A Little Nuance

Perhaps this is just pointless hairsplitting, but I feel I should say that while I'm not at all happy with the precedents Bush is setting with regard to presidential power, that I think the case for strong executive power as such is actually pretty strong. The trouble comes from the nexus between the strong executive and other aspects of the American constitutional system. A Prime Minister in a multi-party democracy with coalition governments (or something like Japan's factions system) granted broad discretion in terms of his powers could, if that discretion was used in an abusive or inept manner, be removed from office and the broad discretionary power placed in the hands of someone either more wise or more cautious.

In the American system, though, the president serves a fixed term and you're only supposed to remove from office for actual criminality. Simply making bad or even abusive decisions doesn't count. Under the circumstances, then, you need it to be the case that abuses are formally prohibited by law. This doesn't always seem optimally flexible, and it probably isn't, but the system requires inflexibility because fairly tight legal constraint of executive authority is a necessary complement to the post's very broad levels of political discretion. The President of the United States, as we've been seeing the past two years, can basically do what he wants know matter how unpopular he becomes or his specific decisions are.

Which is precisely what makes these theories that there's no legal constraint on the President's freedom of action so frightening -- if there's no legal constraint then there's no constraint whatsoever.