Jonah Goldberg

"Congress has been a big part of the problem," declared Cheney, a veteran of the Ford administration. "A fundamental problem has been the extent to which we have restrained presidential authority over the last several years. ... We have been concerned with the so-called myth of the imperial presidency.

"We must restore some balance" between Congress and the White House, Cheney insisted.

Gingrich vehemently disagreed. "What we need is a stronger Congress, not a weaker Congress," he shot back. "The greatest danger of the Reagan administration is that conservatives will decide they can trust imperial presidents as long as they are right-wing when they are imperial."

I'd be curious to know if Gingrich still feels that way, now that his hungry eyes seem focused on the presidency. But the Newt of 1980 was definitely on to something. Today, most people object to the imperial presidency only when the other party controls the White House.

At Sunday's conference, for example, Sen. Barack Obama proclaimed that "people are tired of Scooter Libby justice." Clinton's pardons for loyalist Susan McDougal, billionaire tax evader Marc Rich and Puerto Rican terrorists apparently slipped down the memory hole.

For eight years, the right screamed bloody murder about Clinton's overreaching. He minted new executive privileges, "accidentally" rummaged through the FBI files of political opponents and sought electronic wiretapping powers - during peacetime - that today are denounced. Some on the right feared we were on a slippery slope to tyranny. Liberals often chortled about such right-wing paranoia.

Today, the dynamic is reversed. Liberals fret over creeping fascism while conservatives give Bush the benefit of the doubt. Both sides are open to charges of hypocrisy, and neither is immune to partisan amnesia. The only consistent crowd are the Libertarians, who distrust all government power.

I wish I had some solution to offer, but my guess is there is none. Indeed, you can be sure that if Hillary Clinton is elected president, someone will denounce her as "the most radical president we've ever had" - whether it's true or not.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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