McCain, Obama and Executive Power
06-23-2008
I came across an interesting article in The New York Times over the weekend that raised the provocative question of whether John McCain or Barack Obama would be willing as president to reverse the significant expansion of executive power undertaken by President Bush. During my years as a political science professor, I spent a lot of time studying the growth of institutional authority in the American presidency, and my guess is that the answer to this question for either candidate is probably not, although neither would ever say so directly.
 
Rare is the example of a president who is willing to part with the increased latitude to act afforded to him by new grants of executive power. Presidents typically accrue this kind of enhanced institutional authority on an emergency basis during times of war or domestic crisis, and gradually weave it into the permanent constitutional and bureaucratic fabric of the office over time. While Congress and the courts have occasion to check the growth of executive power, they are more likely to focus on remedying the specific outcome of a presidential decision, rather than challenge the underlying expansion of institutional authority used to justify it. So, you may see President McCain or President Obama move to reverse certain controversial actions taken by President Bush on terrorism and homeland security, but don’t expect to see either of them sign any executive orders reversing the broad grants of executive power that facilitated those decisions in the first place.


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