Jack Balkin has a really fine post about what he calls "the presidential politics of emergency." He compares the way that Bush framed the terrorism threat to expand his power with the way Obama is framing the economic threat to expand his power. Balkin's understanding of presidential power comports with my own: to be able to lead boldly, a president needs both skill and luck. The latter comes largely in the form of opportunity, especially a crisis, which allows the president to gather focus and power unto himself:
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Both Bush and Obama have made use of the President's power to define emergency and crisis in ways that shape others imaginations, and in ways that legitimate the steps they assert must be taken. Bush insisted that he needed vast powers to detain, interrogate and make war; he pointed to Iraq and insisted that it was a continuation of the war against Al Qaeda. Obama insists that he must have an enormous stimulus to jump start the economy, he must take control of major banking institutions to stave off financial meltdown, and he must propose a remarkably ambitious new budget with new programs for infrastructure development, health care, education, energy conservation and environmental protection to sustain economic capacity and global competitiveness in the future. Given the crisis we face, the only way forward, Obama is saying, is to reject Reaganism and embark on a Second New Deal focused on guarantees of health care for all Americans, financial regulation and/or government control of financial institutions, environmental protection, energy independence, and infrastructure investment. That is to say, just as Bush identified his crisis to justify the policies he pursued, so Obama has defined his crisis to justify his proposed solutions.
Balkin is not saying there is no difference between Bush and Obama. And he points out that "your view about the legitimacy of a particular use of the Presidential politics of emergency depends on which of the two men you support and your view about whether they have accurately described the nature and the scope of the situation before the country." Quite right. He adds: "If there really is an emergency along the lines described by the President, then of course, it is very different than if there is no emergency, or it is not as severe as the President says it is, or if the nature of the problem is different than the President describes, for then the solutions are the wrong solutions, and will lead the country in the wrong direction."
But trying to sort out the correctness of the assessments made by Bush and Obama is not Balkin's focus in this piece.
This essay is worth reading. It's far more interesting and educational than anything I saw in the morning's newspapers.