Video: Executive power grows as accountability declines

posted at 1:21 pm on January 22, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

“I think presidents are basically like great white sharks,” says Chris Edelson in this look from Reason at the expansion of presidential power over the course of our republic — and especially over the last dozen years or so. Edelson sees the track record of Barack Obama as “ironic,” considering his background as a constitutional-law lecturer, but the irony train left the station years ago.

“Obama is doing many of the same dangerous things that Bush did,” says Chris Edelson, assistant professor at American University, referencing what he considers President Obama’s broad interpretation of executive power. He points to Obama’s unilateral military intervention in Libya and his defense of the National Security Agency’s data collection on American citizens as just two examples of executive over-reach.

“What’s ironic about that is Obama is a constitutional lawyer and scholar by background.”

However, President Obama is not the first president to expand the powers of the presidency. Edelson explains the historical precedents of expansive executive power in his new book, Emergency Presidential Powers: From the Drafting of the Constitution to the War on Terror.

As we’d expect from Reason and Nick Gillespie, the video takes a scholarly approach to the issue, but it’s still a fascinating discussion that takes a close look at the present. That’s certainly the case with Obama’s assertion of executive power when he waged war on Libya, but it’s not just limited to war, either. Gitmo comes up, but so does unilateral changes to ObamaCare, and other regulatory policies as well.

So what allows this accumulation and abuse of power? A lack of accountability — or worse, faux-countability, argues Ruth Marcus in the Washington Post today. Marcus uses ObamaCare as an example, too — but also Benghazi:

Hold me accountable for the debacle,” Sebelius declared in October. “I’m responsible.” Nice sentiment. But this is non-accountable accountability, an assertion devoid of content. Accountability is meaningless without consequences attached.

Of course, the ultimate responsibility rests with President Obama, who failed to adequately oversee implementation. But the conundrum of presidential accountability is that the chief executive can’t fire himself.

Benghazi offers an example of both lack of accountability and faux-countability. As Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) pointed out in comments filed with the Senate intelligence committee report, the attack was preventable, yet no one has been disciplined for failing to prevent it. Collins singled out Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy, who testified that the threat environment in Benghazi was “flashing red” yet failed to ensure that a facility he approved there had adequate security.

If the State Department were a corporation, heads would have rolled.

But if you want to know why faux-countability works, just proceed to the next two paragraphs:

But politics being politics, most Republicans engaged in a bid for over-accountability, focusing on — wonder why — former secretary of state Hillary Clinton. “She was responsible for ensuring the safety of all Americans serving in our diplomatic facilities,” six Republican members of the Senate intelligence committee wrote in the report. “Her failure to do so clearly made a difference in the lives of the four murdered Americans and their families.” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) went further. “Under her leadership, the consulate became a death trap,” he told CNN.

Yet the report, like previous investigations, offered no evidence that Clinton was aware of security concerns in Libya. Contrast the preparation for Obamacare, which was, or should have been, at the center of Sebelius’s concerns, with the issue of embassy security. That is certainly an important and tragically neglected topic, yet not one fair to tag Clinton with, given the array of issues on the secretarial plate.

Well, who exactly was in charge at State? Obama may have ultimate responsibility for State’s performance, but Clinton was the chief executive of the organization itself. If she’s not concerned about the issues of facility security (Benghazi was not an embassy) when the facility is in the middle of a failed state and her good friend Chris Stevens had to work there, it’s not all that surprising that her close aide Patrick Kennedy didn’t think it was terribly important, either. CIA and the Pentagon had been warning for months that the lights were flashing red around Benghazi. It’s not like the Libya adventure was a minor issue for the Obama administration — it was central to how they thought American power should be projected in the “responsibility to protect” paradigm, a key concept for foreign policy in this administration, which nearly sent us to war again in Syria. If Clinton didn’t closely watch this Obama administration priority, then it demonstrates a significant level of incompetence.

Accountability is a good check on power, but only when everyone gets held accountable.


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There is no accountability in the cult of personality.

John the Libertarian on January 22, 2014 at 1:24 PM

Good thing he said “white” shark….if he’d said “black” shark Holder would be investigating.

viking01 on January 22, 2014 at 1:25 PM

Leave my sharks OUT of it! What?

annoyinglittletwerp on January 22, 2014 at 1:26 PM

Sorry Hillary, your seat has passed you by………..

Rovin on January 22, 2014 at 1:29 PM

i have said it before and i will say it again: obama studied the constitution so that he would be that much more effective at subverting/destroying it. isn’t that obvious by now?

homesickamerican on January 22, 2014 at 1:29 PM

GREAT PIC!!

