Nothing enhanced George Washington's power as much as when he gave it up. Garry Wills makes that point in the book Cincinnatus. Washington gave up his commission as an officer in the continental army. He quit the presidency after two terms, a precedent that stood until Franklin Roosevelt. Restraint is an essential concept to grasping the first president's impact on the shape of American democracy.

In George W. Bush we have a president who has sought at every turn to expand the power of the presidency. He has been aided in that endeavor by a compliant Congress.

Now we have a presidential candidate who has talked pointedly about giving up some of the powers that Bush has asserted. In truth, Hillary Clinton is not alone in this professed ambition. Other presidential candidates such as Barack Obama and John Edwards have made a similar point. The New York Times on Oct. 24 focused on Clinton's concept.

No matter who got there first, this discussion gets at the essential crime of the Bush presidency. With little comprehension of American history or constitutional law, and with a devious vice president who has repeatedly and easily asserted his will on an uncourageous leader, President Bush has asserted powers that do not belong to the president.

It is much to early to speculate on where this will go. But the point that Clinton and other Democratic candidates have raised is essential to getting America back on the path that Washington's precedents described. The end to our national nightmare cannot come too soon.


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