Discovering The Imperial Presidency

Ezra Klein writes a peculiar column in the WaPo today in which he seems surprised that the President of the United States is considered the leader of his political party. Ezra writes:

The White House health-care summit on Thursday is supposed to mark a return to politics as it should be practiced -- the president leading the legislative process, the two parties talking things out, bipartisanship flowering, order restored.

For months, members of Congress have complained that the president should take a more active role in the health-care reform process. But the president of the United States is not, as we sometimes seem to think, the president of the United States Congress. He can sign or veto a bill, but that's about it. The president's powers within the legislative process -- as opposed to after its completion -- are unofficial and informal. He can give a speech or invite congressional leaders to the White House for a chat, but he has no firm control over the proceedings. Legislating is the legislature's job.

(Emphasis supplied.) How very quaint. Perhaps that vision would be a better one, but it has been a long time since such has been the case. This is has always been the silliest of defenses from the Village Dems for the Obama Administration -- the proclaiming of its legislative irrelevancy. More . .

Of course, it is also hypocritical - as the Village Dems also insist that Congress enact the "Obama Agenda." If I read Klein correctly, there should not be an Obama Agenda, that it is for the Congress to have an agenda. I am pretty sure he does not believe it. so why write it? Perhaps Ezra will explain.

One of the more amusing passages in Klein's column is his idea that Presidential meddling exacerbates unseemly partisanship:

[W]hy is there so much partisanship and so little progress? At least in part, we can blame the president. According to data gathered by University of Maryland political scientist Frances Lee, when the president -- and not just this particular president, but any president -- takes a public position on an issue, the chances of a party-line vote on the matter skyrocket.

Oh for crissakes. Of course when the President takes a public position on an issue it creates more partisanship. That is precisely why a President will do so, to instill discipline in his OWN party; so that HIS position becomes the Party position. does this REALLY need explaining?

For better or worse, the legislative agenda taken up by this Congress was the agenda Obama requested. Does anyone really think they would have decided to work on health care? Why in Gawd's name does Ezra think that health care comes up on the Congressional agenda meaningfully in the first place? It is because a President decides it is also HIS agenda. Unless and until a President decides he wants to take on health care, it sits idly as an issue in Congress, with bills perfunctorily proposed and unmoved.

Obviously this is elementary stuff for most of us, but apparently not so much for Village Dems. Beyond being blind to the obvious, they should of course be familiar with the idea of the Imperial Presidency. Ironically, in a NYTimes Op-Ed piece upon the installation by the Supreme Court of George W. Bush to the Presidency in December 2000, "Presidential" historian (whatever that means) described the rise of the Imperial Presidency (and also the end of the Imperial Presidency -- how'd that work out?). Beschloss wrote:

The grand age of presidential power began in the 1930's with Franklin Roosevelt and started to decline in the early 1970's with Richard Nixon. Although presidential power has been slipping for some time, whoever was elected the 43rd president would have been the first leader to govern fully out of the wake of the imperial age. George W. Bush's ability to navigate this new era could determine the success of his presidency.

The founders never intended to have an imperial president. Always worried about tyranny, they drafted a Constitution that gives a president limited authority and forces him to use his political skills to fight for influence as he squeezes laws out of Congress and prods the American people to think in new ways.

The age that brought us robust presidential authority in place of the arrangement envisioned by the founders was born of domestic crisis. The failure of Herbert Hoover and Congress to shake the Great Depression encouraged Americans to demand that Roosevelt assume unprecedented influence over economic and social affairs. The New Deal's relative success led to a national consensus for centralizing power, and as power flowed to Washington, the executive branch swelled. Before Bill Clinton proclaimed it dead in 1996, the era of big government was a boom time for presidential authority.

(Emphasis supplied.) "The failure of Herbert Hoover and Congress to shake the Great Depression encouraged Americans to demand that Roosevelt assume unprecedented influence over economic and social affairs." Apparently, for Village Dems, similar failure encourages arguing for a pre-FDR Presidency.

This is all nonsense of course. They do not want a "pre-FDR" Presidency. They know the power of the Presidency. Instead, they want a climate where THIS President and his Administration are insulated from blame, while the credit redounds to it (how many times have they recounted how every PRESIDENT since Truman has failed on health care. How come they do not write that every Congress since 1948 has failed?) It is cynical, disingenuous and ultimately absurd.

No one buys it, least of all the electorate. It has been absurd since this whole line of thinking was first offered up last summer by the Village Dems. Now it has reached the pathetic stage.

