Whether it’s Dick Nixon or Barack Obama, powers given are hard to remove…

June 16, 2009

Sometimes I run across a quote and I think I ought to use that in my blog or maybe make a whole blog based on it.

Ran across one of those in the Wall Street Journal Opinion section:

“Let this be a lesson to any modern democracy that cedes broad power to government in a time of crisis: Granting power to the executive is easy, getting it back isn’t.”

That was in a piece decrying the left-leaning and dictatorial manner in which Argentina’s first woman to be elected president, Christina Kirchner, along with her husband and former president, Nestor Kirchner, are running and have run the government there, including the stifling of the free press, something dictators, from the left and right, are prone to do.

As I said this was in the Wall Street Journal, of which a large portion of its readers (Republican and business-minded conservatives) and certainly its editorial board, probably are worried that Barack Obama, whom they no doubt feel is left-leaning to the point of super socialist, might be assuming way too much power.

Although I don’t follow Argentine politics closely (or hardly at all), as I recall, Mr. Kirchner came to power some years ago during an economic crisis there. Then when he could not run again for president, his wife did. They are in, I understand, some faction of Peronism in their politics, a kind of combination of left and right tailored to Argentine conditions and pleasing opposing factions (or playing both ends against the middle like Juan Peron himself used to do) to gain power.

Well, anyway, I think that quote about giving an executive extra powers in a crisis coming back to haunt you later because once given rights are not easily rescinded, could have applied to, say, Lyndon Johnson (Democrat who pushed through liberal policies and fought an undeclared war, thus bypassing the constitutional role of congress in war), Richard Nixon (a Republican, who continued that undeclared war and used it as cover for extreme executive actions, some of which turned out to be outright illegal), and George W. Bush (a Republican who used the shield of 9/11 to grab powers and use police-state tactics).

No one can argue but that the U.S. is in a major economic crisis now that rivals the Great Depression. First, former Republican president Bush took extraordinary actions via the bank bailouts to meet a crisis that he and his advisers said would bring the nation down if not dealt with in such a way, and now Democratic President Barack Obama has continued and enhanced those extraordinary powers with not only more bank bailouts but what amounts to an at least temporary takeover of some domestic auto production, and he’s moving toward some type of universal health care to be imposed by government (and I’m not necessarily complaining about that last one).

The only real point here is that power once given is hard to remove. Democracy needs strong leadership but is vulnerable on that point too.


The piece from which I took the quote that inspired my essay was written by Mary Anastasia O’Grady, a member of the WSJ Editorial Board.