Wednesday, December 21, 2005

In order to form a more perfect union

There’s part of me that wants to commend Vice President Dick Cheney for not merely invoking the specter of 9/11 in defending the administration’s domestic spying program, but for also trying to advance a philosophical argument on behalf of a “strong and robust” presidency.

Granted, it is a convenient argument for a sitting vice president to make. George Will recently noted that the Republican disdain for a strong chief executive, nurtured by their antipathy toward FDR and the New Deal, has not survived their victories in seven of the last 10 presidential elections. But imagine how edifying the 2008 presidential election would be if it centered on a debate over the proper role of the president and the Congress in our constitutional system. It might even give way to a vigorous discussion of the role of the judiciary that considered a broader range of precedents than merely Roe v. Wade.

These are not purely academic matters. Despite Cheney’s protestations that Vietnam and Watergate weakened the presidency, we are witnessing, both in the domestic war on terror and in the war in Iraq, the consequences of four decades of congressional withdrawal from war making and national security policy. Ted Kennedy can complain all he wants about the vice president misreading the Constitution, but the fact is that Congress pretty much threw in the towel with the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.

So let’s have that debate, Mr. Vice President. As your boss might say, bring it on.


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