The Rise Of The Imperial Presidency

The Rise Of The Imperial Presidency


%uh Arthur schlesinger junior in his book the
imperial presidency says that %uh i don’t remember the the exact quote but it’s something to the effect
that the story of the growth of the presidency is as much a story of congressional abdication
as it is of power-hungry executives and so you do see particularly in the area
of war there is %uh a repeated phenomenon where congress
punts to the president because they don’t %uh they don’t want the responsibility
that the constitution gives them the %uh as a I point out in the book i’m certainly
not the first person to make this point but %uh the authorization that we got for the iraq
war in october two thousand and two is structured almost the exact same way as
the authorization for the vietnam war in the gulf of tonkin resolution in that it doesn’t it doesn’t have the %uh the directness of say a formal declaration
of war that says okay we’re going to war what both the gulf of tonkin resolution
and the october two thousand and two resolution do is they say you know the president has all the power to use
all necessary appropriate force should he decide that %uh that that he wants to %uh and in each case it was several months
after the passage of the resolution before the war ramped up now one of the reasons congress does that is because
congress %uh it’s very advantageous for %uh %uh for any
individual congressman or senator to be able to %uh to give the decision to the president and hedge their bets if the war goes well they take credit %uh if the %uh if the war goes badly they blame him they’re
not they’re not implicated in the decision so you actually have you know people who can say they were sort
of for it before they were against it and they they they they can’t %uh that you know and you saw the couple you saw
the %uh hillary clinton has said that she wasn’t
voting even though she voted for that %uh resolution to give the power of the president to go to war she she says she
voted so he could be a better negotiator or something kerry said the same thing right and i think that as you said at lunch and that all of us new
at the time this was a authorization more than an authorization this was a decision
go fight but we’re putting it the last the last analysis we’re putting it in your
hands by the way junior you are quite right the same thing happened in tonkin %uh and it took months in the before the and afterwards the %uh congress got angry and said we
were never authorizing war well their intent may not have been to authorize a wide-scale
war but when you read the words absolutely when you read the words that was %uh that
was a lot different basically the presidency as you describe it and as i
think all historians would agree with you by almost by
in large maybe except for certain things jackson did for one for the louisiana purchase with
jefferson but by in large up until lincoln and the civil war the presidency was not the policy-making branch of this government is that correct yeah i mean there is as you point out
there are debates about this about when the %ah the so-called modern presidency really %uh
came about there are certainly hints of what the office was going to become in the nineteenth century %uh in jackson’s
claim to be a tribune of the people in Lincoln’s %uh vigorous exercise of war powers during
the civil war but initially the the the office as the office was designed
to be it had a more modest role particularly in legislation %uh you know there’re several occasions it sounds weird to
read these things today but %uh where washington writes a private letter
saying you know he he felt a little sheepish about making policy recommendations to congress
and he didn’t want to %uh to to make it sound like a tone of commands the state of the union address %uh you know the first two presidents %uh delivered it in person before congress jefferson said that this is like a speech
from the throne and he thought this was not consistent with %uh you know small r republican principles and so he had it messengered over and that that tradition held for a hundred
and twelve years i believe until woodrow wilson %uh who had a very different idea of what
the presidency should be changed it and began delivering it in public
and then you see it %uh it goes over the radio it becomes
in the truman administration it goes out on t_v_ for the first time l_b_j_ moves it to prime time and so now you
have the %uh the speech the as we know it today which
you know everybody %uh gets up and claps %uh you know every
ten seconds in the speech and it’s a laundry list of policy commands %uh well this is this is very inconsistent
with the the president’s initial role the president was not supposed to be %um a populist leader who would issue uh policy commands to the legislative body the
president’s role was really for the founders much more of a defensive role not only in foreign affairs
where he had the power to repel sudden attacks %uh but also in domestic affairs he was %uh congress was supposed to be the %uh the real %uh locus of action the president was %uh was sort of a goal keeper
the veto was %uh %uh it was there so that he could %uh check
congress when it tried to do anything to rash or when it transgressed its constitutional balance but
it was never supposed to be the figure that everyone looks to to %uh to
solve whatever the problem of the week is

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