Alberto Gonzales, monarchist

A republic, if you can keep it.

The story is told that as Benjamin Franklin left the final meeting of the Constitutional Convention, a woman asked him: “What is it to be, Dr. Franklin? A monarchy, or a republic?” To which the sage replied, “A republic, madam: if you can keep it.”

Alberto Gonzales isn’t sure whether he approves of torture or not, but since His Royal Lowness, George II, has, in the goodness of his heart, decided not to torture anyone for now, Gonzales is loyally opposed to torture: for now. (Whether he’s still prepared to define deviancy down by defining what common sense and international law call torture as something else is a different question.)

But Gonzales still believes that the President has some sort of nebulous inherent power that might justify him in ordering what were clearly acts of torture clearly forbidden by law, and that deciding which exercises of such despotic power were justifiable would “involve an analysis of a great number of factors.”

To which every lover of the Constitution, and indeed of republican government generally, must respond with a one-finger salute and a contemptuous “Analyze that!”

You can have a government where the Chief Executive’s lawful powers are limited only by his own self-restraint and sense of political calcluation, or you can have a constitutional republic. You can’t have both.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

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