Reading many, many accounts of the US Attorneys blow-up, James Comey's testimony about the bedside visit to John Ashcroft, John Yoo's torture memos, the Republican candidate debate in South Carolina, and Dick Cheney's fervent notion that the President is above the law, I keep having visions of Richard Nixon and wondering whether the Imperial temperament is simply part of the GOP.
I keep coming back to Ronald Reagan (and to a far lesser degree, George H.W. Bush). Did Reagan's administration abuse the system of American democracy? I think that Iran-Contra and the various Latin American wars that we bulked up or participated in during the Reagan era show without a doubt that he did. I'm not convinced that he did so with anything like the zeal or philosophical emphasis on unlimited executive power that Nixon and Bush Jr. rely on, but there was certainly an element in Reagan's governance that stressed the executive's right to engage in warfare (in one form or another) as it wished.
But he was the great communicator, disarming his ideological opposites with charm and wit, while Nixon and Bush are the great obfuscators, the marvelous dodgers, the guys who say "screw you" when confronted with anything not to their liking. Is that the difference? Could Bush have governed as a benevolent dictator if only he'd been less absorbed by partisan hatreds and the demonizing of his fellow citizens?
More importantly, does the GOP believe, as a core philosophy, that Republican presidents are entitled to unlimited power in pursuing all enemies, foreign and domestic? If so, this needs to be addressed in the open and called what it is: a tendency towards tyranny.
I know of no Democrat who supposes that the President is above the law. But apparently it's common for Republicans to believe that laws, when they hinder the good intentions of a Republican president, are trifles to be brushed off. The co-equal branches of government are to be scorned. The will of the people, embodied in all three, is to be ignored if it can't be manipulated.
Is this Republicanism? If so, we need to see it for what it is, and stamp it out with all the vigor that can be marshaled by a free people.