Thursday, February 19, 2009

Our Enemy, the President (Dan McCarthy)

Dan McCarthy says the greatest threat to the Republic comes from the Oval Office:

After eight years of George W. Bush, conservatives find themselves back at the beginning—that is, back at the beginning of the modern American Right, circa 1933. Once more the country is in a deep financial crisis (we don’t call them “depressions” anymore) for which Republicans have taken the blame. And again a pragmatic Democratic president, backed by majorities in both chambers of Congress, promises to spend us back to prosperity. After conceding the president virtually his every whim during the Bush years—with the occasional Harriet Miers-sized exception—conservatives have begun to rediscover the virtues of checks upon executive power.

The 1930s Old Right arose in reaction against Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. But conservatives today need not look back quite so far to find articulate critics of presidential aggrandizement. Unlike Roosevelt’s enemies in the 1930s, James Burnham and Willmoore Kendall, two of National Review’s original senior editors, were not strict in their devotion to individual rights, the free market, or limited government. Kendall, a “wild Yale don” in Dwight Macdonald’s description, was a majority-rule democrat who held that legislatures could and should circumscribe personal liberties for the sake of national security. Burnham, a former New York University philosophy professor, was a Rockefeller Republican in politics and disciple of Machiavelli in philosophy. Yet both were as staunch as any Old Right libertarian in their hostility to presidential power. To them, the executive branch was not only the seat of liberalism but an incipient threat to the Republic.

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