It does not pass by without lively interest when a president declaims that he can and will pursue his aims without reference to Congress. Asserting executive privilege as the loophole through which he can bypass the tedium and interference of 535 elected representatives, he cracks open the lid of a fascinating and alluring Pandora’s box. This is the business of floating an idea by way of little public encroachments; by slipping on bigger and bigger britches, until the concept of privilege bestows upon the president a free, unfettered, and terribly efficient hand – so efficient as to expose the electorate to a ruthless arrogance that is truly monarchical.

Executive privilege is an invention with a narrow purpose – that being a president’s ability to refuse a subpoena in the interest of, for instance, national security. The idea, at present, in throwing about the term so cavalierly is to shroud it in ambiguity, thereby broadening the privilege to include virtually anything that might take a president’s fancy, including the sale of purloined, White House knickknacks on eBay, curing the king’s evil with a touch, and, when the mood so moves him, declaring an eensy-weensy war. The catch here is the assertion that a president may disregard Congress as a matter of privilege, for in so doing, he elects to bypass his only direct contact with, and responsibility to, the people. Here he treads heavily into a new world that is completely at odds with the first three words of the Constitution. More than being something he should not do, it is something the president should not WANT to do.

And for those who are entirely cool with one president’s judgment, keep in mind that when he crowns himself with a newly minted privilege, he confers it, perforce, upon all presidents to come – conservative and liberal – whose ways might not be found so disarming. It is the business of the people to understand their part in the Constitution – placed first and in thundering calligraphy above all its ensuing content – and to realize that it is our business to keep all presidents, present, and future, on a short leash.

The hinge on Pandora’s box works only one way.

(A short essay by Author and Artist Brooke McEldowney.)

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