the imperial presidency (again)
I read I, Claudius and Claudius the God recently. In Rome after Julius Caesar, the winds of fortune changed with the Emperor. Under Augustus and Claudius, times were good. Under Tiberius and Caligula, times were bad. The problem was that at no point did the Senate seem capable of re-asserting its authority or even of operating with any shred of competence.
Claudius, an anti-monarchist to the core and a staunch supporter of the Republic, wanted nothing more than to turn the reigns of government back over to the Senate…until he discovered just how corrupt, self-interested, and pathetic the Senate actually was, and how the more powerful members didn’t really want a return to Senatorial rule, but rather wanted the throne for themselves. Then again, the decision not to return the power back to the Senate was followed by the reign of Nero…
Similarly, President Obama’s about face on releasing the torture photos can be seen as an example of a poor decision by an otherwise good man with good intentions that might have very, very bad results in the long run, further shoring up power in one single branch of government. Claudius ended many of the abuses his predecessors had instituted – the “informers” of Tiberius; the blasphemy and basically total craziness of Caligula. So too, Obama has ended some of the worst abuses his predecessor began. But in the end, he has done nothing substantive to reduce the power of the office he holds. And, of course, he can’t. Because the Senate is full of fools, and there is so much to do to clean up the mess he’s been left with.
And that leaves me worried not so much about Obama, but about the Nero who might follow him.