My thoughts on the world around me

Will Obama Abuse His Power?

In response to a New York Times article, in which a Yale Law School student said that some liberal students, disillusioned by how conservatives had run government, would be applying for jobs within the Obama-Biden transition team because they “feel like government now can be potentially a huge force for social justice,” George Mason University law professor David Bernstein made an interesting argument:

“[I]t’s a categorical mistake to think the fundamental problem with abusive government is who is in power, rather than the existence of the power itself, combined with human nature.”

Sure, political philosophers, from Machiavelli to Kant, have opined on man’s difficulty to wield political power without abusing it. Power, some have argued, inevitably corrupts.

Look no further than President George W. Bush.

The U.S. Supreme Court will be hearing a case in the spring, Al-Marri v. Pucciarelli, to address the issue of whether the Executive has the legal authority to indefinitely detain a legal resident in the United States, without charge, by declaring him an “enemy combatant.” Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri was arrested in 2001 as a material witness in the FBI’s investigation of 9/11. In 2002, he was charged with credit card fraud and other criminal offenses. Prior to his trial in 2003, however, President Bush declared al-Marri an “enemy combatant.” Five years have passed, and Mr. al-Marri remains in solitary confinement without charge.

Our “lame duck” president also continues to push highly contentious regulations into the midnight hour. One such regulation, if enacted, would provide stronger protections for doctors and other medical staff to refuse to perform abortions if the medical procedures would violate their moral or religious beliefs. While Roe v. Wade remains good law, this regulation would gravely impact indigent women, whose access to medical resources is already limited.

Will President-Elect Obama follow in his soon-to-be predecessor’s footsteps? Will he, too, abuse of his power?

There is little way of knowing what may transpire over the next four years. However, if the formation of Obama’s cabinet is an indication of anything, it’s that Obama is aware of checks and balances. By many considered a “team of rivals,” this group consists of political heavyweights whose views span the entire ideological spectrum.

During the Democratic primaries, Senator Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State designee, differed from Obama on troop withdrawal from Iraq. Secretary of Defense Bob Gates is a Bush appointee. General Jim Jones appeared with John McCain during the campaign. The fact that these public officials are forming part of Obama’s “CHANGE” team has many liberals outraged.

And that’s the point.

One marked difference between the Bush administration and Obama’s cabinet picks is cronyism. The American public expected Obama to select his friends. On MSNBC’s “Hardball,” Chris Matthews, referring to Obama selecting former Clinton officials and even Republicans, said that “elections ought to matter.”

But this election has mattered.

Obama has purposely surrounded himself with people who will challenge him and question his views. By debating him, his advisers hold him accountable. If he is answerable for his actions, then Obama may be less inclined to abuse of his constitutionally granted powers.

So, Professor Bernstein, while the marriage between man and power is necessarily volatile, there still remains hope that the future commander-in-chief can be a man of principle, a leader who navigates perilous waters with integrity.


December 12, 2008 - Posted by | Politics | , , , ,


  1. You never cease to amaze me.
    I am really proud of you and your ability to put ideas into words so clearly

    Comment by amc | December 12, 2008 | Reply

  2. Resolving the riddle of the nature of power in government can be challenging. Perhaps the right questions have not been asked properly. Many times I found myself thinking of how different things would be if Gore had the chance to become president in 2000. My initial reaction disappears once I think of having Joe Lieberman for VP as part of the ‘package’, particularly now that we know him better. To ignore the influence of Dick Cheney on the Bush doctrine is impossible; I believe he is the ideologist of the doctrine. My point is that allocating too much importance on the personification of power misled us for reveling the real forces of power in or behind government, untimely, profound and committed interests for social and economic control.

    Comment by GR | December 12, 2008 | Reply

  3. Interesting post. On Obama and his team of rivals- did he pick them because he wanted their ideas? Or did he pick everyone who was currently out there who could possibly challenge him in 2012? He’s going to have a mess to deal with in this economy- and I predict he’ll have big inflation in about a year or two. He may not be quite so popular by the time 2012 rolls around and he may already recognize that.

    Anyway, I’ll be interested to see Obama lead. He has never had any substantial executive experience.

    As best I can tell, he does not appear to me to be a good crisis manager. He has fumbled around in his response to this Blagojevich thing. He gave a meandering response to Russia’s invasion of Georgia last August. He has been virtually silent on these recent auto discussions. I sense a guy who isn’t sure quite yet where he stands on things. He won on the economy in Sept and Oct largely because he didn’t say much at all. He let McCain talk himself into a hole and make a bunch of ill-fated decisions (suspending the campaign, etc.).

    I will say – I pegged Obama as a hyper liberal who would staff his cabinet with progressives. But I was wrong (at least so far). I don’t have a ton of faith in him, given that he is so short on experience. I tend to think he is wishy-washy and will get lost in the details of the debate about policy rather than actually making decisive decisions and taking principled stands. These are some of the reasons I did not vote for him. But we’ll see- I’ll be happy if I’m wrong.

    Comment by Stephen VanNuys | December 12, 2008 | Reply

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