- - Tuesday, January 7, 2014


There are many sharp policy debates in the offing among conservatives, libertarians and other right-leaning individuals prior to this year’s midterm elections. If you had told me, though, that one debate would be over finding ways to build a different model of American government, I wouldn’t have believed you. Yet this conversation is really happening, courtesy of some op-ed columnists and policy advisers who want to reimagine government’s size and scope.

For example, New York Times columnist David Brooks recently proposed this far-fetched reform: “Make the executive branch more powerful.” Following this idea, the president would become an even stronger political force than before.

What is Mr. Brooks‘ rationale (or lack thereof) when it comes to this proposal? In his view, “This is a good moment to advocate greater executive branch power, because we’ve just seen a monumental example of executive branch incompetence: the botched Obamacare rollout. It’s important to advocate greater executive branch power in a chastened mood.”

“It’s not that the executive branch is trustworthy,” according to Mr. Brooks, but rather “it’s just that we’re better off when the presidency is strong than we are when the rentier groups are strong, or when Congress, which is now completely captured by the rentier groups, is strong.”

Considering who is in the White House right now, this would be a terrifying prospect. Could you imagine Barack Obama with even more power at his disposal to implement his left-wing political and economic agenda? While Mr. Brooks may feel Americans “don’t need bigger government,” and instead, “need more unified authority,” he must realize that this president is anything but a unifier.

To be sure, I’ve never thought Mr. Brooks was much of a conservative. He’s closer to being a liberal Republican or, as some critics have put it, a “New York Times conservative.” Maybe it’s wrong to afford him high expectations based on his political and economic leanings.

Then again, Michael Auslin, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, asked a more stunning question: “Does America need a monarch?”

In the Jan. 2 online edition of Politico Magazine, Mr. Auslin wrote, “Ever since, according to legend, George Washington turned down the chance of becoming the new country’s king, America’s identity as a republican nation of citizen rulers has been rock solid . Yet even before independence, John Adams argued in favor of a “republican monarchy” of laws, lamenting, ‘We have so many Men of Wealth, of ambitious Spirits, of Intrigue that incessant Factions will disturb our Peace.’”

In Mr. Auslin’s opinion, today’s U.S. political landscape shows “Adams was prescient, with the country almost evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, special interests dominant, and poisonous partisan gridlock destroying Washington, D.C.” Hence, “while Adams favored a republican monarch with absolute veto powers, today we need a person who can sit above politics and help strengthen our commitment to republican values. We need a king, or something like one.”

The mere thought of an American king — or constitutional monarchy — is mind-numbing. While it’s true Washington may have never been asked to be king, he could have served a third term (or more) as president. As Richard Brookhiser noted in “Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington”: “Washington was worthy of honor because the last thing he had done with power was to resign it.” This graceful, selfless decision is something a king in this day and age would surely never do.

That’s why I was floored by Mr. Brooks‘ and Mr. Auslin’s suggestions. It’s not because I don’t think their input is worth having. We want to encourage intellectual discourse as much as humanly possible. Rather, I’m just surprised that we’re discussing the merits of centralized power. There are obvious reasons why the Founding Fathers chose a federal constitutional republic that supports checks and balances. There are also historical explanations why many Americans reject the basic concept of monarchy.

The solution has always been smaller, more effective government with a greater degree of individual rights and freedoms. In his famous 1863 Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln urged Americans to resolve that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” This type of government, and not a stronger executive branch or a king, is what built the United States into a great nation and a model for freedom, liberty and democracy.

It worries me that some American commentators, including conservative ones, are now beginning to look away from this historical model for government efficiency. Smaller government is, and always will be, the best route to political success.

Michael Taube is a contributor to The Washington Times.

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