Imperial Presidency in the US
Instructions: Based on your reading of The Imperial Presidents, answer one of the following questions.
1. What is meant by the “imperial presidency?” How have historians defined this most important relegation or arrogation of power to the executive branch of government? In your opinion, which president best personified in action and deed this dynamic of executive power?
2. Discuss the evolution of the ideology of liberalism from FDR to Barack Obama? Define liberalism and then discern which president did the most to carry forward such a tradition and consensus. (Presidents to focus on: FDR, LBJ, Clinton, and Obama.)
3. Not all presidents embraced the liberal ethos and thus there was a conservative reaction or backlash to liberalism that, interestingly, initially emanated from the people or the electorate, who, for a variety of reasons, believed liberalism had failed to uplift all citizens equally. Instead, in many peoples’ view by the 1960s, liberal policies and programs had focused on improving the lives of only certain groups, while the majority of middle and working class citizens continued to grind it out without any government assistance. Such perceived favoritism led to a white middle class “backlash” in the late 1960s and the momentary end of the liberal consensus which had governed the nation since the New Deal. What caused such polarization and widespread discontent and alienation among the white middle class by the late 1960s, with many former working class Democrats embracing the conservative ethos as expressed by the Republican Party? Indeed, many historians believe that the election of 1968 marked the end of liberalism and the rise of conservatism in the United States, which down to the present has become the dominant ideology, especially among alienated white working class Americans. Do you agree with that assessment? Indeed, in many ways the rise and apparent popularity among disenfranchised white working class males in particular of such far Right demagogues such as Donald Trump and Ted Cruz within the current Republican Party reflect this sense of angst among many disaffiliated blue collar white folk, evangelicals, and other conservative affinity groups. Explain this “phenomenon.” (Presidents to focus on: LBJ, Nixon, Reagan, and George W. Bush).
4. Based on your careful reading and understanding of the presidencies of Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon, discuss the origins of the Cold War and how each of the presidents listed above handled the Cold War crises and geopolitical exigencies of their respective administrations. In other words, each of these presidents had a series of different challenges in their relations with the Soviet Union and later with China; what were those major confrontations and how did each president deal with that particular “test” to his commitment to the United States’ overall Cold War policy. What were the fundamental tenets of America’s Cold War policy and which of the above presidents was most responsible for laying that foundation?
Imperial Presidency in the US.
- What is meant by the “imperial presidency?” How have historians defined this most important relegation or arrogation of power to the executive branch of government? In your opinion, which president best personified in action and deed this dynamic of executive power?
During the establishment of a new system of the constitution in the US, James Madison and others framers were increasingly concerned with the issue of tyranny. It was thus their intention to ensure an effective division of power across the three branches of government and to ensure that power was not concentrated in one of the branches (Moretta, Phillips, & Luna, 2013, p. 9). Nevertheless, the framers knew that there was a possibility of the citizens being deceived or distracted into surrendering their power. They understood the power that fear could have in pushing the citizens towards surrendering their freedom. As years went by, this notion has been proven to be right by the development of imperial presidency, which involves the president amassing more power than granted by the constitution. Most individuals do not have a clear understanding of the separation of power, whereby they only believe that it is the balance of power among the three branches. In essence, this separation of power was aimed at protecting the rights of individuals as opposed to the popular belief that it was meant to protect institutions (Moretta, Phillips, & Luna, 2013, p. 11). It was intended to prevent the establishment of tyrannical branches and to ensure that none of the branches had sufficient power to offer governance alone.
If a president assumes more power than provided for the position, the people under his or her governorship remain banking on the assurance that he or she will use such unmonitored power wisely (Schlesinger, 2004, p. 189). Despite being warned by the framers of the constitution, most individuals have still embraced unlimited presidential powers, assuming that they will be kept safe by the rising state of security. Among other presidents, President Richard Nixon was greatly associated with establishment of unilateral power. While President Nixon may not have intended to become a Tyrant, he took various unilateral actions that redrew the boundaries of the separation of power in the US constitutional system. As much as Nixon did not make major accomplishments in his quest to establish imperial presidency, he embraced various unilateral actions without referring to the bounds created by the constitution. Indeed, the articles that propagated President Nixon’s impeachment and resignation later were mainly based on his claim of unchecked powers (Schlesinger, 2004, p. 191).
One of the areas that defined Nixon’s imperial presidency involved his push for warrantless surveillance, which resulted in the establishment of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (Moretta, Phillips, & Luna, 2013, p. 156). Nixon was said to abuse the rights individuals by pushing for the surveillance of any member of the public on demand. In addition, President Nixon also eluded the sole authority of the Congress to declare war when he invaded Cambodia without the approval of the Congress. Nixon’s position on war converted the part of section 8 of the US constitution that places the power to declare war under the Congress into the president’s discretionary power. Another part of Nixon that turned him into an imperial president was his push for the president’s exclusive power to manipulate evidence when he asked a burglary to use any possible methods to establish evidence against Daniel Ellsberg. Ellsberg was accused of leaking Pentagon Papers. Nixon was also well known for his attacks against whistleblowers and reporters. In Ellsberg’s case, the President referred to the Espionage Act of 1917 and established an uncommon criminal case (Schlesinger, 2004, p. 379). Last but not least, Nixon was known to mislead and obstruct congressional investigators on various occasions.
Nevertheless, Nixon has not been the only president
in the history of the US to exercise imperial power, with other presidents such
as Franklin Roosevelt, Andrew Jackson and Barrack Obama showing the same
Moretta, J., Phillips, M., & Luna, C. J. (2013). Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama. New York: Abigail Press.
Schlesinger, A. M. (2004). The Imperial Presidency. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.