Friday, January 27, 2006


In perpetrating the Watergate affair, Richard Nixon inadvertently performed his greatest service to his country. Thanks to Nixon, the people received an invaluable education concerning their constitutional rights, the criminal justice system, the importance of a free press, and the hypocrisy of many of their leaders. During the Nixon Administration, Congress began to reassert its authority after a long period of dormancy, and the dangerous growth in presidential power was at last arrested. At the very end of his Presidency; Nixon fulfilled his promise to unite the country as never before - with Americans of every political persuasion joining forces to demand his impeachment or resignation.

It is hard to decide which is more amazing in Nixon's handling of Watergate - the President's immorality or his incompetence. Nixon will not only be remembered as the greatest liar in American history, he may also be remembered as the most inept administrator. The antics of Nixon and his palace guard would be simply laughable except that they came so close to achieving their objectives. His efforts to subvert the rights of citizens, spy on his opponents, smear his "enemies," intimidate the press, defy the courts, diminish Congress, and manipulate the FBI, CIA, and IRS all proved - at least partially - temporarily sucessful. As historian Henry Steele Commager put it: "Other things being equal, we haven't had a bad President before now. Mr. Nixon is the 1st dangerous and wicked President."

4 The People's Almanac, David Wallechinsky and Irving Wallace; page 327; published 1974

As Peter Viereck suggested, fascism, if it ever came to America, might take the form of transtolerant nativism, with patriots of all races and religions joining together in attacking the designated hate objects of the regime: intellectuals, homosexuals, political heretics. The racial and theological elements of the new white nativism would be played down, in favor of a transethnic and possibly transracial Americanism defined by narrow political, moral and aesthetic conformity. [...]


An American dictatorship would clothe itself in constitutional and legal forms; it would cultivate an aura of non-partisan technocracy and business expertise, not a feverish cult of the genius-leader and the masses. An American Fuehrer would not rant and strut, but crack jokes and adopt the relaxed, ironic, "cool" style of a television host.

4 The Next American Nation, by Michael Lind; page 251; published by The Free Press 1995

House of Bu$h:
In addition to rewarding old loyalists, dynasties are known - the Stuarts and their retainers somewhat, the Bourbons and their retainers more stereotypically - for forgetting no slight and savoring revenge. [...]


Indeed, the Machiavellian Bush role in the eliminations of Speaker Gingrich and Senator Lott - both replaced with easygoing, collaborative successors - underscored yet another frequent restoration policy: to rebuild executive (royal) perogative and influence at the expense of the legislative branch. Well indexed in both Stuart and Bourbon histories, perogative expresses itself less as a definable program than as a presumption of entitlement, a hallmark of successful reassertion. New assumptions of authority in war making and secrecy and a bent for unilateralism have been to the George W. Bush dynastic presidency what executive privilege and impoundment were to the imperial presidency portrayed by Arthur Schlesinger in 1974.

4 American Dynasty; Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush by Kevin Phillips; page 94; published 2004

Restoration of the Imperial Presidency:
What the Supreme Court has placed on its agenda, in short, is the Imperial Presidency -- that is, the Presidency in which the Executive largely acts alone, pushing the Constitution to the limits and beyond. And how the Justices deal with this overwhelmingly important topic could affect the reelection prospects of the Bush presidency, for, as David Savage notes, at least four of the five rulings are anticipated to be handed down during the summer of 2004 -- right in the middle of the presidential campaign.

The High Court and Nixon's Imperial Presidency

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.'s The Imperial Presidency gave the term its currency. He traces its growth from George Washington to Richard Nixon, showing how a presidency never contemplated by the founders has evolved. As a basis for their authority, presidents typically cited their role as commander-in-chief -- an undefined constitutional term -- and "inherited powers" other presidents had used before them.

After Nixon pushed the presidential powers even further than past presidents had, both the Congress and Supreme Court acted to curtail his activities. In the name of protecting national security, Nixon wanted to be able to wiretap without the approval of a judge. The authority for this power? Before the Court of Appeals, Nixon relied on a vague "historical power of the sovereign to preserve itself" and "the inherent power of the President to safeguard the security of the nation."


In short, at the zenith of the Imperial Presidency era, the Supreme Court consistently ruled in such a way as to pull the presidency back into Constitutional balance with the other branches. Its rulings were wise, for the alternative would have been to allow presidential power to burgeon, at the expense of the balance of power with the Legislative and Judicial branches.

Bush's Imperial Presidency?

Not inaccurately, the Bush presidency has been called imperial, in Schlesinger's sense. The evidence? Its "preemptive" and "preventive" military policy, its contentions that it can go to war regardless of whether Congress approves, its policies calling for American world domination, and its unprecedented blending of national security policy and domestic law enforcement. In my view, these policies and positions not only easily establish the Bush presidency as imperial, they also rank it beyond anything in the annals of the modern American presidency. This may be the most imperial Presidency our history has yet seen.

I've spoken with Arthur Schlesinger about it -- asking him if he thought the Bush presidency fit his description of an imperial presidency. In response, he chuckled, and said, "I'd certainly say this is an imperial presidency."

4 The U.S. Supreme Court and The Imperial Presidency
How President Bush Is Testing the Limits of His Presidential Powers
Friday, Jan. 16, 2004

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