Off with his head!

Matthew Yglesias writes:

If the President wants to do something like implement a domestic policy proposal he campaigned on—charge polluters for global warming emissions, for example—he faces a lot of hurdles. He needs majority support on a House committee or three. He also needs majority support on a Senate committee or three. Then he needs to get a majority in the full House of Representatives. And then he needs to de facto needs a 60 percent supermajority in the Senate. And then it’s all subject to judicial review.

But if Scooter Libby obstructs justice, the president has an un-reviewable, un-checkable power to offer him a pardon or clemency. If Bill Clinton wants to bomb Serbia, then Serbia gets bombed. If George W Bush wants to hold people in secret prisons and torture them, then tortured they shall be. And if Barack Obama wants to issue a kill order on someone or other, then the order goes out. And if Congress actually wants to remove a president from office, it faces extremely high barriers to doing so.

Whether or not you approve of this sort of executive power in the security domain, it’s a bit of a weird mismatch. You would think that it’s in the field of inflicting violence that we would want the most institutional restraint. Instead, the president faces almost no de facto constraints on his deployment of surveillance, military, and intelligence authority but extremely tight constraint on his ability to implement the main elements of the his domestic policy agenda.

This kind of presidential power looks “weird” if viewed from a constitutional vantage point but maybe not as weird as an expression of American culture.

Having moved to this country twenty years ago from the country that America successfully wrestled its independence from, it’s often struck me that Americans did not fully reject the concept of monarchical rule; they simply wanted a kind of modified monarchy.

First off, the monarch would need to be a native — a vehement “no” to foreign rule.

Next, the monarch would need to be one of the people, be elected and not restricted to a line of inheritance. It wasn’t that Americans did want a king; they simply wanted everyone to be able to nurture the fantasy that some day they too might become the king.

But dynasties are OK. In fact, the occasional dynasty helps burnish the executive’s regal image.

And what’s more befitting of the powers of an American king than that he should be able to occasionally proclaim: “Off with his head!”

Who knows, maybe in a few years the old regal custom of hosting public executions will be re-instituted. No doubt they’d get excellent ratings on cable news.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email