Speaking for me only

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    I'm rather sick of hearing about this (5.00 / 0) (#1)
    by Salo on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 10:54:34 AM EST
    Ezra chap, he sounds tremendously dishonest. But he's obviously a Broder wannabe. So he will be promoted.

    Well on his way (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 10:58:27 AM EST
    I have long predicted his smashing success to Broder-dom.

    To be fair, unlike Broder, he is a pretty smart fellow.


    Which probably means (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by Erehwon on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 11:08:40 AM EST
    given his age and smartness, he can actually cause more damage for a longer time.

    A smart person who gets it wrong (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by observed on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 11:21:21 AM EST
    over and over again is pretty useless.
    He's smart, but he's not a critical thinker.
    This was clear when he cheerleaded for the Iraq war, and equally clear as he writes his blindered columns about health care.

    I'm sorry, but Ezra... (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by Dadler on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 11:26:52 AM EST
    ...is just plain dumb too often, just incapable of accepting the limitation of his own terribly limited experience on this planet.  At some point, it would be quite enlightened of him, not to mention a tad self-aware, to simply start out an argument by admitting he is aware that his youth renders him incapable of really understanding certain things, that a maturity of years and experience actually means something.  Then again, that would mean he'd have to admit that he is often full of sh*t, as most of us are, but children don't admit such things.

    Policy wonk or no, emotionally and intellectually, he is a complete and embarrassing greenhorn.

    Disagree with your analysis. The (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by observed on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 11:29:10 AM EST
    problem is that he's NOT a policy wonk, but he plays one on the internets.

    This is the "Obama is a victim" (5.00 / 2) (#7)
    by inclusiveheart on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 11:36:58 AM EST
    conceit.  I think it is about the most politically stupid tactics that will bite them in the butt in the long run.

    You can't run this country properly whilst acting like a victim.

    They are so afraid of any blame being attached to (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by ruffian on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 11:50:58 AM EST
    Obama that they want Congress to enact something that is an Obama agenda, but not call it an Obama agenda.  I've said before that they have it exactly backwards. It might be too late now, but a year ago stamping an agenda with the Obama imprint would have garnered support - instead he left the branding to the least popular institution in America - the US Congress. Just nuts.

    I can sympathize - I too am sick of hearing the righties sneering 'Obama's America' at every turn.  But they should have been ready to combat the noise machine.

    You must have your ctrl-e key set up to auto-type 'Ezra Klein writes a peculiar column'.

    Oh, good lord... (5.00 / 5) (#11)
    by Anne on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 11:56:26 AM EST
    Ezra must be writing for the Kool-Aid Kidz or something, for people looking for more reasons why Obama should end up blameless for whatever failure transpires; in a testament to Ezra's hypocrisy, though, I'm pretty sure he - and the people he seems to be writing for - will have no problem giving Obama credit for whatever successes result.

    It's perfect, really, but that doesn't make it good writing, good analysis or good logic.  And it doesn't do one single thing to hold anyone accountable.

    But, I guess that's not Ezra's focus; I guess there are very few writers anymore who want to give their readers something honest to think about, lest it help end the charade that is governing today.

    I don't know how you can keep reading these people, BTD, but it's refreshing to know someone is willing to call BS in a public forum; I'm grateful for your efforts.

    Similar Villager-think (5.00 / 1) (#29)
    by KeysDan on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 04:39:50 PM EST
    was noted on the recent Bill Maher show.  A discussion took place about repeal of DADT, all panelists agreed and applauded Admiral Mullen's heart-felt testimony. But then a panelist, Elliot Spitzer (yes, that Elliot) raised the question of why, then, is the president not exhibiting leadership, seizing the moment, and taking initial actions stop actions through executive order, and charging Congress to repeal pronto.  That is when excuses (and not reasons) went into high gear. Panelist Norah O'Donnell, Washington correspondent for MSNBC, claimed that Mullen's statement was even more important than anything the president could say or do.  Ezra Klein is a frequent contributor on health care on MSNBC, so that Villager-think is pervasive, it seems.

    Reexamination time (none / 0) (#8)
    by Politalkix on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 11:47:19 AM EST
    BTD writes "If I read Klein correctly, there should not be an Obama Agenda, that it is for the Congress to have an agenda."

