Monday, September 8, 2008


Sandy Levinson has an intersting analysis on the legal blog Balkinization on why McCain is still considered by many to be more presidential than Barack Obama. Many people want a "constitutional dictator" in the footsteps of Bush who even now assumes dictatorial powers in the "fight against terror."

Writes Levinson:

"[T]he undercurrent of the McCain candidacy, as has been true of the Bush Administration, is that we need a strong-man President, the equivalent at times of a "constitutional dictator," in order to "stand up," which means, among other things, playing fast and loose with legal constraints on the President. (Indeed, the Bush Administration position is basically that there aren't any legal constraints on the President when acting as Commander-in-Chief.)"

Levinson points out that Hillary Clinton's 3 AM ad really was touting herself as more dictatorial and power-arrogating than Obama possibly could be. Levinson writes:

"As I've argued earlier, the tacit message of Clinton's notorious "3AM" ad was the existence of a dictatorial president who would make unilateral (and instantaneous) decisions to respond to America's enemies. A truly serious debate would explore the extent to which McCain (and Obama) agree with such a picture, as against their concession that presidential authority is considerably more limited (though, of course, we might all support the idea of "unlimited" authority in some extreme situations). Followup questions could include whether any of the law-breakers in the Bush Administration will be held accountable, including the possibility of prosecution and punishment upon conviction for participating in war crimes. I would be shocked beyond belief if any of the media stars who will be running the debates will be interested (or capable) of asking such questions. Jim Lehrer wasn't even willing to ask about Abu Ghraib four years ago in the first Bush-Kerry debate, and I see no reason to expect better of him this time around."

Levinson bemoans the mindless way many voters go about choosing their preference, not based on issues but on raw impressions. This is the same point made by George Lakoff about whom I posted several days ago. The race will not be won on issues but on personality impressions and code words and phrases.

So I second Levinson's wish that TV moderators ask the candidates what they think about presidential power and the constitutional limits imposed. The vast body of American voters should not be allowed to form impressions about the candidates without seeing and hearing what Obama and McCain think about Bush's "unitary executive" and whether they judge it in conformity with the U.S. Constitution.

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