Against Presidential Libraries: A Modest Proposal

presidential-libraries

THE WHITE HOUSE—Declaring his intent to cure the public of its worshipful disposition toward the executive office, and consonant with the Whiggish constitutional modesty on which he campaigned in 2008, President Obama announced that the much-anticipated location of his Presidential Library and Museum will be nowhere.

“Presidential libraries are monuments less to the egos of individual executives, which is bad enough, than to presidential gigantism,” Mr. Obama explained in a statement, which was issued in writing in order to diminish the grandeur an Oval Office setting would otherwise have lent it. “The presidency is a swollen institution that distorts our constitutional system.  I consequently will donate my papers to the University of Chicago School of Law, whose faculty I hope will study the constitutional implications of my and other recent presidencies.”

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The Dangerous Weakness of Modern Progressivism

Immigration Executive Action

Modern progressivism’s relatively weak legislative coalition explains much of the behavior of the Obama administration and the new threats it poses to our constitutional order.  As I discuss in an article just published in the City Journal, under FDR and even LBJ, the Democratic party had much more enduring power in Congress. Moreover, these administrations were not nearly so hamstrung as is the Obama administration by deficits and high government spending caused in no small measure by previous progressive experiments. Thus, previous progressive administrations could often be more forthright in the proclamation of their goals and rely on their large legislative majorities to enact and revise the central parts of their programs.

But the Obama administration needs to compensate for its relative weakness by misleading the public and exalting executive power even beyond the previous efforts of progressives.  For instance, the President’s repeated promise that you can keep your health care insurance and doctor was necessary to enact the Affordable Care Act, because in our more affluent society the great majority are happy with their health care.  As I note in the piece:

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Obama’s Nod to Crony Philanthropy

Golden Icon of Heart in the Hand on Compass.

In his January 21 column for Forbes (Obama’s SOTU Surprise: A Break for Charity”) Manhattan Institute Vice President Howard Husock speculates that the Obama Administration may at last be coming round to better appreciate the role of philanthropy in American flourishing.  The Obama Administration is now proposing to shrink the “trust fund loophole” in favor of nonprofits, meaning that heirs would be subject to capital gains taxes on the original basis of the assets while charities would not.

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The Triumph of His Will

President Obama Delivers The State Of The Union Address

President Obama’s State of the Union Address makes blogging colleague Greg Weiner’s suggestion to abolish it look pretty good. Of the constitutional clause requiring that he address Congress, Greg observes:  “If anything, modern Presidents ought to view its opening phrase—‘from time to time’—as a limit rather than a license.”  I am even more \ drawn to Frank Buckley’s devastating critique of contemporary presidential governmentThe Once and Future King: The Rise of Crown Government in America.

I would have thought that Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) of all pols would not have conceded victory to Obama when he attacked Obama’s “class warfare” proposals—which is exactly the way Obama wants them viewed. Or that the congressman characterized the speech as not as extreme as he feared it would be.

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The Whip and the Sting of the Law

Richard Reinsch's post “Return to the Barbaric” leads me to think that there is indeed something different about the use of the executive power in the Obama Administration, though FDR set a new model–closing the banks and barring people from access to their savings, on the strength of nothing but the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917. FDR also traded destroyers for naval bases, when his Attorney General, Robert Jackson, told him that those destroyers were not his property to sell or trade.  But as Reinsch and others have said, cashiering the president of GM, rewriting the law on Obamacare,…

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Ike’s Commitment to American Freedom

IkePresident Obama may have escaped the widespread carping at his West Point speech by bringing even greater embarrassment upon himself with the Bowe Bergdahl deal, and now the implosion of Iraq, but the recent D-Day celebrations impel us to revisit the offensive speech. There is much more here than the widely-noted hackery: e.g., “Those who argue otherwise—who suggest that America is in decline, or has seen its global leadership slip away—are either misreading history or engaged in partisan politics.” The captivating orator had become the whining demagogue many had previously perceived; the admired student body president appeared a petulant schoolyard bully.

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Cracking Putin’s Code

Silvio Berlusconi Meets With Vladimir PutinVladimir Putin is playing for the highest geopolitical stakes. Can the U.S. government afford to do less? Regardless of whether Putin’s near term aim is to take a chunk or two out of Ukraine ­­—as he took chunks out of Georgia in 2008 —or just to stake out a bargaining position to make sure Russia can hold on to its Black Sea naval base after its lease expires in 2017, there is no doubt at all about his long term objective

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There Will Be Blood, Our Own

“Combining the unbridled tongue with the unready hand.” Thus did Theodore Roosevelt define statesmanship at its worst. This is what America’s bipartisan ruling class is giving us.

The Obama Administration tried buffering last week’s announcement that it is reducing the US Army’s size to below its levels of 1940 (when the world’s population was less than one third what it is today) by suggesting that it would concentrate on mastery of the sea and of space.

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Making White House Guest Lists Transparent

Transparency in government is a public good, because it helps us understand what government is doing, including what favors its officials dole out to private citizens. Being invited to a state dinner is of no small significance. For the hundred or so citizens not in public office who are invited, it is not only a memorable event but a boost to one’s reputation and an advertisement of one’s proximity to power. But for the rest of us, learning who goes is one way to understand what the President cares about and who his core supporters are.

President Obama’s guest lists are sadly much less transparent than those of President George W. Bush. Other than government officials they list the affiliations only of journalists. Compare the guest list to President Obama’s  state dinner for Francois Hollande to George Bush’s list for the dinner for Queen Elizabeth II.  (I have not studied the lists of all state dinners, but I have no reason to believe these are atypical).

What could be the reason for this selective information? Unfortunately, only cynical explanations are plausible.

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