I ventured into a pocket of San Francisco conservatism last night to hear Berkeley Law Professor John Yoo address the local Federalist Society chapter. The event was held on the 17th floor of Sheppard Mullin’s offices in Embarcadero Center, far from where any no goodnik protesters could penetrate — what with all that pesky shouting of the “t” word (not that any demonstrators were on the Federalist mailing list, and knew to show up).
Yoo was there to plug his book, Crisis and Command: A History of Executive Power from George Washington to George W. Bush. But he couldn’t resist taking a victory lap over his recent performance on The Daily Show, where host John Stewart couldn’t land a punch on him (Stewart later admitted as much). Yoo explained proudly that he spends much of his time facing off against unruly students “who hadn’t done the reading.”
“Just a few seconds of the Socratic method, and he was mine,” Yoo said. The lawyers loved it.
Yoo’s main thesis is that the nation’s great presidents — Washington, Lincoln, FDR — took expansive views of executive power, while the weaker ones like Madison, Buchanan and Carter shrank and allowed other branches of government to dominate them.
This may be true as far as it goes, but I can’t help observing that Washington, Lincoln and FDR all had a powerful political mandate to act as they did, and were ultimately successful with their policies. Yoo didn’t discuss his former commander-in-chief, George W. Bush, at the Federalist hoedown. But I feel fairly safe in reporting that his early interrogation policies — which Yoo greenlighted — have not been proven to be effective in winning the war on terror. So much so that Bush himself moved away from the most extreme Cheney-ite positions during his second term.
The Federalist meeting wasn’t a place for such posits. The wine was flowing, and Yoo promised the delighted lawyers that if they sent him a copy of his book, he would sign and return it.