The near-nominees of the major parties have begun to brand each other as unique threats to the American future.
That much was predictable.
The question now is whether we also will hear a candid debate about the extraordinary powers of what some call the “imperial presidency.”
Right now, it sounds doubtful.
In Washington, the broad powers of the chief executive mostly become fodder for party posturing — depending, of course, on who for the moment holds the Oval Office and the Congress.
For years, Republicans in Congress have slammed President Barack Obama, charging he has overstepped his authority. They depicted his unilateral actions regarding illegal immigration, the No Child Left Behind Act, and health insurance as power grabs.
Under Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, Democrats including then-Sen. Hillary Clinton rang the alarms. They blasted the Bush administration’s use of so-called signing statements — basically interpretive memos — to unilaterally tweak actual laws.
Obama has strategically used “signing statements” as well.
Running for president in 2008, Clinton said Bush “abused his power” as president “while failing to understand its purpose.” The year before, Clinton talked about “reining in the presidency.”
Notice that neither she nor Donald Trump are giving any hint of surrendering power or options if elected. Quite the opposite in Trump’s case, as he seeks to show he’s tough.
Candidates for chief executive simply don’t do that — even if they always vow to work with the legislative branch — and the public might see it as weak if they did.
Indeed, polls have showed for years that Congress just isn’t a very popular institution, especially in a time of partisan gridlock.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) seems to be gearing up for a turf battle regardless of who becomes the next president.
“I would sue any president that exceeds his or her powers,” Ryan said last week in an exchange about Trump’s assertions that he could ban Muslims or build a border wall without congressional OK.
“On the broader question, are we going to exert our Article I powers and reclaim this Article I power no matter who the president is? Absolutely,” Ryan said during a Huffington Post interview.
(First sentence of Article I: “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States . . . ”)
But presidents of recent years established precedents that include indefinite detentions of prisoners, targeted kills, drone strikes without war declared, torture and warrantless surveillance.
Consider the fact that the American Civil Liberties Union has been suing to challenge the redress process for the federally controlled No Fly List.
But Democrats after the Orlando murders still pushed — unsuccessfully — to ban firearms sales to anyone on that list, appearing to put them on a different page than the ACLU.
Both parties warn against putting their rivals in a job with huge power.
That’s as far as they seem to go so far in telling the rest of us what they think the power and limits of the job should be.