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Friday, May 19, 2006

It's The Power, Stupid!

When Clinton was President, Republicans were convinced that things would improve markedly as soon as one of their own replaced him in the White House. Now that Bush has been in office for 5-plus years, Democrats are convinced that the solution to the nation's problems is to replace Bush.

But--to steal the phraseology of James ("the ragin' Cajun") Carville--it's the power, stupid! By this I mean that if the powers of the Presidency were limited in actuality to those enumerated in the Constitution, it would not matter much who's in the Oval Office.

Joseph Sobran makes the point eloquently at http://www.sobran.com/columns/2006/060504.shtml:

Last week Jean-François Revel, an eloquent champion of democracy, died in France at 82. In his book The Totalitarian Temptation he made the arresting observation that whereas other systems were judged by their records, Communism was judged by its promises — no matter how often they had been brutally broken. Revel aimed his barb at Europe’s leftist intelligentsia.

But doesn’t the aphorism really apply to government in general? No matter how much harm it does, men continue to believe in its promises. Individuals are blamed for its failures, as Bush is being blamed now, but most of us persist in thinking that this is a mere personnel problem, not a problem intrinsic to the very nature of government. The wrong men are in power. We can see that power is handed over to the “right” men in the next election!

Somehow, though, the “right” men never seem to turn up. After a short time, we find that those in whom we placed our hopes were just a new set of wrong men. Bill Clinton was the wrong man for the presidency. George W. Bush would restore morality, honor, resolve, and other fine things to the White House. Now look!

As long as there is government, the wrong men will rule. This is not a prediction. It’s an axiom.

Bush has done some horrible things, but so did Clinton. Clinton imposed sanctions on Iraq that led to the deaths of as many as 500,000 Iraqis. In what way is that better than Bush's War on Iraq? Where does the Constitution give the President the power to impose economic sanctions on another country? Where does the Constitution give the President the power to wage a war that has not been declared by Congress?

As the wags have it, the important question is "which rules", not "who rules".

And Hayek once said that it is the worst that rise to the top. ("How the Worst Get on Top," was the title of a chapter in Hayek’s classic, "The Road to Serfdom".)

It's the power, stupid.


Blogger Columbine said...

For a little while, I believed that Dean was the "right" person who really would use power well. Now as head of the DNC he's going on Focus on the Family and the 700 Club to declare that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.

If he compromises entirely in an effort to *get* power, the prospect is bleak.

As you've often said, "Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely."

19/5/06 04:44  
Blogger Libertarian Jason said...

You're back! Hurrah!

Great post.

19/5/06 07:53  
Blogger Tad Pole said...

When I said

"Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely."

I was quoting Lord Acton.

Libertarian Jason,

Thanks for the flowers!

20/5/06 05:11  
Blogger Tad Pole said...


One good thing Dean had going for him was that he was against the Iraq War. But I wonder whether he would be against all wars of aggression? I believe that he was in favor of sending troops to Liberia at one point, so I doubt that he is really a man of peace. At least he is not consistent and constant in his support of peace.

I wouldn't object very strongly to Dean being President (although Ron Paul would make a much better President!)as long as the powers available to him would be just those few powers of the President that are enumerated in the Constitution.

20/5/06 10:57  
Blogger Columbine said...

It's interesting reading Gibbon and hearing his account of how Augustus stripped the senate of its power without anyone really being aware of it. He even at one point resigned command of the empire -- at a time when he knew chaos would ensue. He was immediately begged to return and assume total power!

20/5/06 18:07  
Blogger Tad Pole said...


Very interesting insight! It just goes to show you that there's nothing new under the sun!

I would like to read Gibbon someday.

So many books! So little time!

21/5/06 03:19  

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