He has been decorated with attributes superior in dignity and splendor to those of a king of Great Britain. He has been shown to us with the diadem sparkling on his brow and the imperial purple flowing in his train. He has been seated on a throne surrounded with minions and mistresses, giving audience to the envoys of foreign potentates, in all the supercilious pomp of majesty. The images of Asiatic despotism and voluptuousness have scarcely been wanting to crown the exaggerated scene. We have been taught to tremble at the terrific visages of murdering janizaries, and to blush at the unveiled mysteries of a future seraglio. ~Alexander Hamilton, Federalist 67
Sound a little too familiar? Mr. Hamilton is complaining here about the horrible misrepresentation of the powers of the new executive by critics of the Constitution. Little did he know that practically all of these exaggerated images, diadem and purple cloak aside, would indeed come to pass in many respects, at least with respect to the sheer concentration of power in one man’s office. Little did he know that all of the warnings of the Anti-Federalists about consolidated power and tyranny were right.
It was always Mr. Hamilton’s attempt to minimise and laugh off claims of excessive concentration of power in the executive, yet it has been in this area in particular that he proved to be the least perspicacious. His promises of executive weakness and legislative overreach had everything completely backwards, as the next 200 years were to show. Yet for some reason apologists for executive usurpation cite his modest claims about the implications of the Constitution for executive power as if we should take them very seriously.
But all of this is to engage in shadowplay–one can look high and low in the Federalist Papers for anything that would remotely justify what Mr. Bush has done with respect to authorising domestic surveillance, and he will not find it. The question of constitutionality is, as Mike DeWine rather amazingly put it a short time ago, simply irrelevant to most of the people who are deliberating on this matter. Yet we are still treated to the spectacle of untrammeled executive power dressing itself in the rags of what remains of the Constitution. I suspect if I hear once more that the Founders vested the President with inherent intelligence-gathering authority, which is such a painfully anachronistic thing to say, I will either scream or laugh.