Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Republicans in the House and White House

In a typically ahistorical fashion, this WaPo article portrays as sinister efforts in the House to strengthen the body’s leadership and in the White House to gain effective control over the federal bureaucracy. Here’s the most over-the-top line:

Bush created a top-down system in the White House much like the one his colleagues have in Congress. He has constructed what many scholars said amounts to a virtual oligarchy with Cheney, Karl Rove, Andrew H. Card Jr., Joshua Bolton, himself and only a few others setting policy, while he looks to Congress and the agencies mostly to promote and institute his policies.

Anyone who had more than a nodding familiarity with the scholarly literature on Congressional leadership or on the President’s efforts over the years to live up to his Constitutional responsibility to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed" would take a more nuanced and much less partisan view of these developments. Such an observer would understand, for example, the difficulties faced by House leaders in much of the 20th century and recognize that the realistic alternative to the current situation are either the Congress where committees were the personal preserves of their chairs or the Congress where individuals were so "empowered" that almost everyone had a tiny bit of turf to call his or her own. The latter is not democracy, it’s decentralized chaos. A non-partisan observer would also know that Congressional leadership of the sort described in the article actually exists only at the sufferance of the majority of the majority party. The current House "regime" serves the electoral and policy interests of the Republican rank-and-file, just as any House controlled by the Democrats would serve the electoral and policy interests of the Democratic rank-and-file.

On the Bush Administration’s approach to the use of executive power, I can’t improve upon this book, which I reviewed here (the third review). Here are the first two paragraphs of my review:

Like many of its modern predecessors, the Bush administration has been evaluated, in roughly the middle of its term, by a group of distinguished scholars, whose essays have been collected in this volume. Readers whose acquaintance with George W. Bush comes largely through press reports and other political commentary might be surprised by some of the conclusions.

For example, John P. Burke paints a picture of a thoughtful, well-considered transition from campaigning to governing, despite the extraordinary circumstances of the election’s aftermath. The Bush administration, others note, assembled a much more experienced and disciplined team than did its immediate predecessor. The result was an exceptionally focused and politically successful ’first hundred days’.

Political scientists who don’t let party get in the way of professional judgment would take a somewhat different view tha the authors of the article. (I am not, by the way, accusing the distinguished scholars quoted in the article of doing so. I suspect that their remarks to the reporters were massaged to fit a predetermined story line.)

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