November 18, 2012

Review Corner

I enjoyed Gene Healy's "Cult of the Presidency." No doubt my references to it have become tedious over these last four years. But in all the right-left, conservative-libertarian, platonic-aristotelian discussion, I think it underappreciated how many of our freedom issues stem from the removal of Constitutional balance-of-power. If we did not think our presidents the leader of the free world and our dad, they would be far more limited in the rumpus they could cause.

Healy nails this in "Cult." It is an important look at the arrogation of power to the executive and is bipartisan in his disapprobation. The book details a litany of transgressors as we lost the idea of a constitutional magistrate a long time ago, but the book spends most pages thumping one President George W. Bush. I read it after Obama had been elected and laughed under my breath: "Oh. Gene, Gene...buddy you have no idea how much worse things are going to get."

Wishes do come true and the author has released an e-book update to cover the first Obama Administration. False Idol: Barack Obama and the Continuing Cult of the Presidency

Over the last few years, when people asked me if I planned to write another book, I'd demur, joking that I could just update The Cult of the Presidency every four to eight years with details on whatever fresh hell the next president visits on the country. The joke was on me, it seems. When it comes to presidential cults, Barack Obama turned out to be the gift that keeps on giving-- an irresistible opportunity to put Cult's themes in front of a new set of readers.

It remains celebrity and Congressional pusillanimity that gives our President such power -- not parchment.
"In a republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates," Madison wrote in Federalist 51, and he actually worried about whether the president would have sufficient power to resist congressional encroachment.
[..]
Their powers are anything but equal: Congress can remove executive officers, up to and including the president. Congress decides on the structure of the executive branch; it can create or destroy agencies and departments and regulate them through Article I, Section 8' s "sweeping clause." The president has no comparable powers over Congress. There's a reason the Capitol Dome dominates the D.C. landscape, towering over the comparatively modest presidential residence down the street. The capital's design mirrors the constitutional architecture, in which Congress, not the executive, was supposed to be the prime mover in setting national policy.
[...]
"My classes think I am trying to be funny," [Constitutional Professor Charles] Black continued, "when I say that, by simple majorities," Congress could shrink the White House staff to one secretary and that with a two-thirds vote, "Congress could put the White House up at auction." But Professor Black wasn't kidding: Congress has the power to do all that if it so decides. And if Congress can sell the White House, surely it can defund illegal wars and rein in a runaway bureaucracy.

I had hoped that waving the specter of the eeevil George Bush, that I might be able to bring some of my lefty friends into the fold on this. In 2017, maybe I can.

Four stars (just 'cause much of the meat is all in first book) but it is great -- and a deal at $3.49.

Executive Power Review Corner Posted by John Kranz at November 18, 2012 11:28 AM
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