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On Presidents Day – Remembering Young Hickory

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President’s Day originated as a compromise between those who wanted to celebrate Lincoln’s Birthday and Washington’s Birthday in the same month, a practice which took too many working days out of what’s already the shortest month of the year. So a new holiday was born in the 1970s, which ended up honoring all of the presidents, not just the two most famous ones born in the month of February. So now we can honor not just the well remembered presidents who have their faces immortalized on giant rock formations, but also the less familiar figures who played vital roles in the growth of the nation, some of whom may be nearly forgotten, but few of whom are more worth remembering than our 11th President, James Knox Polk.

Most people are only marginally aware of the career of James K. Polk. Even in his own time he was relatively little known, standing in the shadow of the giant figures of the 1820s and 1830s like Henry Clay, Andrew Jackson and Daniel Webster. He was born in North Carolina in 1795, moved to Tennessee where he practiced law, served in the state legislature and as governor, moved on to represent his state in Congress and eventually became Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Polk was a handsome, fussy and sometimes obsessive man. He was a compulsive journal and letter writer with extraordinary attention to detail. He once wrote a brief treatise to an aspiring politician on the technique of shaking hands in order to avoid crushing grips while still shaking in a forceful way:

When I observed a strong man approaching, I generally took advantage of him by being a little quicker than he was and seizing him by the tip of his fingers, giving him a hearty shake, and thus preventing him from getting a full grip upon me.

Despite his political experience he was relatively unknown to the public when an opportunity arose for him to run for the presidency in 1844 in the aftermath of the disastrous Harrison/Tyler presidency. The people were ready for change, and Polk who was then Governor of Tennessee, offered himself as a dark horse candidate, a political outsider with experience and a link to the legacy of his old friend Andrew Jackson and the roots of the Democratic party.

In his campaign Polk made a unique pledge. He declared that he had four objectives as president and that he would accomplish all of them in one four year term and then not seek reelection. His four goals were to lower the tariff, restore the treasury without creating a bank, put an end to the federal role in internal improvements, and obtain not only Texas, but also Oregon and California as new territory for the nation. His plans embodied the idea of Manifest Destiny – that the United States should unite the two coasts of North America and all the territory between in a single, contiguous nation.

After winning the election Polk set directly to work to achieve his stated objectives and did exactly as promised. This required a unique and aggressive exercise of executive power, which Polk was able to manage despite having declared himself an effective ‘lame duck’ from the moment he was elected.

Andrew Jackson was one of the first presidents accused of overstepping the appropriate boundaries of executive power, but his combination of political inexperience and emotionalism often reduced his effectiveness as a leader. Polk was his protege – Young Hickory to his Old Hickory – and he combined Jackson’s stubborn ruthlessness with a political savvy and a sense of destiny which made him devastatingly effective. No president before or since has wielded as much executive power as effectively as Polk did or achieved as much in one four-year term.

Polk defined what the role of the chief executive ought to be. He was an autocratic bastard who knew what needed to be done, was willing to go to any extreme to achieve his goals, and left it to Congress, the Army, the diplomats and the courts to sort out the nuances and clean up the wreckage he left in his wake. Unlike Jackson his policy decisions were sound and unassailable and resulted in vital, dramatic successes for the still growing nation.

Right after taking office, Polk notified the British that he wanted the Oregon boundary to be set at at the 49th parallel. Richard Pakenham, the British minister, rejected this idea. Polk asked congress for permission to violate the joint occupation treaty of 1818 and said, “The Only way to treat John Bull is to look him straight in the eye.” Congress approved, so Polk told the British he planned to end joint occupation unilaterally, and the British broke down and decided to compromise and give Polk the 49th parallel as a border – not a surprising choice as there were 5000 Americans living in Oregon an only 750 British citizens there.

