Jacob Sullum

Paul supported military action against al-Qaida and its Taliban allies following the Sept. 11 attacks, but he opposed the occupation of Afghanistan, the invasion of Iraq and the air war against Libya, saying these operations were not grounded in national defense. Recent polls indicate that two-thirds of Americans agree with his judgment about Afghanistan and Iraq, while up to three-fifths questioned the intervention in Libya. Are all of these people "outside the mainstream" as well?

In addition to its role in military adventures, an elastic view of national security is the main justification for the steady expansion of presidential power, which has accelerated in response to Islamic terrorism. The New York Times recently asked the presidential candidates, "Which executive powers, if any, claimed and exercised by the Bush and/or Obama administrations were unconstitutional?" Paul cited unauthorized wars, warrantless wiretaps, torture, indefinite detention of terrorism suspects and the assassination of people the president unilaterally identifies as enemies. He said the excesses of George W. Bush's counterterrorism policies were "among the worst abuses of executive authority in the nation's history," adding that Bush's successor has been worse in some respects.

None of the other candidates could think of a single instance in which Bush or Obama exceeded his authority in the name of fighting terrorism or protecting national security. Romney's chief example of unconstitutional executive action was the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which is actually an example of unconstitutional legislative action. Gingrich said the problem is too little executive power, thanks to interference by the Supreme Court. If that is the mainstream, I want out.


Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
 
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