The presidency redefined
Obama weakens it where it should be strong and strengthens it where it should be weak

White House/Pete Souza

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden hold a meeting in the Situation Room of the White House, Jan. 24, 2013.

Article Highlights

  • There is a flaw at the very heart of Barack Obama’s presidency writes @AEI’s John Yoo.

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  • Barack Obama is becoming the anti-president: He is acting on a vision of his office directly at odds with the Framers'.

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  • The white paper on drone strikes is important for what it reveals about Obama: his desire to weaken his own office.

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There is a flaw at the very heart of Barack Obama's presidency. In the 1960s and 1970s, Hollywood created a new type of film protagonist — the anti-hero. He played the leading role, but was the opposite of a hero. Barack Obama is becoming the anti-president: He is acting on a vision of his office directly at odds with the Framers'.

The recent leak of the Justice Department white paper on the targeted killing of Americans by drone warfare is the latest indication of the president's failure to understand the constitutional purpose of his office. Some critics claim that the memo shows that the president is attempting to seize an unchecked, unilateral power to deprive citizens of their most fundamental right: The right to life. Some members of Congress have even unwisely proposed to rein in these attacks on Americans who have joined al-Qaeda, and to establish a special federal court to issue the functional equivalent of death warrants. (President Obama broadly endorsed this idea of judicializing military  strikes in his State of the Union address. "I will continue to engage with Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention, and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world," he declared.)

But the white paper on drone strikes is most important for what it reveals about Obama: his desire to weaken his own office's ability to fulfill its constitutional duties. Eighteenth-century Americans understood the executive's powers to focus on two main functions: the protection of national security and conduct of foreign relations, and the execution of the laws. "Energy in the Executive is a leading character in the definition of good government," Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist 70. "It is essential to the protection of the community against foreign attacks. It is not less essential to the steady administration of the laws." Most important of all, commanders-in-chief - since the time of the Framing - traditionally have managed war. "Of all the cares or concerns of government," Hamilton wrote in Federalist 74, "the direction of war most peculiarly demands those qualities which distinguish the exercise of power by a single hand."

 

 

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