or progressives anymore; the right has also lost it’s way, between the neo cons and traditional conservatives who can’t figure out the others stance on foreign intervention and the role of government. A rose by any other name would still smell, I think that’s the way it goes. Anyway Liberals and Conservatives alike have been co-opted by the Imperial ruling class of our nation. Captivated by the idea that government can cure all and that America is some kind of enormous safeguard of all that is good and just. Americans more and more realize that our government is bought and paid for by the lobbyists that control this vast military industrial complex.
As a Libertarian I tend to identify myself mostly with the Conservatives on financial issues and mostly with Liberals on the social issues. I think that is true because many liberals and conservatives just don’t realize that they really are libertarians. Its’ not easy to be a libertarian and I find that we are often misunderstood. We are right and left leaning at times and outspoken at times about liberty in particular. We just believe that government is here to provide protection for our life, liberty and property. Also as Thomas Jefferson said that the government that governs least governs best.
I am constantly amazed the most interesting American political figures cannot be squeezed into the constricted and lifeless labels of liberal or conservative. It would be difficult to call George Washington or Abe Lincoln one or the other and certainly both sides want to claim them. Nor do I accept the simpleminded division of our vast and demographically changing country into red and blue, for to paint Colorado, Kansas, and Tennessee requires every color in the spectrum. It is much easier I think to read most people from Purple states. They are right leaning conservative by nature and have a great desire to be left alone by their government. Above all the average American fears most what has been created and now exists, they have feared empire. They have feared what we have wrought.