GREAT MOVIE (first one)

ToddPA on January 22, 2014 at 1:30 PM

“What’s ironic about that is Obama is a constitutional lawyer and scholar by background.”

Oh, please. Between Obama and Wendy Davis, a law degree from Harvard is on a downward spiral.

Cindy Munford on January 22, 2014 at 1:31 PM

Protect Hillary at all costs
Lsm mantra

cmsinaz on January 22, 2014 at 1:32 PM

Don’t worry executive branch accountability will return about 5 seconds after the next republican president is sworn in and the MSM resumes their traditional role of watchdog. Since only GOP presidential power grabs pose an existential threat to the constitution.

bannor on January 22, 2014 at 1:35 PM

+1 Cindy

cmsinaz on January 22, 2014 at 1:37 PM

“What’s ironic about that is Obama is a constitutional lawyer and scholar by background.”

King Barack is a political hack, who’s “intelligence” is debatable. Coupling his name with “scholar” is a farce.

GarandFan on January 22, 2014 at 1:38 PM

If Clinton didn’t closely watch this Obama administration priority, then it demonstrates a significant level of incompetence.

Or worse, indifference. Their giveashit bottle is empty when it comes to others.

By the way, they did prove the harridan read a memo from Stevens asking for more security. She did nothing.

dogsoldier on January 22, 2014 at 1:38 PM

“I think presidents are basically like great white sharks,”

But do they have laser beams attached to their head?

Accountability has to come from the Congress and, yet, whenever the GOP-controlled House makes a stab at it the Dem-controlled Senate screams racism and partisanship. In that power vacuum the rat-eared bastard is able to get away with whatever the hell he wants.

The media are co-conspirators in the way they don’t want to investigate Benghazi or the IRS but….. those traffic jams on the GW bridge! Heads must roll.

Happy Nomad on January 22, 2014 at 1:40 PM

Oh, please. Between Obama and Wendy Davis, a law degree from Harvard is on a downward spiral.

Cindy Munford on January 22, 2014 at 1:31 PM

I’m trying not to hold Ted Cruz’s poor choice in law schools against him.

Happy Nomad on January 22, 2014 at 1:42 PM

Happy Nomad on January 22, 2014 at 1:42 PM

LOL! The only thing I have found interesting about that is how much the media is willing to ignore the similarity of his path with Obama’s, Harvard Law and Editor of the Harvard Review. I don’t know why I should be surprised, the Left certainly wasn’t impressed with W’s attendance at Yale and Harvard. Of course, one was a legacy but Harvard MBA got him zero respect.

Cindy Munford on January 22, 2014 at 1:48 PM

Thank the 17th Amendment for screwing everything up.

kagai on January 22, 2014 at 1:51 PM

Ruth Marcus’s column for WaPo is basically an exercise in calling for accountability, except when it touches her favorites — all Democrats, natch.

I have to recycle my comment from the Headlines thread.

So, the conclusion is: accountability is important, and people should be held accountable for disasters on their watch.

Unless it’s Hillary Clinton, in which case it’s absurd to suggest she has any accountability for what happened on her watch, and any Republicans who are mean enough to suggest it just show their hysterical overreactions.

She should be embarrassed to submit this meandering nonsense for publication.

There Goes the Neighborhood on January 22, 2014 at 1:52 PM

“What’s ironic about that is Obama is a constitutional lawyer and scholar by background.”

Oh, please. Between Obama and Wendy Davis, a law degree from Harvard is on a downward spiral.

Cindy Munford on January 22, 2014 at 1:31 PM

Most of the expansion in executive power is coming from people with Ivy League educations. Based on track record, we’d be better off rejecting anyone with an Ivy League education rather than treating them like the elite.

Our best president in the last generation or two had a degree from Eureka College.

There Goes the Neighborhood on January 22, 2014 at 1:56 PM

Yet the report, like previous investigations, offered no evidence that Clinton was aware…

Too bad Crispy Creme wasn’t the Secretary of State. He’d have known.

Fallon on January 22, 2014 at 1:57 PM

Cindy Munford on January 22, 2014 at 1:48 PM

I guess the bigger question is this. When the hell did it become mandatory that Presidents and Presidential hopefuls go to Ivy League schools to be deemed qualified for the job?

Happy Nomad on January 22, 2014 at 1:59 PM

Whether you agree or disagree with the policy, you must understand his intention is noble.

nonpartisan on April 22, 2013 at 8:05 PM

nobar on January 22, 2014 at 2:01 PM

novaculus ‏@novaculus Oct 12

@PragueArtist It’s politically axiomatic. The greater the power, the less accountability, & the more likely that power will be abused.

