The Power of the Executive Branch

I want to start this article with a question: Why does the news media devote so much time and energy to the upcoming Presidential election?

It seems as though the outcome of this election has dire consequences for the future of the United States. Mitt Romney, a savvy businessman, is spending a small fortune of his own money on his campaign; obviously he thinks the investment is worthwhile. But where is value? Best case scenario he wins the election and has the hardest job in the world for the next four years. Half of the U.S. population and most of the international community will be against him on practically every issue. History has shown that unless there is a war or a depression, very little policy will change.

Now I use Romney as an example because of his personal investment in his campaign, but the same holds true for almost all the other candidates. They all risk a lot, whether they win or lose. This fact holds part of the answer to my question. The news media loves the high stakes game, and so do their advertisers. But the personal risk taken by the candidates makes up a small portion of the possible consequences of the Presidential election.

Far more important is the power of the office of President. In 1776, American Revolutionaries fought the greatest empire in the world to escape monarchy. They established a new government based on life, liberty and property. Yet 232 years later, American politicians have done exactly the opposite of our Founders; they risk it all (but not their lives), not to reduce the power of the government, but to empower it. Little by little the American people have been sacrificing their liberty to the government in a convoluted and misguided effort to preserve some semblance of safety and/or security.

In the words of Milton Friedman, “Only a crisis, real or perceived, produces real change.” This fact has long been realized by world leaders, some warned the people to resist rash decision-making after a shocking event. Ben Franklin famously said, “Those who would sacrifice essential liberties for a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” But history has shown that most leaders, well intentioned and otherwise, use disaster and war to push through policy that a sound-minded citizenry would reject. In the 1940's Japanese Americans were isolated because of fear. In the 1950's, the McCarthy hearings vilified Americans in federal court based only on their words, and in the 1960's we injected “In God we Trust” onto our money and “Under God” into our pledge of allegiance, not because of faith, but because of communist fears. In the 1970's, those involved in the anti-war movement were spied on by their own government. In the 1980's, Ronald Reagan was able to exploit the fear of drugs, gays and other socially deviant behavior to begin a compassionate conservatism movement that has systematically worsened the underclass of America and widened the income gap over the last 25 years.

I am not making any value judgments about these policies or arguing that the results were the intended effect. I believe Ronald Reagan cared deeply about the American people and was well intentioned, but he was unqualified to be President of the United States. Whatever your opinion of these leaders and policy changes, they all occurred during a time of fear, and their results, as predicted by Ben Franklin, were detrimental.

However, the most egregious abuse of power has been taking place over the tenure of George W. Bush. But this is not an attack on the man; his motivations and intentions are his own, and I will not speculate. This is not about Republican or Democrat either, as we will see they are equally responsible. In the last eight years, we (the American people) have heard the words “executive privilege” more times than all previous uses before. We passed the Patriot Act because we were scared and the name sounded perfect. Our government has a not-so-secret prison where torture is employed regularly. The power of the office of President has expanded like no other time in history, using the threat of terror to shock us (the people) into compliance. Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine provides an excellent historical and contemporary perspective on this phenomenon.

Our revolutionary forefathers risked their lives against the largest, most dominate military empire in the history of warfare to establish liberty from government in the United States, yet now our government can listen to our phone calls and torture enemy combatants because a small group of backward religious fundamentalists pulled of an attack. Osama bin Laden could not have imagined a better result. Since 9/11, American citizens are less free, our international status has declined dramatically, there are more Islamic terror recruits than at any time in history, the U.S. has invaded Iraq (bringing Americans much closer and easier to kill and over extending our military), and Osama is still ALIVE. It is hard for me, as an American, to admit but – the terrorists are winning.

Furthermore, and most importantly, there are 534 Congresspeople in Washington whose ultimate goal is to be President; therefore they have no motivation to decrease the power of the executive branch. Every time George Bush invokes executive privilege or sends our troops to invade sovereign nations without a Congressional Declaration of War, he sets a precedent for the office of President.

That precedent excites the Senators and Representatives, who all want their shot to be King of America. They want their chance to have the power to fix our problems. But there is a paradox here, that power is the problem. The only candidate revolutionary enough to reduce the power of the executive branch is Ron Paul.

I want to end this article with a quote from one of my favorite Americans, Albert Einstein. “We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”