There was an interesting sidebar in last Sunday's NYTimes Magazine. It purports to quote James Madison, a man who knew a thing or two about our Constitution and, more importantly, about the intent of his co-framers, notwithstanding the exact language they wound up using.
This is a portion of the quote from something called: "Letters and Other Writings of James Madison."
"The Constitution expressly and exclusively vests in the Legislature the power of declaring a state of war [and] the power of raising armies... A delegation of such powers [to the president] would have struck, not only at the fabric of our Constitution, but at the foundation of all well organized and well checked governments. The separation of the power of declaring war from that of conducting it, is wisely contrived to exclude the danger of its being declared for the sake of its being conducted." [my emphasis]
The quote is actually part of a larger discussion of which powers devolve to which branch both by virtue of being expressed and, more importantly, about by being merely implied.
Time and again in the larger piece Madison warns in the most extreme language (well, extreme for the 18th century) about the power to absolutely corrupt that absolute power almost certainly guarantees. He goes on at length about the duty of Congress to impose checks on the president and even goes so far as to say that it is the duty of the president to pursue peace at all costs in order to restrain a war-crazy Congress.
So our current problems with the Imperial Presidency (for that is what it has become) are not the result of a bunch of power hungry clowns who have come along and SEIZED the power to make themselves imperial, it's that one of the co-equal branches, Congress, has consistently and shamefully abandoned it's right and DUTY to constrain the Chief Magistrate at every turn.
In other words, George W. is no fluke. Our so-called elected representatives have handed war, the crown, the sceptre and the orb, to him on a silver platter.
If Madison were alive today he'd be horrified that we've gone and elected ourselves a King.
Molly Ivins passed away the other day. She was a hell-raising reporter from Texas who never feared to speak truth to power. I will sorely miss her. She always loved putting politicians in their place and loved bashing the Bushes as much as I do. She went after George, Sr. one time for using the word "summer" as a verb (only the richest of the rich actually "summer" someplace.) But my absolute favorite anecdote about her concerns Pat Buchanan's address to the Republican National Convention in 1992 when he referred to the "culture wars." Her response to the speech was great... "it probably sounded better in the original German."
RIP Ms. Ivins.