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Presidential Power Grab
The current administration's traces back to the Nixon years. Charlie Savage, author of the new book, Takeover: The Return of the Imperial Presidency and the Subversion of American Democracy, digs into Dick Cheney's past:

I kept asking the question why. What was driving Dick Cheney and the other “presidentialists” who were so relentlessly and systematically pushing this agenda, about which they had said nothing to voters when campaigning for the office? Where was this coming from? This question took me to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, where the National Archives houses a bookcase full of documents in gray boxes titled “RICHARD CHENEY FILES.” From that pile of memos, written when a 33-year-old Cheney had become the youngest White House chief of staff in history, the answers emerged. Day upon day in the Ford White House, after Watergate and Vietnam had brought Nixon’s “imperial presidency” crashing down, Dick Cheney had confronted a Congress that was determined to re-impose constitutional controls on White House power. He was outraged. It felt like a siege – a siege that would weaken the commander-in-chief, and hence America. He and those who felt like him, abandoning the traditional conservative suspicion of concentrated government power, would spend the next 30 years working to roll back the changes of the 1970s and restore presidential power to the inflated levels it had briefly reached under Nixon.

It was clear that the signing statements story, as amazing as it was, was in fact just the proverbial tip of the iceberg – one tactic among many toward achieving a hidden agenda 30 years in the making. To explain what has happened to executive power over the last seven years, and where all this came from, I needed to write a book. It is one thing to report, in an 800-word newspaper story, that the administration has expanded secrecy and tightened its control over the flow of information to Congress and the public, and it is another thing to demonstrate how this has happened on a dramatic scale by taking a full chapter to examine dozens upon dozens of ways that this has happened, a steady accumulation that is staggering when piled atop one another. It is one thing to report that the Bush legal team advanced a controversial view of executive power, and it is another to tell the full story of players such as John Yoo, Jack Goldsmith, Alberto Gonzales, and David Addington, in narrative form, and to take the time to explain to non-lawyers in plain English what their theories are all about. It is one thing to give a headline, and another to tell a story.

The working title of the book was “The Cheney Project.” The title changed, but the final book closely follows that framework. The book leave gave me the time to gather and organize an enormous amount of additional research and interviews to demonstrate what has been happening. Early responses have been flattering. The San Francisco Chronicle called the book “a masterful work of investigative journalism” and the conservative columnist George F. Will described the book as “meticulous reporting and lucid explanations of audacious theories invented to justify novel presidential powers.”

One final opening thought: I want to emphasize that I do not think that presidential power is a partisan issue. Although we are having this discussion in the context of a Republican administration, we have had Democratic presidents in the past and we will have them again in the future. These future Democratic presidents will be able to invoke the same novel powers that the Bush administration has pioneered in order to unilaterally impose their own agendas. Thus, preserving the Founders’ system of checks and balances is in the long-term interest of all Americans, regardless of their party affiliation or policy preferences. Despite its aggressive title, it was very important to me in writing this book to maintain a detached tone in “Takeover” and to let the facts quietly speak for themselves. I knew I had succeeded when well-known conservatives such as George Will, Richard Epstein, Mickey Edwards, and others endorsed the book, along with John Dean, Larry Tribe, Harold Koh, and Norman Ornstein.

Whatever your politics, I hope that you, too, find the book both enjoyable to read and valuable as a guide to understanding better what has been happening beneath the headlines in recent years – and its implications for the future of American democracy.

via Romenesko

Posted by aalkon at September 12, 2007 9:04 AM

Comments

Maybe the next "Takeover" book can be about the rise of lawyers and the judicial branch of government to become the real center of power in this country.

Posted by: doombuggy at September 12, 2007 5:30 AM

It truly does look like an interesting read. But for all his assurances of purely non-partisan interest, I bet this book will fill the discount bins after Hillary raises her hand in '09.

Posted by: martin at September 12, 2007 11:45 AM

"He and those who felt like him... would spend the next 30 years working to roll back the changes of the 1970s and restore presidential power to the inflated levels it had briefly reached under Nixon."

How about under FDR? That seemed like a pretty heady time for the Executive branch.

I get a little suspicious of those who start out by saying, "so-and-so has lots and lots of power, but..."