An oldie but a goodie from the Twitter archives.

novaculus on January 22, 2014 at 2:02 PM

Accountability was on the table in November 2012.

The folks with the ultimate power failed to fulfill their mission in carrying it out.

Bitter Clinger on January 22, 2014 at 2:02 PM

Our best president in the last generation or two had a degree from Eureka College.

There Goes the Neighborhood on January 22, 2014 at 1:56 PM

Amen!

Cindy Munford on January 22, 2014 at 2:05 PM

I guess the bigger question is this. When the hell did it become mandatory that Presidents and Presidential hopefuls go to Ivy League schools to be deemed qualified for the job?

Happy Nomad on January 22, 2014 at 1:59 PM

Reagan did such an excellent job without that “qualification” that the elites immediately made it a must for the job. No one since Reagan has made it to the Oval Office without time spent at an Ivy League encampment.

Bitter Clinger on January 22, 2014 at 2:06 PM

“Constitutional Scholar” is bullpuckey. Obama concentrated on only one part – the 14th Amendment. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t know anything about the rest, but it also means he doesn’t know as much as he’s let everyone (including Edelson) assume. Remember, Obama is the guy who publicly criticized the Constitution as being a “Charter of Negative Liberties”. What he does know about the Constitution, he doesn’t like – it’s too constraining.

Jeff Weimer on January 22, 2014 at 2:07 PM

Happy Nomad on January 22, 2014 at 1:59 PM

I don’t know. Considering the publicized grade inflation and the prevailing views of far too many of these graduates, I think it has not served the public well. Like most things that are wrong, the media has made it mandatory and the lack of their perimeters a crime.

Cindy Munford on January 22, 2014 at 2:08 PM

Accountability is a good check on power, but only when everyone gets held accountable.

Or, at least when *someone* of importance is held truly accountable – which as you mentioned earlier entails consequences.. swift, appropriate, and significant consequences.

The message is clear to those pushing for “change” in our government: Do your worst, there will be no consequences.

Question of the day: How long can a government that is supposed to be of, by and for the people last under such circumstances as we find ourselves in now?

DrDeano on January 22, 2014 at 2:17 PM

Obama’s Job Approval Points to 2014 Trouble for Democrats

The sharks are in the water.

Rovin on January 22, 2014 at 2:17 PM

Accountability is a good check on power, but only when everyone gets held accountable.

That’s supposed to be the job of a free press.
Unfortunately, our ‘Fourth Estate’ has become a ‘Fifth Column’.

Dexter_Alarius on January 22, 2014 at 2:34 PM

“What’s ironic about that is Obama is a constitutional lawyer and scholar by background.”

Obame isn’t a constitutional scholar or lawyer. He was a guest lecturer, who never taught a class. He never graded a paper. He gave some speeches.

roux on January 22, 2014 at 2:44 PM

“What’s ironic about that is Obama is a constitutional lawyer and scholar by background.”

…show me!

KOOLAID2 on January 22, 2014 at 2:53 PM

Obama’s got the goods on everybody. He’s got the NSA spying on anybody and everybody and he knows everybody’s secrets. That’s why nobody opposes him.

Look what happened to General Petraeus — do you think that was just a coincidence that all of that got found out and leaked?

Look what happened at the Supreme Court when Obamacare when up there. The reports were that Justice Roberts was with the conservatives 100% to strike Obamacare down — and then all of a sudden, he turned on a dime. What do you think happened? Obama’s spies got something on Roberts and turned him around.

Obama can destroy anybodies’ political career because he knows all the secrets. He can read your emails and listen in on your telephone conversations and who knows what else.

Obama is not afraid to exploit every avenue of power available to him, he is a grave danger to our Republic.

Axion on January 22, 2014 at 3:25 PM

“Hold me accountable for the debacle,” Sebelius declared in October. “I’m responsible.” But did she resign. Of course not. No consequences are a national problem. I see it with children all the time and this has been going on for some time, so why is liberal government any different than liberal parenting.

Nixon resigned for less corruption than this President has done with ObamaCare alone; yet no consequences for him either. And unlike what the Republican leadership did to force Nixon out of office, the Democratic leadership covers for Obama. And the media too. Obama and the Democratic leadership are possibly guilty of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, commonly referred to as the RICO Act. But I won’t hold my breathe for any type of consequence to occur.

amr on January 22, 2014 at 4:04 PM

It is criminal & they’re getting away with it because the other side is neutered. They have no spine or the long term will-power to take Obama on.

RdLake on January 22, 2014 at 4:45 PM