Conventional wisdom holds that 9/11 sounded the death knell for presidential accountability. In fact, the opposite is true. The novel powers that our post-9/11 commanders in chief assumed—endless detentions, military commissions, state secrets, broad surveillance, and more—are the culmination of a two-century expansion of presidential authority. But these new powers have been met with thousands of barely visible legal and political constraints—enforced by congressional committees, government lawyers, courts, and the media—that have transformed our unprecedentedly powerful presidency into one that is also unprecedentedly accountable.
These constraints are the key to understanding why Obama continued the Bush counterterrorism program, and in this light, the events of the last decade should be seen as a victory, not a failure, of American constitutional government. We have actually preserved the framers’ original idea of a balanced constitution, despite the vast increase in presidential power made necessary by this age of permanent emergency.
Goldsmith is a conservative lawyer who understands the imperative of averting another 9/11. But his unflinching insistence that we abide by the law put him on a collision course with powerful figures in the administration. Goldsmith's fascinating analysis of parallel legal crises in the Lincoln and Roosevelt administrations shows why Bush's apparent indifference to human rights has damaged his presidency and, perhaps, his standing in history.
As Nineteen Eighty-Four protagonist Winston Smith has admirers on the right, in the center, and on the left, the contributors similarly represent a wide range of political, literary, and moral viewpoints. The Cold War that has so often been linked to Orwell's novel ended with more of a whimper than a bang, but most of the issues of concern to him remain alive in some form today: censorship, scientific surveillance, power worship, the autonomy of art, the meaning of democracy, relations between men and women, and many others. The contributors bring a variety of insightful and contemporary perspectives to bear on these questions.