I'm not so sure the Presidency is so all powerful as Charlie Savage would have us believe. There is still the Press, and Congress has to vote on the funding. If the Executive is becoming more powerful, it is partly because people are clamoring for more government, more nanny state, more bail outs.

Posted by: doombuggy at September 12, 2007 2:56 PM

If the Executive is becoming more powerful, it is partly because people are clamoring for more government, more nanny state, more bail outs.

I disagree with this point, because it's really congress that does the bailout stuff (though the President does the moral nanny-state issues).

I think the extension of the executive's reach is more due to:

1) People were scared following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and naturally turned to the president in a time of duress

2) The president had an unusually compliant congress which abdicated a lot of its oversight responsibilities, partially because of point #1 and partially because it gave their leadership the chance to stick it to their very weak opposition (which didn't want to oppose the president much because of point #1)

and

3) The president and his team (i.e., people like Cheney, Yoo, and Gonzales) subscribe to a very broad interpretation of executive power and got away with it for a long time largely because of point #1

As doombuggy points out w/r/t FDR, a war president gets lots of latitude. But there are limits (thank you founding fathers and American skepticism). The big concern for me is that fixing what I believe to be overreach will take a long time. People get used to stuff, and then they stop questioning it as vigorously as they should.

Those who are sanguine about Bush's reach into untrammeled executive authority (w/r/t e.g., wiretapping), though, should consider their how they'd feel if it were president HRC with that authority. Savage's point about this not being a partisan issue is right. We need these checks and balances.

Posted by: justin case at September 12, 2007 7:32 PM

(Mickey Edwards is a former GOP congressman from Oklahoma. Anthony Romero is executive director of the ACLU.)

...MICKEY EDWARDS: Oh, well, you know, it-- all of the things that George Bush is doing and all of the things that conservatives in Congress have been supporting him on are things that conservatives like me fought against. That's why we became conservatives because we thought it was people like Tony who were gonna do stuff like that. You know, it turns out, you know, it's our people who are doing it.

ANTHONY ROMERO: And I think that's exactly right. I think part of the concern here is about a neutral set of rules that apply to the executive branches of government regardless of who is in power. And I think some of the conservatives and some of the Republicans would be quite concerned, Bill, if you have a Hillary Clinton or a Barack Obama with exactly the same powers when they are president as now George Bush-- ascribes to himself.

BILL MOYERS: But the president and his men do argue that this is war and "I am the commander-in-chief. I have this power implicit or inherent in the Constitution as the commander-in-chief."

ANTHONY ROMERO: But that's the most dangerous part of what's I think the philosophical change coming out of Washington is this idea that you-- you deposit this much greater power in the executive branch. This idea of the unitary executive. This idea of the suped up, hypermuscular executive branch, which is not a co-equal branch of government to the judiciary or to the legislature.

MICKEY EDWARDS: He is not the head of government. He is head of one branch. He is not the head of the branch of government that has the power to declare war. He is not the head of the branch of government that has the power to take care of even decisions about what to do with prisoners of war. That in the constitution belongs to the Congress. You know, the Congress makes the laws. And-- and what we have here is a presidency, you know, that is seeking to change the entire system of government we have in order to accrue more power into the hands of the few individuals and say, you know, it's none of your business. You know, even though the Congress, you know, the lawmaking branch is supposed to represent the voice of the American people, we're not gonna tell you anything. You create a new bill, you tell a federal agency to do this and file a reports with the Congress, we're gonna say we don't have to...

Link: http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/09072007/transcript4.html

Posted by: Doobie at September 13, 2007 2:26 AM

"2) The president had an unusually compliant congress which abdicated a lot of its oversight responsibilities, partially because of point #1 and partially because it gave their leadership the chance to stick it to their very weak opposition (which didn't want to oppose the president much because of point #1)"

True enough, but I think Congress had become a weaker institution prior to 9/11, what with all the pork grabbing, and kowtowing to interest groups.

Posted by: doombuggy at September 13, 2007 5:51 AM

Congress had become a weaker institution prior to 9/11, what with all the pork grabbing, and kowtowing to interest groups.

True. How many people admire their congresscritters? (I got Pelosi, Boxer, and Feinstein. I sometimes think the latter is right).

Posted by: justin case at September 13, 2007 5:56 AM

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