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|In time of actual war, great discretionary powers are constantly given to the Executive Magistrate. Constant apprehension of War, has the same tendency to render the head too large for the body. A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defence agst.[against] foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people.|
Also he wrote in "Political Observations" (1795-04-20):
|Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.|
American lore claims that as Benjamin Franklin [W] left the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia on September 18, 1787, he was asked by Mrs. Powel if the framers had created a monarchy or a republic. "A republic, if you can keep it", he replied. What would Ben Franklin think of the current US government? Considering the expansion of the Presidential powers over the last century, Ben might have concluded that the Presidency had become a limited elected constitutional monarchy.
Also known as an imperial Presidency or plebiscitary President. In the book titled The Imperial Presidency, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. defines imperial Presidency as a President with powers beyond those in the Constitution and not subject to accountability. A plebiscitary President is where the elected leader has almost all of the national government power.
The expansion of Presidential powers for the last sixty years is contrary to the intent of the framers of the Constitution. Originally the Congress had powers to conduct foreign affairs, approve treaties, and declare war and other military actions and other functions dominated by the President.
One definition of a constitutional monarchy is a form of national government in which the power of the monarch is restrained by the legislature, by law, or by custom. Another definition is where the elected leader has almost all of the national government power. The US does not have a King or Queen but the US system can qualify as a constitutional monarchy with a different title for the governmental head.
Elected monarch can be found around the world. The Pope is elected to head the Holy See. Malaysia, Cambodia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates elected their monarchs. Before the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Alexander Hamilton argued that the President should serve until impeached, but his resolution was rejected. The US has slowly changed from the original Constitutional concept of three co-equal branches of national government with separation of powers to a limited constitutional monarchy.
The one path to constitutional monarchy is to start with monarchy and later incorporate a constitutional democracy. The path of the US was to start as a constitutional government and to gradually increase the Presidential power to the point where it becomes a government within a government.
Republicans blame Democratic Presidents such as Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson for the imperial Presidency. Democrats blame Republicans such as Nixon, Reagan, and George W. Bush for the imperial Presidency. If you look beyond political name-calling, you will see that the Office of the President has taken on new powers. The transformation from a Constitutional government to a constitutional monarchy represents a fundamental change in the US government that goes beyond politics and personalities in Washington, D.C..
By custom and law the Presidency has acquired many powers not allowed in the Constitution including war powers, and national emergency powers. President Polk in 1846, started a war with Mexico and then asked the Congress for approval, which he got. President Lincoln believed that if the President could unilaterally engage the country in war then he held the power of a king. Although the Constitution states that only the Congress can start a war, since 1941, Presidents have been able to wage war without Congressional approval.
In 1939 after the start of WWII in Europe President Franklin Roosevelt declared a limited national emergency. The concept of limited national emergency seems to rest on implied and assumed powers of the President and the assertion of it by the President. On May 27, 1941, Roosevelt had determined that the nation was in a state of unlimited national emergency. Congress ended the national emergency in 1947, two years after the end of WWII.
When the limited elected Monarch (the President) declares a national emergency, by law the President may seize property, organize and control businesses, seize commodities, assign military forces abroad, institute martial law, seize and control all transportation and communication, restrict travel, and generally control the lives of United States citizens. As of 2007, sixteen Presidential declarations of national emergency were active. Some are more than thirty years old. In theory the courts and the Congress might be able to check these power. In practice, during a crisis these powers are unlikely to be checked.
Since WWII, typically the President following an unpopular President who supported an unpopular war will exhibit restraint in the use of Presidential power. Truman and Nixon left office unpopular and also waged unpopular wars in Korea and Vietnam. Once the unpopular war is concluded, their successors, Eisenhower and Carter exhibited restraint in the use of Presidential power but they also secretly supported regime change in Iran and civil war in Afghanistan, respectively. The Vietnam War ended while Ford was President although US participation was greatly reduced by the Paris Peace Accords under Nixon. Ford exhibited restraint in the use of Presidential powers also. Although the unpopular President reflect clearly the constitutional monarchy system, the popular ones have also shown a lack of accountability and exercised extra constitutional powers.
How the transition occurred
The enlargement of Presidential power accompanies a war or foreign policy crisis. During a war or crisis President can easily persuade the Congress and the courts of the necessity of expanded powers. As the crisis continues the President accumulates powers. When the crisis passes the powers remain, often hidden from public sight, to be used by subsequent Presidents.
