Monday, January 31, 2011

The Bush Administration and the Imperial Presidency

FDL had a book salon event this past weekend to discuss The Presidency of George W. Bush: A First Historical Assessment (2010), edited by Julian Zelizer. Zelizer participated and wrote the introductory post. Speaking of himself in the third person, he summarizes his broad view of the Cheney-Bush Administration:

In the area of national security, the administration systematically expanded the power of the executive branch to deploy military forces abroad and implement related programs such as domestic surveillance, part of a deliberate drive to recreate the pre-Watergate “imperial presidency” of the Nixon era. And in electoral politics, Bush and his adviser Karl Rove adopted the goal of assembling a permanent Republican majority that would equal the strength of the New Deal coalition energized by Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s—based on an unstable approach that sometimes operated through “big-tent” tactics but more often reflected ideologically divisive appeals to the conservative base.

In the book’s second chapter, Zelizer demonstrates that, despite the antigovernment rhetoric of the conservative movement, the expansion and centralization of power in the executive branch is a major legacy of conservative governance from Nixon and Reagan through Bush. Key policymakers in the Bush administration, including Vice-President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, worked to restore presidential prerogatives that the Democratic Congress had weakened in the wake of Vietnam and Watergate. During the 1970s, Congress sought to restrict the autonomy of the White House through reforms such as the War Powers Act, the Church Committee’s exposure of the CIA’s extralegal activities, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (requiring warrants for domestic wiretaps), and the independent counsel statute. [my emphasis]
And he notes the authoritarian trend in Republican Party conservatism: "'The war on terrorism,' Zelizer concludes, 'has highlighted the reality that presidential power is integral, rather than aberrational, to modern conservatism.'" (my emphasis)

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