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A legal conservative's critique on Bush

September 19, 2007|Tim Rutten | Times Staff Writer

"Lincoln claimed and exercised similar emergency powers, but he too was sensitive to Congress' prerogatives and constitutional propriety. He invoked the emergency power to exercise powers reserved for Congress. But he did so only until Congress could meet in session and, at Lincoln's invitation, either ratify or reject his actions.

"Addington had no such instincts. To the contrary, long before 9/11 he and his boss had set out to reverse what they saw as Congress' illegitimate decades-long intrusions on 'unitary' executive power. . . . This underlying commitment to expanding presidential power distinguishes the Bush Administration from the Lincoln and Roosevelt administrations. . . . Vice President Cheney and David Addington -- and through their influence, President Bush and Alberto Gonzales --. . . shared a commitment to expanding presidential power that they had long been anxious to implement."

Goldsmith concludes that Bush's "accomplishments will likely always be dimmed by our knowledge of his administration's strange and unattractive views of presidential power. The American people know better today than during the Civil War and World War II that Lincoln and Roosevelt, in [Arthur] Schlesinger's words, regarded 'executive aggrandizement as but a means to a great end, the survival of liberty and law, of government by, for, and of the people,' and that 'they used emergency power, on the whole, with discrimination and restraint. . . .' We are unlikely to come to think of President Bush in this way, for he has not embraced Lincoln's and Roosevelt's tenets of democratic leadership in crisis."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, September 26, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 68 words Type of Material: Correction
'The Terror Presidency': In a review of the book "The Terror Presidency" by Jack Goldsmith that appeared in the Sept. 19 Calendar section, the following sentence contained a misquote: "As Goldsmith writes, he came to believe those opinions rested on legal foundations 'sloppily reasoned, overboard, and incautious in asserting extraordinary constitutional authorities on behalf of the president.' " The quote from Goldsmith should have said "overbroad," not "overboard."

The rhetorical impulse is to end on that quote, congenial as it is to the reviewer's own opinions on the matter. Goldsmith's entire approach to these vital questions, however, is a rebuke to the narrowly ideological or merely rhetorical impulse and all the props of zealotry that have become central to our politics.

"The Terror Presidency" is an important book -- and a genuine service to the national interest -- on several levels, none more pressing than its implicit demand for a sober consideration of the current historical moment in all its complexity. As Goldsmith said in a recent interview:

"Usually the restrictions on liberties during wartime are temporary. The fight against al Qaeda and its affiliates may last a long time. As a country we need to figure out a way to give the presidency the extraordinary authorities it needs to keep us safe, while at the same time minimizing unnecessary intrusion on our liberties. That is, of course, easier said than done."



The Terror Presidency

Law and Judgment Inside the Bush Administration

Jack Goldsmith

W.W. Norton: 256 pp., $25.95

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