For examples look to WWII, Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War, Yugoslav wars, the Global War on Terrorism, Afghanistan, Iraq. Because of WWII, the US was in an official under a national emergency from 1939 to 1947. In the Korean War, Truman waged war and expanded the military without seeking Congressional approval. During the Cold War, the US overthrew the governments of Iran and Guatemala and attempted to overthrow the government of Indonesia and Cuba. The US installed new governments in Egypt and Laos. Troops were sent in the Dominican Republic without Congressional approval. The Vietnam War spawned a secret war in Laos and a secret invasion of Cambodia. The Yugoslav wars were waged without seeking Congressional approval. The President’s execution of the Global War on Terrorism faces accusations of illegal torture, imprisonment and murder. The invasion of Afghanistan accompanied illegal wiretapping and accusation of abduction of innocent Afghanis. The President Bush is accused of misconduct to persuade citizens to support the Iraq War.
Unnecessary wars, excessive secrecy and invading citizen’s privacy are at the top of my current list of abuses of Presidential power. All of these reduce the democratic responses of citizens. My purpose is to point out that the current system institutionalizes excessive Presidential power, which leads to abuses of power. Rather than recognizing this fact, many wish to believe that when the current President is replaced with a better President the abuses will be corrected. This might true for a few years. However beneficial replacing the current President will be, it will not by itself change the system of limited Constitutional Monarchy that institutionalizes excessive President powers and inevitably lead to abuses.
Arthur M. Schlesinger writes “A constitutional Presidency, as the great Presidents had shown, could be very strong Presidency indeed. But what kept a strong President constitutional, in addition to checks and balances incorporated within his own breast, was the vigilance of the nation. Neither impeachment nor repentance would make much difference if the people themselves had come to an unconscious acceptance of the imperial Presidency. The Constitution could not hold the nation to ideals it was determined to betray.”
The Future of Constitutional Monarchy
The Constitutional Monarchy has been in place for over sixty years and most US citizens are accustomed to it. The very idea that our current Constitutional Monarchy is contrary to the Constitution and the original concept of the US, many will find difficult to understand. The Constitution at one time defined the President’s role in the US government and has proven to be a practical and effective source of guidelines for organizing the US government.
The Constitutional Monarchy is a creation of sixty years of almost continual international conflict and war. A possible path back to Constitutional government exists. The first step is to educate citizens about the current Constitutional Monarchy system. Next, the US must greatly reduce its military and end unnecessary wars and occupations so that the national government can operate on a non-crisis basis. Next, the power to end wars must be restored to Congress. Also Congress must have the ability to veto executive agreements within sixty days. Executive agreements are used by Presidents to make international arrangements without involving Congress. If enacted it would change the balance of power between the Presidency and Congress as well as affecting foreign policy decisions. More will be needed to transform the limited Constitutional Monarchy to a Constitutional system, but these steps will go a long way to that end.
The business-as-usual scenario would most likely result in a more powerful and less limited elected Monarch and weakened Congress, an expanded military and continuing conflicts and international isolation. Beyond that, I would suggest that the US is in a transition period similar to the ancient Roman republic’s transition to an empire. Ancient Rome’s power and position pale in comparison to the US’ power and position in international affairs. For more information see America's inadvertent empire by Lieutenant General William E. Odom and Robert Dujarric.
Theoretically impeachment and removal would result in Presidential accountability but this has not occurred in the over two hundred history years of US history. Presidential accountability occurs during Election Day once every four years. If Ben Franklin were alive today, would he not recognize these powers are similar to those of King George III of Great Britain and consider the republic lost?
In the 20th century, America's responses to conflicts and wars have transformed the national government into a Constitutional Monarchy. Sorry Ben Franklin and President James Madison, but the citizens of the 20th century forgot the wisdom of the Constitutional Convention and the difficult lessons learned about monarchy during your century. US citizens would do well to remember Ben Franklin’s comments of September 11, 1783, "There was never a good war or a bad peace".
Sources for this article
- Matthew Crenson and Benjamin Ginsberg. Presidential Power: Unchecked and Unbalanced (New York, NY, London, Great Britain: W. W, Norton & Co., 2007).
- CRS Report for Congress on National Emergency Powers at www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/98-505.pdf
- Search for ‘National Emergency’ at http://www.whitehouse.gov/
- Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. The Imperial Presidency (Boston, MS: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1973).
- wikiquote:James Madison
- wikipedia:Constitutional Monarchy