Draft introduction 2

Neither political party demonstrated a unified position. Republican candidates ranged from Mitt Romney’s endorsement of the imperial presidency to Ron Paul’s vision for a Jeffersonian executive. Democratic candidates shared a deep distrust of the Bush/Cheney project. Dennis Kucinich called for Bush’s impeachment. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama promised to revive the other branches and find balance between national security and civil liberties.

Democrats’ unanimous criticism of the Bush/Cheney doctrine demonstrates how neither party holds a consistent position. A decade ago, with a Democratic president and Republican legislature, the parties held opposite positions, as might be expected. Many legal scholars consider the expansion of executive power to be a matter of politics, not principle. Some consider it unlikely to dramatically reverse itself with a new administration, Democrat or Republican.

Concerns about national security credentials make it tricky to talk about giving up or turning down new presidential powers. Democrats deplore Bush’s disregard for civil liberties and identify broader roles for Congress and the courts, but at the same time assert the need for a stronger presidency. “We face real threats. Any President needs the latitude to confront them swiftly and surely,” Obama said in one of his first major foreign policy addresses. Clinton similarly balanced her civil libertarianism with strong talk on national security in a speech last June: “I believe that the president—and I mean any president—must have the ability to pursue terrorists and defend our national security with the best technology at hand.” Though he rejects elements of the Bush/Cheney doctrine, John McCain has a similar view of the need for a strong presidency. On the Senate floor prior to the vote to authorize war in Iraq, McCain asserted “there is one commander in chief, not 535 of them.” Though he sees a greater role for Congress and calls for more oversight, he sees the great threat to American constitutional democracy not as overweening executive power, but as judicial activism.

The candidates have revealed their constitutional thought indirectly—through topics such as legislative and judicial oversight, government secrecy, wiretapping, and foreign policy. Speeches on these topics focus on how President Bush has used executive power—critical on the Democratic side, less so on the Republican side. But they are not offering specific steps—nor, for that matter, explicitly asserting the need—for scaling back this power beyond reining in the Bush presidency.


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