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The Cult of the Presidency. Gene Healy Cato University July 24, 2008. “Rock Star”. Cult of Obama.

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The Cult of the Presidency

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The cult of the presidency l.jpg

The Cult of the Presidency

Gene Healy

Cato University

July 24, 2008


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“Rock Star”


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Cult of Obama

“Many spiritually advanced people I know … identify Obama as a Lightworker, that rare kind of attuned being who … can actually help usher in a new way of being on the planet, of relating and connecting and engaging with this bizarre earthly experiment. These kinds of people actually help us evolve.”

--Mark Morford, San Fran Chronicle, June 6. “Is Obama an Enlightened Being?”

“Obama’s finest speeches do not excite. They do not inform. They don’t even really inspire. They elevate. They enmesh you in a grander moment, as if history has stopped flowing passively by, and, just for an instant, contracted around you, made you aware of its presence, and your role in it. He is not the Word made flesh, but the triumph of word over flesh, over color, over despair”

--Ezra Klein, The American Prospect (online), January 3. “Obama’s Gift.”


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Cult of Dubya


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[split screen]


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What We’ll Cover

  • The Constitution’s Chief Magistrate

  • The Presidency Transformed

    • The Progressives

    • The Conservatives

  • Why the Worst Get on Top… and Get Worse

  • The Audacity of Hope


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Anti-”Bully Pulpit”

“Of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying obsequious court to the people, commencing demagogues and ending tyrants.”

–Federalist No. 1

What we have to fear is “the military despotism of a victorious demagogue”

—Federalist No. 85


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The Myth of the Modern Presidency?


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Who Dat?


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“A Sledgehammer in the Cause of National Righteousness”


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“Presidential primacy in the news is not a recent development, but in fact predates the emergence of broadcast technology…. presidential dominance of news from Washington appears to have arisen from the transformation of Congress and the presidency during the early decades of the twentieth century. Presidents in the grip of progressivism became national tribunes.”

--Samuel Kernell and Gary C. Jacobson, “Congress and the Presidency as News in the Nineteenth Century,” The Journal of Politics 49 (November 1987)


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War Is The Health of the Presidency

“It is of the nature of war to increase the executive at the expense of the legislative authority.”—Federalist No. 8


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“A Trained and Loyal Army”


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“Tell Me Your Troubles”


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Conservatives Learn to Love the Imperial Presidency

“Some of the current worship of powerful executives may come from those who admire strength and accomplishment of any sort.  Others hail the display of Presidential strength … simply because they approve of the result reached by the use of power.  This is nothing less than the totalitarian philosophy that the end justifies the means…. If ever there was a philosophy of government totally at war with that of the Founding Fathers, it is this one.”

--Barry Goldwater (1964)

“[I call on the House to] increase the power of President Clinton. . . . I want to strengthen the current Democratic President because he is President of the United States.”

--Newt Gingrich (1995)


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Modern Rhetoric


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With Great Responsibility Comes Great Power


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John Yoo’sNeoconstitution


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David Addington “believed presidential power was coextensive with presidential responsibility.  Since the president would be blamed for the next homeland attack, he must have the power under the Constitution to do what he deemed necessary to stop it, regardless of what Congress said.”

--Jack Goldsmith, The Terror Presidency (2007)


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Why the Worst Get on Top… and Get Worse

The “socialists of all parties” believe that “it is not the system we need fear, but the danger it might be run by bad men.”

--Friedrich Hayek, The Road to Serfdom (1944)


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“Neither Sought Nor Declined”

“It will not be too strong to say that there will be a constant probability of seeing the station [i.e., the presidency] filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue.”

--Federalist No. 68


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The Permanent Campaign


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“It is difficult for men in high office to avoid the malady of self-delusion. They are surrounded by worshippers... They live in an artificial atmosphere of adulation and exaltation, which sooner or later impairs their judgment. They are in grave danger of becoming arrogant or careless.”

--Calvin Coolidge, Autobiography (1929)


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The Gullibility Index


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“The Implicit Infallibility of Presidents”

“Out of the gobbledygook, comes a very clear thing: … you can’t trust the government; you can’t believe what they say; and you can’t rely on their judgment; and the – the implicit infallibility of presidents, which has been an accepted thing in America, is badly hurt by this, because it shows that people do things the President wants to do even though it’s wrong, and the President can be wrong.”

--H.R. Haldeman to Richard Nixon, June 14, 1971, describing the likely effect of the Pentagon Papers’ publication.


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