In 1846 Polk resurrected the Independent Treasury which had been passed under Van Buren but had been defunded by Tyler who was among those who wanted to bring back the National Bank. He also totally restructured the tariff system to place high tariffs on luxury goods, but lower the overall rate to hold down consumer prices, a policy which was very positively received in most of the country. During his administration Polk also vetoed a whole series of bills intended to fund various internal improvement programs, so effectively discouraging federal spending that no new internal improvement bills were proposed in Congress until 1854.

To make sure that Texas was secure, Polk then decided to provoke a war with Mexico which had been very uncooperative when previous presidents had tried to negotiate for Texas independence. Polk sent General Zachary Taylor and 1500 troops to Texas to fortify the border against a hypothetical Mexican invasion. However the acknowledged border was the Nueces River and Polk sent Taylor to fortify the border at the Rio Grande, 150 miles inside Mexican territory, plus Taylor began sending raiding parties even farther into Mexico to maximize the irritation.

This naturally provoked a Mexican response and the ensuing war was brief, bloody and decisive, leaving General Taylor and General Winfield Scott sitting in Mexico City by 1847 with the Mexican government in exile. The negotiations with Mexico became a legendary test of wills. Polk wanted to keep all the nice parts of Mexico – California, Texas and the border lands inbetween – and give them back the desolate areas teeming with impoverished peons. The Mexicans didn’t like negotiating on that basis, so Polk’s ambassador kept offering them less and less money for the land the US had already seized, until fear of being displaced by a puppet government made them settle for half of what Polk had original offered them, giving up all of Texas north of the Rio Grande, plus New Mexico and California as well. It was the largest US land acquisition since the Louisiana Purchase.

With the successful conclusion of the Mexican War, Polk had done all he had set out to do. His term was up, and true to his word, he was the first US President to voluntarily leave the office after only one term, even though he could easily have won his party’s nomination and reelection. Apparently he had judged his durability just about right, because he dropped dead before the year was out.

Polk left behind a legacy you can’t ignore when you look at a map of the United States, because it was his work which established the boundaries of the nation pretty much as we know it today. Some of his other accomplishments were less permanent, though I think we could take a lesson from them. Keeping the vast money associated with internal improvement programs out of the hands of the federal government could only have changed our history for the better. Look at the bloated deficits and corruption which issue from the federal funding of roads and bridges and levees and dams and crop yields and a thousand other earmarks in every budget. Every one of these jobs could be done better and more economically and with far less corruption on the state and local level with minimal federal oversight. Polk realized this over 150 years ago when the system was much less extensive and much less exploited than it is today.

I wonder how a President with the strength of character of James K. Polk would deal with the domestic and international challenges which our nation faces today. Polk was not one to launch a half-hearted war or quibble over the legal nuances of necessary presidential actions or give in to the pressure of the herd mentality and political blackmail. He knew what was best for the nation and acted on his principles and the authority of his office.

Polk understood that it is the President’s job to be an autocrat and to provide determined leadership and push the country in the right direction. Individual initiative at the top means that essential actions can be taken without waiting to hear from lawyers and judges and legislators. Congress and the courts can come along after the fact and straighten things out and check any excesses, but the President needs to have the autonomy to take act freely with minimal accountability in response to a crisis. That’s why we have an executive and not just a bunch of legislators and bureaucrats running the country.

Presidents need to lead, and the only judgement they should have to worry about is that of history. Although he’s not on Mount Rushmore, history has judged Polk well. Every poll of historians has put him in the top dozen presidents, right behind a top ten who are distinguished by sharing one quality with Polk. They were all willing to rule as autocrats in order to do what they thought was right, no matter what Congress, the courts or even the public said and no matter the risks to their own legacy. They knew that the exercise of power is not the same as the acquisition of power and that even if they overstepped the bounds of the office, the Constitution and the Republic would adapt and survive.

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About Dave Nalle

  • Georgio

    Excellent post and very informative..I only hope you where not hinting at the end to make a case for Bush as a comparison..

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    Well, Georgio, I leave that for you and history to decide. I will say that when Polk was in office the Whigs were absolutely livid at his goals, his methods and the fact that they couldn’t do anything effective to stop him. Within a decade the Whig party had ceased to exist.

