Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Executive Power: Bush, Lincoln, Captain Ahab

There was an incredibly interesting (and mostly frightening) Frontline tonight on PBS concerning executive power called Cheney's Law. It raises what I think is an overwhelming and difficult question: how powerful do we want our president to be, and what restrictions should be put on his power? If you think it's an easy question, recall that Lincoln used executive power to keep these States "United." Then again, Stalin used it to starve ten million people.

It seems simple: when executive power is increased, freedom may be decreased... and when executive power is decreased, order may be decreased. But it's not simple: how--by exactly what standards--do we decide what degree of freedom and order we want?

Do we vote?-------Or do we trust?
Faction?------------------- Union?
Economic Freedom?-----Equality?

So which side will you be on? The answer is probably "both" according to whatever circumstance presents itself. Wisdom says so. But still, if we go with that as an answer, what circumstance does justify executive power if not something like 9/11? I don't think this is as easy as "liberal" vs. "conservative." In truth, something like universal health care, which is currently a "liberal" issue, is in fact a unifying program, an ordering impulse--and though it robs us of freedom and options, some people support that move to unify. On the other hand, conservatives are rarely interested in using executive power when it comes to regulating economic activity.

I'm trying to show that everyone who ascribes to party politics these days is clinging to an untenable (or hypocritical) political philosophy. Am I succeeding?


Wishydig said...

Put me in the left column of pretty much every one of those. On the last one I'm more center or even right side.

And to the question "what circumstance does justify executive power if not something like 9/11?" I would say that the executive branch already has power. So I'll rephrase the question to suit my purpose (tho it might not serve the purpose of your intention)--

Q: What circumstance justifies the power of the Bush executive branch to discard the rights that it has discarded.

A: None. Not even the WTC attacks.

Casey said...

Right on, Michael -- that's why I set it up that way. Most academics would feel comfortable humming down the left side of that chart of pairs, and I had hoped that the last one would be a little jarring. That's also why I mentioned Stalin, who certainly valued equality.

But I tend to agree with you... and so I wonder whether I could've mustered the guts to say, in 1860ish, that I was in favor of preserving the Union at all costs. After all, so what if faction arises?--isn't that a sign that we should all just go our separate ways cordially?

The Diversity/Unity pair has been giving me headaches lately too because Diversity maintains and emphasizes difference, and I almost believe it is human nature to cling to likeness, to seek likeness, etc. Martin Luther King, Jr., interestingly, would've agreed with me, would've leaned to the "right" on this chart, emphasizing the human heart or something like the oversoul, or some "One" into which we might all throw ourselves.

In fact, I find myself bustling along the dotted lines (back and forth) on almost every one of these issues. Must be my brain chemistry or something... ;)