The presidency redefined
Obama weakens it where it should be strong and strengthens it where it should be weak

White House/Pete Souza

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden hold a meeting in the Situation Room of the White House, Jan. 24, 2013.

Article Highlights

  • There is a flaw at the very heart of Barack Obama’s presidency writes @AEI’s John Yoo.

    Tweet This

  • Barack Obama is becoming the anti-president: He is acting on a vision of his office directly at odds with the Framers'.

    Tweet This

  • The white paper on drone strikes is important for what it reveals about Obama: his desire to weaken his own office.

    Tweet This

There is a flaw at the very heart of Barack Obama's presidency. In the 1960s and 1970s, Hollywood created a new type of film protagonist — the anti-hero. He played the leading role, but was the opposite of a hero. Barack Obama is becoming the anti-president: He is acting on a vision of his office directly at odds with the Framers'.

The recent leak of the Justice Department white paper on the targeted killing of Americans by drone warfare is the latest indication of the president's failure to understand the constitutional purpose of his office. Some critics claim that the memo shows that the president is attempting to seize an unchecked, unilateral power to deprive citizens of their most fundamental right: The right to life. Some members of Congress have even unwisely proposed to rein in these attacks on Americans who have joined al-Qaeda, and to establish a special federal court to issue the functional equivalent of death warrants. (President Obama broadly endorsed this idea of judicializing military  strikes in his State of the Union address. "I will continue to engage with Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention, and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world," he declared.)

But the white paper on drone strikes is most important for what it reveals about Obama: his desire to weaken his own office's ability to fulfill its constitutional duties. Eighteenth-century Americans understood the executive's powers to focus on two main functions: the protection of national security and conduct of foreign relations, and the execution of the laws. "Energy in the Executive is a leading character in the definition of good government," Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist 70. "It is essential to the protection of the community against foreign attacks. It is not less essential to the steady administration of the laws." Most important of all, commanders-in-chief - since the time of the Framing - traditionally have managed war. "Of all the cares or concerns of government," Hamilton wrote in Federalist 74, "the direction of war most peculiarly demands those qualities which distinguish the exercise of power by a single hand."

 

 

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

John
Yoo

What's new on AEI

Defeating ISIS: AEI experts weigh-in before the president’s address on Wednesday
image Degrading, defeating, and destroying the Islamic State
image Wealth Building Home Loan: Building wealth through homeownership and retirement savings
image The $3 iPhone
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 15
    MON
  • 16
    TUE
  • 17
    WED
  • 18
    THU
  • 19
    FRI
Tuesday, September 16, 2014 | 5:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
The Constitution as political theory

Please join us for the third-annual Walter Berns Constitution Day Lecture as James Ceasar, Harry F. Byrd Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia, explores some of the Constitution’s most significant contributions to political theory, focusing on themes that have been largely unexamined in current scholarship.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014 | 8:10 a.m. – Thursday, September 18, 2014 | 1:30 p.m.
Third international conference on housing risk: New risk measures and their applications

We invite you to join us for this year’s international conference on housing risk — cosponsored by the Collateral Risk Network and AEI International Center on Housing Risk — which will focus on new mortgage and collateral risk measures and their applications.

Event Registration is Closed
Thursday, September 18, 2014 | 2:15 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Speaker of the House John Boehner on resetting America’s economic foundation

Please join us as Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) delivers his five-point policy vision to reset America’s economy.

Event Registration is Closed
Friday, September 19, 2014 | 9:15 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Reforming Medicare: What does the public think?

Please join us as a panel of distinguished experts explore the implications of the report and the consumer role in shaping the future of Medicare.

Event Registration is Closed
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.