    Dave

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    hmmm that’s an interesting idea for an article – “Democrats the Whigs of Our Time”.

    Dave

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    Actually, the more I think about it the more striking I find the parallels between today’s Democratic party and certain other parties which were nearing the end of their political life. The most striking similarity is actually to the Federalists rather than the Whigs. The really alarming thing being the recent attempt to use campaign finance reform to shut down third parties. This is so like the Sedition law – in objective if not in specific terms – passed at the end of the 18th century to try to hold on to Federalist power that it’s really remarkable.

    Dave

  • Maurice

    Great post. Harding rocked too.

    **proof read**

    “which took too many days out of what’s already the shortest day of the year.”

    I’m sure you mean “shortest month”.

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    Good catch there, Maurice. Spelling and grammar checkers wouldn’t have gotten that one either.

    As for Harding, he may have ‘rocked’ in some ways, but he still couldn’t make a speech to save his life and was a monster of blatant cronyism. But it is interesting to note that his biggest scandal, the Teapot Dome, didn’t make it onto the historians top 10 list of scandal plagued administrations. Plus I always liked Sinclair oil. They used to give me cool inflatable dinosaurs when I was a kid.

    Dave

  • Maurice

    I’m sure Harding had many faults but here are just a few of the things I like about him:

    1) Harding cut Wilson’s wartime income tax rates from 63 to 25 percent.

    2) He negotiated the greatest disarmament treaty of the century, the Washington Naval Agreement.

    3) He only served 29 months but took the unemployment rate from 12 percent to 3 percent.

    4) Teapot Dome did not directly involve him.

    5) He chose a great Vice President.

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Maurice, I guess you and I view American history through very different eyes.

    I’ll just take one point you raised, the one that sticks out like a sore thumb. Harding’s choice of a vice president was Calvin Coolidge. The truth of the matter is that Coolidge did nothing to attempt to cool off the overheating gambling spree that overtook America towards the end of his term.

    He is said to have sensed a depression coming and to have quietly sold off the family share holdings – he was smart money. But as chief executive, he didn’t share his wisdom and remained publicly quiet while people gambled their life savings on what shoeshine and elevator boys told them, and while idiots – pardon me – economists – predicted heaven on earth through the workings of the “free” market.

    This is a great man?

    Herbert Hoover did not act agressively enough to deal with the depression that did hit America in 1929, and richly deserved the contempt heaped on him, and the defeat he suffered in 1932. But leading a horse and buggy to a precipice and getting off before the horse and buggy go over the precipice is not my definition of greatness. That is exactly what Calvin Coolidge did.

    By the way, Dave, with the exception of one sentence in the beginning, you did a very nice job on this piece.

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    Coolidgs is at the very least memorable for saying “he who builds a factory builds a temple”. He’s the model for the modern corporate Republican.

    As for Hoover, he did spend almost $3 billion – which was an incredible amount of money back then – on public works programs and employment programs before the depression was more than a few months old. And he was dealing with enormous economic forces he really couldn’t do much about.

    His idea that the only way to solve the problem was to let the depression bottom out as quickly as possible so that recovery could begin was fundamentally correct in economic terms even if it was inhumane. It’s what Roosevelt actually ended up doing, though he certainly would never have admitted it.

    Dave

  • http://www.crowscry.blogspot.com John Spivey

    This all sounds like an advocacy for the imperial presidency, for a Caesar to lay low the enemies of Rome, to forcibly extend its borders and guarantee the flow of gold.

  • Dave Nalle

    Kind of, John. I think the role of the president is to weild direct and decisive executive power to as great an extent as he can get away with. The role of congress and the courts is to check him when he goes too far. That relationship makes the government dynamic and makes rapid executive response to crises possible.

    Dave

  • gonzo marx

    yes John…the NeoCon agenda IS for such an imperial presidency…and their fellow travellers like it that way…

    as long as it’s THEIR “emperor”

    nuff said?

