When I read this, the question that came to my mind was whether it was worse if Psaki did or did not realize that this was not an answer to the question that she had been asked.
If she didn't realize it, it was evidence of incapacity; if she did, it was evidence of bad faith. Which is worse in a senior government official, incapacity or bad faith?
She was not asked whether the president had the legal power to do what he did; she was asked whether it was customary for him to do what he did. The answer might be yes or no, but she appeared not to make the distinction between what was legal and what was customary, either because she didn't see it and therefore couldn't make it, or because she felt that it was unworthy of consideration.
If the latter were the case, perhaps, it was the more sinister. It suggests that the only restraint on the exercise of power of an elected head of government is and ought to be the law. If the law permits something, it is permitted in all other senses, and custom and practice have no say in the matter.
It is not only politicians, however, who think like this: it is far from uncommon to hear people upbraided by others for behaving in a doubtful fashion say something like, "There is no law against it," as if this were a completely satisfactory and conclusive reply. For such people, the law determines not only what is legal to do but what is right and proper to do.
This way of thinking is both a symptom and a cause of the absence of an unenforceable moral code that is held, if not universally, at least by a large proportion of the population. As Edmund Burke knew, where there is no inner restraint, there will have to be external restraint — in other words, the law, which will be permissive and repressive at the same time.
• 04/06/21 Manufacturing Dissent
• 03/22/21: Montaigne's Humanity: The great essayist warns us against intellectual pride --- but also delights in the variety and contradictoriness of life
• 01/11/21: The Dystopian Imagination: Why did the twentieth century produce so many works of fiction depicting not an ideal future but a future as terrible as could be imagined?
• 11/30/20: The Age of Cant: These days, you must hold the right opinions and express none of the wrong ones --- or else
• 08/10/20: The Covid Occupation
• 07/13/20: Shakespeare's Richards: The Bard's two historical dramas offer contrasts between political pathologies
• 06/09/20: Call It Abuse: On bringing children to political protests
• 02/06/20: Recipe for Chaos: A disruptive 'ethical vegan' launches a religious-discrimination debate
• 01/06/20: No Final Victories
• 01/03/20: A Matter of Truth: On Ricky Gervais, J. K. Rowling, and speaking frankly
• 12/03/19: Deadly Superstitions in London: Another terrorist attack reveals Britain's delusions about rehabilitation
• 12/02/19: Labour's Lethal Manifesto
• 10/16/19: Deniable Dishonesty: Elites deride traditional views of marriage, while adhering to them in their own lives
• 10/07/19: European Gloom
• 08/06/19: Again, and Again: On mass shootings and the role of imitation
• 05/06/19: Every Pronoun Must Go: To root out gender inequity, we must search every corner
• 04/15/19: Just Deserts: To deny that some cases have more merit than others is to dehumanize life
• 03/18/19: Theresa May's Lucky Defeat
• 03/11/19: Where 'positive discrimination' keeps a qualified candidate off the police force
• 12/31/18: Because I Say So
• 12/17/18: Enforceable Subjectivity
• 12/06/18: Boiling Over in Paris
• 11/13/18: Psychiatrist, Heal Thyself
• 10/31/18: Rationalizing Ugliness: How the modern intellectual screens reality
• 08/18/18: Spelling That's Right for Moi
• 08/07/18: Any pol who lives by cleanliness dies by dirt
• 02/26/18: 'Steal what you like, but do not flaunt it'?
• 01/29/18: Human Condition Commission
• 12/21/17: O, Brave Old World!
• 11/30/17: Mugabism Without Mugabe
• 11/27/17: Trash Studies
• 10/24/17: The Devil's in the Diction: The vague terms that populate our political discourse encourage lazy and often deeply biased thinking
• 10/17/17: What Happened to Memoirs? An acerbic Gallic take on Hillary Clinton's book
• 10/09/17: The Unanswerable
• 09/26/17: Of Dotards and Dithyrambs: On learning English from the North Koreans
• 09/12/17: Freedom and Art: What paintings from Lenin's Russia and Depression America tell us about turbulent times
• 07/05/17: Rights: Health even for the dying? Or immortality, perhaps?
• 12/28/16: Like a Candle In Berlin: On the curious habits of the spiritual-but-not-religious