Well, I was cynical about Obama giving up executive power, as politicians generally have a different view of runaway government power once that power is in their hands. But some good stuff has come out already:
- Obama rescinded Bush's 2001 executive order allowing former presidents, vice presidents, and their heirs to claim executive privilege in determining which of their records get released to the public. Even better, he's requiring the signature of both his White House counsel and the attorney general before he can classify a document under executive privilege.
- Issued a memorandum to all executive agencies asking them to come up with a new plan for open government and complying with FOIA requests. He is also instructing three top officials, including the U.S. attorney general, to come up with a new policy on open government. The new policy would replace the existing policy, infamously set by a 2001 memo from John Ashcroft that instructed federal agencies to essentially to take every measure they can to refuse FOIA requests.
- Put a freeze on the salaries of top White House aides.
- Suspended the military trials at Gitmo, and is expected to issue an order closing Gitmo as soon as today.
That's a really good start. I am now more optimistic that we might actually get some rollbacks of government power vis a vis FISA and the Patriot Act. The Fourth Amendment took a serious beating since 9/11, and hopefully it is not too late to roll back the precedents set over the last 7 years.
Of course, all of these activities are reductions of executive power in areas in policy areas Obama wants to undo actions by GWB. The real test will be to see his approach to executive power in areas where he wants to go past GWB. A good example is carbon dioxide regulation, where it has been suggested Obama should take the issue out of Congress's hands and establish a regulatory regime by executive fiat.
While we are on wish lists, I have often told my Republican friends that a fault of Bush's that did not get enough press was his apparent lack of willingness to provide adult supervision to Congress. Congress needs to be shamed occasionally to stay on task and not drift off into feeding fests at the trough, and only the President can really do this. Bush did not have the desire to face down a Republican Congress, and probably had lost all his credibility by the time he faced a Democratic Congress. Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi will take a lot of baby-sitting to avoid veering off into their worst behaviors, and it will be interesting to see if Obama will do so. I think it is in his interest to do so. Already, the ridiculous stimulus bill Pelosi has crafted threatens to embarrass him. If I were Obama, I would be furious. He expends his early political capital for a stimulus bill, and gets a total porked-up lobbyist's-fantasy from the House.