    Excelsior!

  • http://www.codexalimentarious.com/ Richard Brodie

    There is no such thing as “Presidents Day”. Lincoln’s Birthday was never a Federal Holiday, Some states celebrated it, others didn’t. In 1968 Congress passed the Unifrom Holidays Act which provided for WASHINGTON’S birthday to be changed from the 22nd to the third Monday. They DID NOT change the name to Presidents Day. It is an urban legend that Nixon in 1971 proclaimed that the day should be to honor all presidents, but no one can find any documentation of this among his papers. Egotist that he was, he probably realized that there would never be a Nixon’s Birthday, so this was the only way to make sure HE would be remembered – even if only in the company of dozens of others.

    Presidents day is pure fiction with no legal basis. It is stupid to have such a holiday. Why not a Speakers Day to honor all Speakers of the House? Is the Legislative branch less worthy of being honored than the Executive. Or why not honor ALL civil rights leaders, instead of singling out only MLK?

    Because the more general you get, the more meaningless it becomes. How about just a Leaders Day honoring all Governmental, Social Reform, and Business leaders who ever existed!

    I think the real reason for the change from Washington to Presidents, is because liberals don’t want to be reminded about what a pristine and glorious vision the Founders of the United States had, which allowed for the development of the exalted American standard of living – and how an out of control government has distorted and mutilated that beautifully simple system into the delining standard of living all-pervasive regulatory monstrosity we now suffer under.

  • http://www.crowscry.blogspot.com John Spivey

    I don’t usually like to get into these unproductive discussions, but this strikes close to the bone. The vision you espouse values territory and gold over people. Polk’s predecessor, Jackson, was guilty of gross genocide. The lands Polk acquired contained indigenous peoples who had no say in the matter and who were ruthlessly slaughtered to back this vision of arrogance and greed. Agendas have no soul, ideologies have no soul (left or right). They are simply fundamentalisms to be forced upon unwilling others. Why do we celebrate power and sacrifice the people?

  • http://www.codexalimentarious.com/ Richard Brodie

    The vision you espouse values territory and gold over people. Polk’s predecessor, Jackson, was guilty of gross genocide.

    I have some American Indian ancestry, but I’m not stupid enough not to realize that the “indigenous” inhabitants of this continent were not entitled to have thousands of acres per person just so they could ride around hunting and conducting their inter-tribal wars, at a time when the industrial revolution was making it possible for vastly more dense populations to be comfortably and peacefully supported.

    It is wrong that some were slaughtered other than out of defensive necessity (the genocide went both ways – unless you want to say that killing indians was “genocide” but killing white settlers was merely “homocide”). But to say that an extremely sparse population deserved to have a claim recognized to the entire North American continent is anti-progressive in the extreme.

  • http://www.crowscry.blogspot.com John Spivey

    The peoples that Jackson force marched out of the South were prosperous farmer’s, actually more successful than there white neighbors. They were removed simply so their land could be appropriated by their neighbors.

  • http://www.codexalimentarious.com/ Richard Brodie

    This kind of displacement would of course be wrong in an ideal world consisting of nothing but completely rational people. But do you have any data on what percentage of the total amount of farmable land was actually being utilized by natives? I doubt they even had the tools to be able to clear large areas.

    Just as they should have been given recognition of property rights to acreage which they could productively manage, so THEY should have been willing to recognize the rights of white settlers to occupy and cultivate unused land. In no case should the Indians have been considered owners of the entire Southeastern continental land mass.

    Do you know whether their relocation to Reservations resulted in giving them less land than they had previously been able to use? If not, then given the vast cultural differences, and the potential for violent conflicts due to MUTUAL suspicions and a MUTUAL propensity towards violent frontier confrontations, perhaps these measures actually resulted in a more peaceful arrangement resulting in less suffering overall on BOTH sides. Ever think about that?

