Obama, Like Bush, Uses Crisis to Expand Presidential Power

The president and his aides are creating a more muscular presidency through a methodical approach.

Rahm Emanuel left, talks with then-Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama in Chicago.

Rahm Emanuel talks with then-Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama D-Ill. in Chicago.

By + More

Of course, to Obama's chagrin, the recession hasn't stopped—in some ways, the economic crisis has deepened. But Obama's loyalists say he was correct to move boldly and do what he could to contain it. "We don't have the luxury of sequencing and choreography that others might have had," Gibbs says. "But at the same time, I think we also have a unique moment in order to make a difference."

It's clear that Obama is intent on changing America's course in a dramatic way, as Ronald Reagan did in 1981. But Obama, while he admires Reagan's "transformational" approach, seeks to reverse much of what Reagan accomplished. "This is a guy who is defining a new way forward," says Will Marshall, president of the centrist Progressive Policy Institute. "This is terra incognita. People aren't used to seeing changes in government that are this dramatic."

In a way, Obama is doing what George W. Bush did in the national security sphere, using a crisis to expand presidential authority. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Bush moved to increase and exert his war-making powers. Now, amid the recession and financial meltdown, Obama is moving to increase and exert his peacetime powers. The result in both cases has been a more muscular presidency.

And Gibbs says that the Obama agenda will continue to grow. "We've still got stuff to lay out," he says.