    The President has an Obama agenda, which he is trying to implement. All the gnashing of teeth among leftist partisans has been caused not because there is no Obama agenda, but because the Obama agenda does not totally overlap with their agenda (which they arrogantly believe to be the best for the entire country).
    Americans like their President to be above partisan politics. If partisan Congressmen cannot stop squabbling over less important details of their agenda, Americans expect the President to discipline them or show them up (even if they are politicians from the President's own party).
    We keep hearing all the time in TL about how bad Obama has been for his base. It may be time for some people in this blog to do a reality check on themselves. Obama's job approval ratings remains pretty high in the most Democratic of states, Vermont (link ), where he even polls higher than Bernie Sanders. It is Iowa that Obama is losing!
    It maybe useful for some to understand that the Democratic base comprises something more than Hollywood, trial lawyers, women for whom abortion issues are the single most important thing in their life and unionized labor.

    Right, Obama's agenda (5.00 / 3) (#10)
    by observed on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 11:55:26 AM EST
    is not in the least leftist. It's center right.
    You're right that some Americans want politicians to rise above partisan politics.
    Those people are rubes.
    Republicans didn't reelect Bush because he rose above partisan politics.

    Please reexamine my post (5.00 / 3) (#13)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 12:08:48 PM EST
    Because your comment indicates that you did not read it.

    For example, the word "base" is not even alluded to in my piece.

    It is clear that you had this comment in mind and were going to write it no matter what I wrote in my post.


    I think you have a point: Obama isn't really a Dem (5.00 / 2) (#14)
    by kempis on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 12:15:21 PM EST
    It maybe useful for some to understand that the Democratic base comprises something more than Hollywood, trial lawyers, women for whom abortion issues are the single most important thing in their life and unionized labor.

    Indeed. It looks like Obama is trying to cultivate a "new base" in the Democratic party, if you're right. Screw the working class and their icky "unionized labor"; long live the "creative class." That does seem to be the Obama agenda thus far.

    Once upon a time, the Democratic party represented the interest of working people--protected the un-powerful from the excesses of the wealthy by making corporations clean up their pollutants, pay living wages, and not expose workers to unnecessary hazards. But now that the party is becoming the Republican party--while the Republican party becomes the Know Nothings--that's changing.

    As a result, a lot of the Democratic "base" is disappointed and disillusioned--but still prefers the Dems to the Republicans, so far.


    Those tacky Democratic principles! (5.00 / 1) (#18)
    by mmc9431 on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 01:52:56 PM EST
    It's interesting that so many that ran away from the Republican party when it was over run by the Evangelicans and neo cons  feel the Democratic party should reallign itself to fill the void.

    The Democratic party should never become the moderate wing of the Republican party.


    Remember (none / 0) (#20)
    by Politalkix on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 02:27:48 PM EST
    (1) that even the "creative class" did not get its wish regarding Afghanistan or national security issues.
    (2) a lot of poor and middle class workers are non-unionized. Examples include admins working for health care providers and insurance companies, medical assistants and lower rung administrative workers in the health care industry, etc. These workers (many of whom are women)will also be losing their jobs if all the great "progressive" ideas that some believe are no-brainers are actually implemented. AIG and bank and auto bailouts did not just prove beneficial to CEOs, it helped a lot of little guys retain their jobs (bank tellers, insurance sales people, even union workers) and retirement money. The stimulus package definitely helped save a lot of teaching jobs in schools (many jobs for women).
    (3) All women's issues are not about abortion; it will be enlightening to see how many more care about equal pay, Pell grants, employment opportunities than abortion (where Roe Vs Wade and Hyde remain the determining legislation).

    My objective is not to defend every Obama policy initiative. Far from it! I do disagree with some of them (though I have been happy, by and large, with his Presidency). However, it will be intellectually lazy to pretend that many "progressive" causes can really be debated in the "black and white" or "us Vs them" way that some like to do. A middle class worker in the health care industry may be totally against single payer health care, a chemist making 50K annually in the pharmaceutical industry maybe against drug importation! These voices should also be heard if the Democratic party wants to remain a big tent party. Just my opinion!


    Where do you get your talking (5.00 / 1) (#22)
    by observed on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 02:40:30 PM EST
    The AIG bailout saved the little guy? Insane gibberish.

    Trickle down propaganda. (5.00 / 1) (#23)
    by observed on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 02:52:38 PM EST
    do you think it's feasible to please everyone? (5.00 / 1) (#30)
    by kempis on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 06:07:48 PM EST
    I know that seems to be Obama's strategy, but at some point, it seems to me, you have to choose sides. You can bet Republicans and the moneyed interests in this country have.

    If the Dems were ever foolish (5.00 / 1) (#17)
    by Radix on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 12:35:01 PM EST
    enough to tell Labor or Women their votes were no longer necessary, they couldn't get elected Dog Catcher. That's the problem with folks like you, you simply fail to grasp the reality of numbers. With out women and labor, there are no Dems that hold office, even Obama will lose.