  • gonzo marx

    interesting take on property Rights there, Richard…

    so, by your Interpertatin, we could just go and take as much of Bill Gates’ money as we wanted, after al he isn’t using the vast majority of it…same with all those Fortune 500 CEO’s…how about Jay Leno’s cars…he has over 100 of them, and can only drive one at a time….so why don’t we all just help ourselves to one or two each?

    spare me…either Property Rights and National boundaries are there for ALL, or they exist for NONE

    as troll would say…
    “take your rationalizing, self serving hypocrisy off my bridge”

    nuff said?

    Excelsior!

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    yes John…the NeoCon agenda IS for such an imperial presidency…and their fellow travellers like it that way…

    as long as it’s THEIR “emperor”

    And so long as he pursues their foreign policy, of course.

    But my reasoning is different. It’s very clear that the founding fathers intended for the three branches of government to be locked in a constant struggle for power and motivated to advance their own interests and check the interests of the other branches. For that system to work the president needs to operate in a mode of aggressive executive authority. He needs to actually try to rule autocratically and get slapped down for it. He is the guy who makes personal decisions and acts unilaterally so that in a crisis we have someone to make the snap decisions needed. Then congress and the courts come along afterwards and straighten out the mess. This dynamic is essential to the functioning of our government. Without the strong executive we become just another foundering democracy of mendacity and corruption like certain European nations that start with F.

    Dave

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    Just as they should have been given recognition of property rights to acreage which they could productively manage, so THEY should have been willing to recognize the rights of white settlers to occupy and cultivate unused land. In no case should the Indians have been considered owners of the entire Southeastern continental land mass.

    Come again? In Worcester vs. Georgia they only laid claim to about a quarter of the land area of one state and it was an area which was virtually unoccupied. That claim is what precipitated the removal of the tribes to the Indian Territory, whcih did have about 5 times the land, but of nowhere near the same agricultural quality.

    Dave

  • gonzo marx

    Mr Nalle sez…
    *It’s very clear that the founding fathers intended for the three branches of government to be locked in a constant struggle for power and motivated to advance their own interests and check the interests of the other branches.*

    no…it’s NOT clear…

    what IS clear are that the 3 Branches are each assigned very specific tasks and duties in working FOR “We the People”…NOT “their own interests”

    it is also readily apparent that the system of checks and balances are/were established to PREVENT the kind of *aggressive executive authority* that you are talking about here

    and Mr Nalle sez…
    *Without the strong executive we become just another foundering democracy of mendacity and corruption like certain European nations that start with F.*

    another bit of pure hyberbolic horseshit here…

    foundering democracy my ass…or didn’t yer fancy schools teach ya we are a Republic?

    i am left to wonder, once again, how our Elitist Pig keeps denying he is part of the NeoCon movement, when time after time he keeps defending so many of hteir ideological stances and policies..

    a real Question for you, Mr Nalle…did you ever study under Straus or Wolfowoitz, et al?

    just curious

    Excelsior!

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    oundering democracy my ass…or didn’t yer fancy schools teach ya we are a Republic?

    Gonzo, what differentiates a Republic from a Democracy? It’s the presence of a strong executive as opposed to conciliar government rooted in the popular vote. That’s why I said that if the president doesn’t fulfill his road to lead our system collapses into the morass of mere democracy rather than being a dynamic and functioning republic.

    And no, I’m not a Straussian and share virtually none of their beliefs – as you are already well aware. You only bring it up to irritate me because you know I despise them. My reasons for supporting a strong executive are that it is what makes our government effective and balanced, while they are imperialists in every sense.

    Your mistake is in thinking that the checks and balances were created to prevent the use of executive authority. That’s not the same as ‘checking’ that authority. The intent was not to stop the power of the executive in advance – that would be to essentially emasculate the office. The intent was to let the executive weild power, but to make him accountable for his actions to the other branches.

    This whole concept is summed up very well in Federalist #51 when Madison writes:

    “It is equally evident, that the members of each department should be as little dependent as possible on those of the others, for the emoluments annexed to their offices. Were the executive magistrate, or the judges, not independent of the legislature in this particular, their independence in every other would be merely nominal. But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?”

