by J Scott Christianson, Columbia Daily Tribune Columnist
As candidates continue to jockey for position in the upcoming presidential primary, we all seem focused on the horse race aspects of the campaigns.
How much money have they raised? Did you hear what Hillary Clinton said about Barack Obama? Can Fred Thompson save the Republican Party?
Meanwhile, we are overlooking one of the most important aspects of the 2008 election: We won’t be electing a president in 2008 — or at least not a president like the one we learned about in grade school, one whose power and authority are balanced by two separate but equal parts of our government. Instead, we will be electing a “unitary” president in 2008. The unitary presidency is an idea cooked up in conservative Washington, D.C., think-tanks during the 1980s and thoroughly implemented during the Bush-Cheney administration. The unitary president is one who not only has absolute control over all aspects of the executive branch but also wields that power without any oversight by Congress.
President George W. Bush became this country’s first unitary president simply by taking more and more power and declaring that he had the authority to do so while a compliant Congress let him relieve them of their duties. This expansion of executive power has largely been conducted in full view of the Congress and the people, setting an important precedent for all future presidents.
The power of a unitary president extends to any part of the government touched by the executive branch. For example, the unitary president can “unagree” to a treaty that gets in the way of his programs, as Bush did when he withdrew the United States from the Anti-ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972 without consulting the Senate. A White House controlled by a unitary president has no compunction about using the Department of Justice for political work, as the Bush administration seems to have done since 2005.
As a unitary executive, Bush has used presidential signing statements — documents often issued by a president at time of signing legislation into law — in new ways. He uses them to alter or invalidate the very laws he is signing. Though the Supreme Court has ruled the line-item veto unconstitutional, the Bush administration has used signing statements as a means of achieving the same end: giving the president the last word on any legislation passed by Congress. When he gets to edit the laws of the…