Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Nixon That Lurks in Obama Warring Presidents Tend to Endanger the Rule of Law

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Nixon That Lurks in Obama Warring Presidents Tend to Endanger the Rule of Law

Article excerpt

Richard Nixon got governing wrong, very wrong, and went so far in ignoring legal prohibitions that distraught opinion jettisoned him from the White House. Though far removed from Nixonian criminality, President Barack Obama seems the least inhibited violator of constitutional safeguards since then, and he just might get away with it unless we as a people still care about such things.

The Nixonian failings were summed up in "The Imperial Presidency," a 1973 book written by Arthur Schlesinger Jr., an outspoken historian who served in the White House during the Kennedy administration. He argued it was growing war powers in a turbulent world that led to expanded domestic abuses of foundational principles.

These principles, these grand doctrines that have to do with liberty, justice, orderliness and governmental limits, are well summed up by the phrase "rule of law." In a republic, it means that representatives of the people determine laws that will govern not just us, but also the government leaders themselves.

A far more trustworthy arrangement than allowing a few arbitrarily to impose their druthers on the rest of us, the rule of law was made a special wonder in America by our Constitution. It pledges in amendments to protect our individual rights and masterfully divides up power so that one part of government over here checks and balances another over there.

Schlesinger's concern was the imbalance of presidential power that had kept growing and growing until it got entirely out of hand in the Nixon years. His was an administration that followed others in promulgating war acts Congress had not approved, that avoided enforcing laws through varied devices and grossly overstepped still other bounds, ultimately even plotting a burglary. It was as if the only curb on a president was an election every four years, Schlesinger said.

Our democracy did finally catch up with Nixon. I can in fact remember people happily saying after he resigned that "the system works. …

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