We should not look upon presidential lawlessness as if it were an odd aberration of the Bush years.
President Barack Obama started strong by announcing the end of torture and the closing of Guantánamo, but he has recently taken a more equivocal attitude toward the Bush constitutional legacy. While rejecting his predecessor’s extreme claims, he continues to assert the presidential power to hold terrorists without trial and to keep state secrets from the courts. And he has already issued his first signing statement denouncing a few provisions of the stimulus package as unconstitutionally limiting his executive prerogatives.
These decisions have unleashed a flood of anxious commentary about Obama’s ultimate intentions. But the discussion has only served to divert public attention from the real question confronting the new administration. Barack Obama is no George W. Bush — he will indeed cut back substantially on unilateral assertions of power. The big question is whether he will take effective steps to prevent the next president from reversing course yet again and using the precedents of the Bush years as a springboard for even more extreme assertions of executive authority.
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.