Edelson (Government/American Univ.; Emergency Presidential Power: From the Drafting of the Constitution to the War on Terror, 2013) raises troubling questions about the Barack Obama administration.
The author, who specializes in constitutional history, points to President Obama’s failure to put his money where his mouth was during the 2008 election campaign when he refused to hold accountable those who had violated both domestic and international law during the administration of George W. Bush. Edelson faults Obama for failing to seriously challenge the arbitrary willfulness of rule by presidential prerogative, which violates both the Founders’ intent and the Constitution’s allocation of the president’s powers. This failure, writes the author, may encourage future presidents in the belief they can “safely set aside laws.” Obama did follow through on his opposition to torture when he issued an executive order banning the practice and reaffirmed the authority of the Army’s field manuals. However, he failed to hold anyone accountable for breaches. Not doing so, Edelson argues, “is itself a failure to impose limits on presidential power.” Furthermore, the absence of enforcement has “effectively vindicated” the prior administration’s prerogative-based argument that it could authorize and carry out torture with impunity. The author compares the Obama administration’s words and actions to the institutional guidelines created by the Bush administration, and in no area has there been fundamental change. An administration dedicated to transparency has used secrecy consistently to protect itself from scrutiny by the court system or press, and Congress has acquiesced. Charges have not been brought against those who carried out torture, nor have investigations been launched to find the truth. Among present legal experts, Edelson references those who suggest, “under Obama, as under Bush, ours is no longer a government under law. It is a government of options,” adopted at presidential whim.
A powerful warning about the future of constitutional government and an indictment of the ways it has been undermined in the recent past.