Do elected leaders worry about precedent?

Whenever our elected leaders decide to give themselves some shiny new powers — indefinite detention, warrentless wiretaps, killing Americans without due process — I always wonder, don’t they realize that when the other side wins control, they’ll have those powers too? Maybe Republicans trusted Bush with the powers of the Patriot Act, but didn’t they realize he would some day be replaced by a Democrat? And maybe the Democrats trust Obama to kill people with drone strikes, but don’t they realize that someday it will be Mitt Romney or Rick Perry or Newt Gingrich hunting their enemies with flying killer robots?

Now, thanks to a Daily Beast post about Kill or Capture, Daniel Klaidman’s book about Obama’s war on terror, I know the answer:

A president must weigh the power of precedent. In a 2009 meeting with advisers, Obama voiced concerns about what a future president may do with the power to indefinitely detain suspected terrorists. Alluding to the FDR-era Supreme Court decision that allowed the president to intern American citizens of Japanese descent during World War II, Obama worried about the powers his actions may place in the hands of a future president.

“You never know who is going to be president four years from now,” Obama said. “I have to think about how Mitt Romney would use that power.”

Apparently our elected leaders do worry about abuse of power by the next guy…until they realize it’s much more important to get all that cool power for themselves right now, and to hell with whoever gets abused by the next guy. What happens after they leave office doesn’t interest them.

(Hat tip: Mike Riggs)

About Mark:
Mark is a computer programmer, website builder, photographer, and sometimes journalist in Chicago, where he also writes the long-running Windypundit blog.
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  1. Mad Rocket Scientist
    Posted June 5, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    Someday, a future president will be just off-kilter enough to use such a power against a previous president, & then it will hit home.

    For example, if I was POTUS, one of my first acts would be to place every single member of the legislature, past & current, who has voted for the Patriot Act & it’s ilk, on the Terrorist Watch/No-Fly Lists, & keep them there until they repeal such crap (no more travel, goodbye security clearances, etc).

  2. Posted June 5, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    And if they keep resisting, declare them enemies of the United States and rain down drone fire!