Three weeks ago, I asserted that Drew Westen had achieved anti-perfection with a New York Times piece. But he may have outdone himself last night. Last time, people were joking on Twitter that his article had been so completely shredded that the only thing left to go after was the grammar and punctuation. Mr. Westen may have been following that conversation, because not only did he bring all the nonsense we’ve become accustomed to in his latest piece, but he has also decided to start using unnecessary quotation marks, like “pre-existing conditions” and “adult in the room” and “grand bargain,” the last one selectively.
So there’s once again plenty of room for take-down commentary.
But you have to get up pretty early in the morning to have first crack at Mr. Westen: Brendan Nyhan was on the case via Twitter shortly after publication last night, and Jonathan Bernstein did an excellent full-length takedown before 7:30am. More are surely to follow; it’s just preposterously poor quality for a college daily. Or the global paper of record. If you think I’m exaggerating for effect, I urge you to go read the article. It’s a stunning achievement for something that’s not even 1400 words long.
Here’s one thing that bothered me that hasn’t been covered yet: Westen seems to have no sense of the role and power of the President within the political system. (This makes him two for two, since I’ve already covered his misunderstanding of the legislature; maybe next week he can write about the health care lawsuit!) Brendan Nyhan pointed out the most egregious example of this — Westen’s claim that the President was crazy for leaving decisions about legislation to Congress — but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Five times, Westen suggests presidential ownership of things that are unambiguously shared responsibilities with Congress:
- “When [Obama] made his ‘grand bargain’ over the summer”
- “He created the Congressional committee”
- “After his grand bargain on the debt”
- “he has empowered a ‘supercommittee’ to make just the kinds of decisions”
- “a decision to override a plan produced by his own Environmental Protection Agency
Maybe I’m just being a cranky Whig because of Rick Perry’s assault on Congress this week, but this stuff really bothers me. Too many people already think the president is an all-powerful political actor. I hate seeing respectable media sources allowing it to be repeated as if it’s not up for debate. I know all the presidential candidates say things like “under my plan” and “when you compare my tax plan with his plan,” but the assertion that the President has unilateral control over policymaking or policy implementation simply does not reflect either the constitutional arrangements of the federal government or the practice of contemporary federal politics.
The President cannot create congressional committees. The President cannot empower congressional committees. The President does not declare “grand bargains” by fiat. The President cannot raise or lower taxes. The President cannot increase or cut spending. And the executive branch is not exclusively owned by the President. The job of the EPA is to implement and enforce laws passed by Congress. Arrggghhh! And lest you think this is just a style and usage issue for Westen, in other places in the article he says “the White House and the Democrats” when referring to the legislative process. Just kill me.