Presidential Power — the revisionism begins today

For at least six years, the liberal and MSM narrative on executive power has been fixed — President Bush sought too much of it and, because the courts consistently rejected his claims, Bush’s power grab ultimately proved destructive of presidential power. In presenting this narrative, the MSM was even able to enlist Bush administration legal advisors. Thus, John Bellinger of the State Department has claimed that “the executive authority [was] diminished as a result of the national security legal controversies over the last eight years.” And Jack Goldsmith, head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel for a time, has said that Bush’s aggressive views produced a backlash in which “judicial power increased at the expense of presidential war power.”

But with the ascension of Barack Obama, the narrative has shifted dramatically. The shift is evident in this front-page Washington Post story by Barton Gellman. Gellman has been a critic of the Bush-Cheney approach to executive power, and the quotes from Bellinger and Goldsmith cited above both appear in today’s story. However, they now receive a gloss. Both Bellinger and Goldsmith, Gellman tells us, believe that in disputes about presidential power “the president usually emerged the victor in practice.” And leftist law professor Geoffrey Stone believes basically the same thing. He informed Gellman that “the limits that have placed [on presidential power] have not come close to the powers that have been concentrated.”

Suddenly, the Washington Post is telling us that, far from receiving his comeuppance from the judiciary, President Bush actually made out like a bandit.

And that’s not the end of the revisionism. It turns out that Bush’s aggressive assertion of judicial power was not really the problem; the problem was, well, Bush. This, according to Gellman, is the real view of Dawn Johnson, the arch-critic of Bush administration legal policy who has been nominated to head the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel. In her “popular commentaries in Slate and elsewhere” Johnson has vigorously attacked Bush and Cheney for “overreaching.” But Gellman says that in her “scholarly writing” she takes the position that “the trouble was not that [Bush] asserted the power, but that he used it wrongly.” How post-modern for a once-and-future top DOJ official to talk out of both sides of her mouth this way. As they say, don’t believe everything you read on the internet.

The agenda driving this revisionism is obvious. The liberal Dems now control the executive branch, and they have no interest in diminishing its power. To the contrary, as John Podesta who headed Obama’s transition team explains, Obama “certainly comes into office with a very powerful set of executive authorities and I suspect that he will use those authorities in order to get the key policy goals accomplished that he’s set for the people.”

There you have it — six plus years of liberal whining about an imperial presidency are on their way out the window. But who can complain? Obama is going to use that presidency to accomplish “the key policy goals. . .he’s set for the people.”

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