    Clearly this is what he had in mind when he wrote the Constitution and pushed for the idea of a system of divided powers.

    Dave

  • gonzo marx

    ummm…Madison wrote the Constitution?

    do tell…i’m all ears…

    as i stated, the Powers and Duties of EACH branch of government are CLEARLY spelled out in said Constitution

    attempts at expanding, or abusing said Power is “checked and balanced” by the Powers and Authority of the other branches

    so..if Congress makes a very silly Law that violates the Constitution…and the Pres giggles while he signs it…SCOTUS knocks it down and thus “checks” the abuse

    if SCOTUS gets way too silly, the Congress can start Impeaching Justices…

    my problem is with ANYONE thinking that “expanding” ANY kinds of powers or Authority…OTHER THAN WHAT IS SET OUT IN THE CONSTITUTION AND FEDERAL LAW is bullshit wanna be “King” and should be ridden out of town on a rail at the very least…

    and anytime i hear anyone that has EVER referred to themselves as either a “conservative” or a “libertarian” who then goes and defends such bullshit…well hypocrite is a nice way of saying it while checking my wallet

    Excelsior!

  • http://www.codexalimentarious.com/ Richard Brodie

    we could just go and take as much of Bill Gates’ money as we wanted, after al he isn’t using the vast majority of it

    Couple of faulty assumptions here (as usual). First you ASSUME that the “indians” had some kind of title to 100% land in the Western Hemisphere, including the 99.99% they weren’t even using, just because their ancestors were “here” first.

    Secondly one’s ownership title to both real estate and cash/stock does not become void just because it is not being “used”. Do YOU have a bank account with money in it that you aren’t coninually “using” (i.e. spending it on something). I’m sure YOU have some assets that you are not “using” right now. So by your convoluted logic I should just be able to go and raid your savings account.

    National boundaries are there for ALL, or they exist for NONE

    So please locate for us the “boundaries” of the various Indian “nations”, before we force march all the whites who are now living there to the nearest ports and ship them back to Northern Europe, so the tenth great grandchildren of the displaced natives can return to occupy their “rightful” lands.

  • Dave Nalle

    ummm…Madison wrote the Constitution?

    do tell…i’m all ears…

    He was secretary of the convention and he wrote the final form of the actual text, so yes.

    as i stated, the Powers and Duties of EACH branch of government are CLEARLY spelled out in said Constitution

    attempts at expanding, or abusing said Power is “checked and balanced” by the Powers and Authority of the other branches

    so..if Congress makes a very silly Law that violates the Constitution…and the Pres giggles while he signs it…SCOTUS knocks it down and thus “checks” the abuse

    if SCOTUS gets way too silly, the Congress can start Impeaching Justices…

    So despite your earlier accusations that I was being a Neocon we’re in basic agreement here since this is exactly what I was saying. The key thing is that the role of ‘checking’ is not preemptive. The branches get to attempt to exercise their power before something is done to stop them. To try to stop them in advance by extra-constitutional means is a violation of the whole concept of having three competing branches of government.

    my problem is with ANYONE thinking that “expanding” ANY kinds of powers or Authority…OTHER THAN WHAT IS SET OUT IN THE CONSTITUTION AND FEDERAL LAW is bullshit wanna be “King” and should be ridden out of town on a rail at the very least…

    Now I never said one word about expanding powers. I merely suggested that the President was failing in his role if he didn’t aggressively exercise the executive power he is given by the constitution, especially in times of crisis.

    and anytime i hear anyone that has EVER referred to themselves as either a “conservative” or a “libertarian” who then goes and defends such bullshit…well hypocrite is a nice way of saying it while checking my wallet

    Not sure who you’re talking about here, because clearly I never said what you think I did. Once again you’re seeing Neocons lurking behind every tree and crouching in every shadow.

