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The Hidden Power of the Presidency

By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.

The founding fathers of this nation established a republic with a highly effective system of checks and balances precisely because they desired to avoid, at all costs, the consolidation of power in any single individual. Our young country had just broken away from an abusive despot, and the desire to prevent any future dictator from emerging remained strong.

The Presidential Executive Order was, at one time, a genuine exercise of power, based upon law that was already in existence. Unfortunately, it has been distorted into a tool for the illegitimate creation of new law, which violates both the spirit and the letter of the Constitution. This wrongful practice has been tolerated by Congress and, occasionally, even concealed from the American people, in the name of expediency.

When a president creates law by fiat, representative government is completely averted. Any notion of checks and balances or separation of powers is no longer involved in the legislative process.

The catalyst for the issuance of an executive order generally takes the form of some kind of emergency. In December 1941 approximately 100,000 American citizens were arrested, forcibly removed from their homes, stripped of their private property, and transported against their wills to concentration camps for an indefinite period of imprisonment. These circumstances were brought about by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt via Executive Order 9066. No efforts on the part of Congress were needed. This action was accomplished during a brutal war, when a crisis mentality dominated the world consciousness.

Regrettably, a host of these executive orders remain on the books, and they confer upon the presidency a vast array of powers. When exercised, these powers can bore so many holes into the Constitution, its usual protections are virtually eliminated. With a crisis looming, and with a simple signature, a president has the power to:

Order the government to seize control over all media, including television, radio, newspapers, and the internet (E.O. 10995);

Order the government to take over all food resources and farms (E.O.10998);

Order the government to take over all energy, power, mining, and transportation (E.O. 10997, 10990, 11003, and 11005);

Order the government to register, relocate, and mobilize civilians into labor groups under government surveillance (E.O. 11000, 11002, and 11004);

Order the government to establish control over the health, education, welfare, mechanisms of production and distribution, energy sources, wages, salaries, credit, and the flow of money in U.S. financial institutions (E.O. 11921 and 11001).

President Clinton has demonstrated his fondness for executive orders. He has cleverly thwarted the will of the Republican controlled Congress by advancing scores of small initiatives that deal with federal employees and the military. By using such programs as the American Heritage Rivers Initiative and the Man and Biosphere Program, the Administration has implemented provisions of unratified international treaties to promote an intemperate political agenda. Time and again, through executive order mandate, the function of Congress is nimbly circumvented.

Most recently, due to a furor unleashed by concerned citizens, members of Congress, and various state Governors, President Clinton was forced to rescind an executive order that essentially abrogated the Tenth Amendment in its entirety (E.O. 13083). Our nation would be wise to take heed of the president's past patterns of behavior. We need to be vigilant in our resistance, since so often proposals such as these remain dormant for a while, only to resurface at a less conspicuous and more opportune time.

The authority to issue executive orders grants the occupant of the Oval Office imperial, dictatorial control. With members of his own party questioning the trustworthiness of the present chief executive, it is time for the public to focus on an aspect of the presidency that is far more important than a mere job approval rating. Something we all can recognize and fully understand. Power. Raw, unadulterated power. Vested in one individual, with only a claim of a domestic or social crisis needed to trigger its use. The knowledge that the current resident of the White House has this boundless potential at his disposal is cause for many a sleepless night.

Copyright © 1999 -
James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.

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