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After Clinton

September 4, 1998

Let's say Clinton resigns or is impeached. The tragedy is that he'll be replaced. A better idea: leave the office empty. Call off the 2000 election, and declare Clinton the last president. The presidency has become a drain on our economy, our culture, and our national life. We'd be better off without it.

At this point, the very institution is inseparable from words like deception, corruption, betrayal, and abuse of power. If the presidency had to survive a market test, it would be bankrupt. If it were a non-profit organization, it would be shut down by the courts. If it were a religious institution, it would be denounced as a haven for hucksters.

Let's disabuse ourselves of the myth that the next inhabitant will be a clean-living, truth-telling, promise-keeping statesman. He won't. The office itself, embodying more power than any mere mortal should have, attracts and brings out the worst in a person. When was the last time a president didn't disappoint?

It's not the man; it's the office. Everywhere the president goes, he's doted on like some third-world autocrat. He's told by pundits that the national soul resides in his very person. He's convinced that he is "leader of the free world," even while the government he heads conspires every day to take away freedom. He knows that "history" is kindest to presidents who start wars, centralize the economy, and generally run roughshod over the democratic process, so he aspires to be like them.

The presidency is the head of a vast bureaucratic empire with trillions of dollars to pass out. And we are surprised when the political appointees get entangled in conspiracy and graft? That's what politics is about. That's what power is about. That's what the presidency is about.

The office obeys no rule of law. The presidency allows a person to order up bombings on foreign medicine factories on a whim. Worse, it grants the power to issue executive orders that contradict the Constitution, to bail out foreign governments it likes and impose sanctions on those it doesn't. It's the office that permits one man to H-bomb the world, if he's so inclined.

No one should have such power, especially not in a country conceived in liberty. Yet the abuses began soon after the Constitution was ratified. Even the first president sent out the troops to kill tax resisters. So the office"grew" and conformed to the power ambitions of the men who held it.

It took less than a century before a president saw himself as occupying a holy office in the national church, an office whose piety and purity was perfected in wartime. Thus began a long line of tyrants-in-waiting.

We still see remnants of this thinking in places like North Korea and Cuba, where the presidents declare themselves to be "great leaders." Thank goodness the rest of the world has moved on. We know that the state is a vast enterprise for declaring all sorts of things legal for itself that would be illegal for us, such as burning down religious communities, extorting and bribing businesses, and skimming off a third of people's income without their permission.

After the failures of a century and more of presidential omnipotence, what's left for the office to do? Socialize heath care? Forget it. Negotiate trade deals? Private business does that already. Conduct a "summit" in Moscow? What a joke. Clinton says he can't be distracted from "the nation's business," when we are all much better off if he is. The nation's business is freedom, not obedience to the Maximum Leader.

The other day, Madeline Albright said the presidency could conduct the "war of the future" against "terrorists." Is she serious? That's a line from "Wag the Dog," when a political consultant explains to a CIA bureaucrat why the military must be used to fool and distract the people.

If Clinton is forced to hit the road, let's just leave the office vacant. After a year or two of freedom from the presidency, we'll all realize we're better off without one. Think about all the money that won't be sucked down the election rathole. The candidates can stay in the private sector, producing things for people instead of taking things from them. There will be no more presidential "role models" to corrupt our kids.

Let's apply the real lessons of the recent presidential meltdown, and just call the whole thing off.

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Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., is president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama.


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