But today, the liberal admiration for presidential power that Blum memorialized is back. President Obama has claimed the right to kill American citizens involved in terrorism, and resisted subjecting his decisions to either congressional or judicial review. He’s given recess appointments to nominees the Senate would not confirm even when the Senate was not technically in recess. He employed an exotic legislative maneuver to pass his health-care law and has used executive orders to institute many of the policy changes Congress would not enact. And he’s become so resistant to media scrutiny that longtime ABC News White House reporter Ann Compton recently called “the president’s [lack of] availability to the press … a disgrace.”
Through all this, mainstream liberal Democrats have mostly yawned. Liberals may not be thrilled about the drone program, but they trust Obama’s judgment in a way they never trusted Bush’s. And like progressives a century ago, they want a president strong enough to impose his will on a Congress that they consider reactionary, corrupt, and dismissive of the public will. During the Bush years, movies such as Syriana and the Bourne trilogy portrayed America’s leaders as deceitful warmongers. But in the Obama era, Hollywood has rediscovered its faith in the Oval Office. Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is an ends-justify-the-means tale of a president who shades the truth and violates the letter of the law in order to achieve the greater good of outlawing slavery. The contemporary message is clear: Do what you have to do, President Obama. We trust you.