    I thought that's what the 2008 primariez... (5.00 / 1) (#27)
    by lambert on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 04:25:37 PM EST
    were all about? Telling women and labor they had no voice?

    Did I not get the memo?


    Not at all. (none / 0) (#33)
    by Radix on Sat Feb 27, 2010 at 11:49:52 AM EST
    Truthfully, Labor and Women were almost evenly split, between Hillary and Obama.

    Not abortion issues but REPRODUCTIVE ISSUES (5.00 / 1) (#24)
    by cawaltz on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 03:32:48 PM EST
    The Republican Party changed the dynamic when they classified birth control as an abortifactant. Oh and quite frankly, as a woman, I'm not going to apologize for believing I should have control over my body, instead of the government.

    Your rant is exactly why I can't see myself becoming a Republican. You think it is horrible and terrible and awful for government to regulate business but hunky dory for them to control people's personal lives. Talk about insane!


    You have no idea (none / 0) (#25)
    by Politalkix on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 04:00:53 PM EST
    about what I believe or what policies I support. If you consider my previous post to be a "rant", I can perfectly understand why political discourse is so scr*wed up in our country.
    I am totally opposed to the economic policies of Republicans (atleast since the time of Reagan). I strongly believe in national infrastructure spending by the government, a coherent industrial policy that focuses on long term national interests and jobs (where government has a role like in Japan, Germany, China) and not short term Wall Street gains. I would like abortion to become rare; however, I am totally opposed to any talk of repealment of Roe Vs Wade. I can however understand the point of view of someone who does not want their tax dollars to pay for abortion (just as I can under
    stand the point of view of someone who does not want their tax dollars to pay for wars they do not believe in).

    Where do I go (5.00 / 2) (#28)
    by cawaltz on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 04:25:43 PM EST
    to opt out of using my taxes for war? I'm morally opposed to bombing the crud out of people pre emptively.

    If morality is a good basis to allow an opt out then I think that it ought to at least be fair.


    You give a list of reasons to be (none / 0) (#26)
    by observed on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 04:02:56 PM EST
    unhappy with Obama, except that you and your pastor will like his position on abortion.

    I'm not impressed (none / 0) (#12)
    by brodie on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 12:05:59 PM EST
    by a cite to a VT poll which groups the 3-member cong'l delegation together rather than asking those polled to rate them individually.

    On Obama's approval there, it's nice, but I'd like to see a trendline from the start of his presidency.  In CA, another heavily blue state at the pres'l level, his numbers are in the mid to high 50s, last I checked, but well down from a year ago.

    Another factor in looking at current state polls is the unemployment rate.

    In VT it is 6.6%, well below the 9.8% nat'l avg.


    Most Vermonters (none / 0) (#32)
    by gyrfalcon on Mon Feb 22, 2010 at 09:45:37 AM EST
    pay little to no attention to the details of national issues.  It's an overwhelmingly rural state whose small newspapers and TV news focus almost exclusively on local issues.  But the farm folks where I live are starry-eyed about the idea of having an African-American president, whatever their basic political beliefs are.

    VT also has a pretty good health insurance subsidy program (Google Catamount Health) that operates without mandates like Mass. has, so few are paying much attention to the national "health care reform" debate.

    Vermont, for reasons I can't begin to understand even though I live here, has a unique culture.  It's an example of nothing except itself.


    If (presumptuously) telling others (none / 0) (#19)
    by jondee on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 02:12:55 PM EST
    what "Americans like" isnt the height of arrogance, I dont know what is..

    And I think many of us got enough of that people-on-the-Left-aren't-real-Americans drumbeat for eight years..


    Yes (none / 0) (#21)
    by jondee on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 02:30:59 PM EST
    the base also includes AAs and the poor, who (some) Dems wanted to vote just this one time, but in future would probably just as soon have stay home -- before they start really educating themselves and become an organized force to be reckoned with..

    Maybe Ezra should answer the question (none / 0) (#15)
    by pluege on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 12:24:12 PM EST
    why is it the budget - the exclusive domain of Congress - starts with the President's budget submission to Congress? Congress modifies the President's budget, but it is the Presidents budget.

    Abolish the OMB! (none / 0) (#16)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 12:33:46 PM EST
    You would be surprised (none / 0) (#31)
    by BrassTacks on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 11:44:14 PM EST
    How many democrats think that it's ok that Obama is not a party leader.  They believe the problem is the lack of leadership in the House and Senate, but not in the White House.  Obama shall remain blameless, always.