    Dave

  • Dave Nalle

    So please locate for us the “boundaries” of the various Indian “nations”, before we force march all the whites who are now living there to the nearest ports and ship them back to Northern Europe, so the tenth great grandchildren of the displaced natives can return to occupy their “rightful” lands.

    The myth that indians didn’t understand land ownership and territorial boundaries is exactly that, a myth. The Iroquois, many Algonquin tribes which had adopted and Iroquois-style culture and many of the southern tribes were settled, agricultural groups who lived in villages, had defined territory, networks of trade and communication and actually fought territorial wars with each other before the arrival of the white man. They certainly did have clearly defined territory which early settlers were aware of and identified and made arrangements to purchase or acquire by treaty.

    Dave

  • Scott Butki

    How do you respond to the suggestion Presidents Day is an urban legend, Dave?

  • Scott Butki

    Dave, you said:
    “Individual initiative at the top means that essential actions can be taken without waiting to hear from lawyers and judges and legislators.”

    Sounds like Bush is doing just as you ask, as did Nixon.

    You don’t have problems with their attacks on peoples civil liberties?

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    Sounds like Bush is doing just as you ask, as did Nixon.

    As did most of the good presidents and some of the bad ones who went before. The key thing is whether they use that power in a positive or negative way. Nixon abused the power. Bush’s intentions appear to be good, but he may have gone too far. Other presidents, like Polk or Teddy Roosevelt used the power and used it wisely.

    But the key thing is that while it’s up to the president to use executive power, we do have courts and a legislature whose job is to curb that power if they go too far. But if the executive never uses the power of his position to initiate action, it’s almost certain that his presidency will be mediocre at best and more likely a disaster if there’s any kind of crisis.

    You don’t have problems with their attacks on peoples civil liberties?

    Of course I’m against attacks on civil liberties. But keep in mind that Nixon never engaged in a systematic erosion of civil liberties in general, just in individual offenses to advance his personal interests. As for Bush, he’s doing what he feels he needs to do. If people don’t like it, then have your legislators tell him to stop by passing clear laws defining how we treat prisoners, who an enemy combatant is, who our constitution applies to besides citizens, and whether data mining is legal or not. But if you feel that we are in a situation where we need a strong executive to initiate measures to protect the country, then let him get away with it for a while.

    dave

  • Scott Butki

    So Bush, etc. go ahead and do wiretaps because we can sort out the details later?

  • Scott Butki

    what about the presidents day question – real or urban legend?

  • Dave Nalle

    So Bush, etc. go ahead and do wiretaps because we can sort out the details later?

    Yah, pretty much. And how fast he gets slapped down depends largely on how altruistic we think his motives are. There’s a huge difference betwen Bush doing some data mining for national security and Nixon spying on his personal enemies list.

    what about the presidents day question – real or urban legend?

    Afraid this question makes no more sense now than it did the first time.

    Dave

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy in Jerusalem

    I’ve been looking over the comments above.

    It seems that our friend Dave Nalle would like to see an activist, imperial presidency in his country. It seems that Gonzo Marx is a tad unenthusiastic about such a thing.

    Elsewhere, Chromatius was kind enough to post the elements of the royal prerogative of the British sovereign. It strikes me that the American presidency has been moving in the direction of assuming as many of the elements of the royal prerogative as it could get away with. In the last 70 years or so, it appears to have been succeeding.

    Roosevelt declared an economic emergency. When stymied by the supreme court in trying to reform and resuscitate the economy, he trid to pack the court. Several years later, he did an end run around anti-war sentiment in congress through the Lend Lease program – and did succeed in resuscitating the economy.

    Truman went to war in Korea without a declaration. Eisenhower, Kennedy and finally Johnson brought America into a war in Vietnam.

    Nixon impounded funds appropriated by congress.

    Bush daddy and son both invaded Iraq without a declaration of war. Bush baby has tried an end run around the first ten amendments of your constitution in the Patriot Act. Mark Schannon elsewhere has given a good example of the executive branch’s contempt for judges.

    Be careful what you ask for Dave. You may get it – in spades.