The founders of the American state understood the need for an executive branch, an office entrusted to the care for day-to-day administration of government and to provide continuity in public policy. ... read more
The founders of the American state understood the need for an executive branch, an office entrusted to the care for day-to-day administration of government and to provide continuity in public policy. But they also feared tyranny. Consequently, they hemmed the President in--so they believed--with legal and institutional restraints. For a time these constitutional restrictions on executive power worked rather well, but the eighteenth century realities of politics gave way to different truths by the twentieth century. The United States became a world power, both politically and economically. Domestic programs grew in response to the Great Depression, and a national security establishment materialized in reaction to World War II. It mushroomed during the Cold War, abated somewhat during the 1990s but then experienced a new growth spurt following 9/11/2001.
Consequently, an administrative state developed with the Presidency at its head, challenging the prerogatives belonging to Congress, the courts, the state governments, and even the people themselves. The advent of television further transformed the office and forged new problems. Today, Presidents don't so much respond to public opinion as much as they try to manage it through their domination of the news.
Thus, when we study the American Presidency, questions of leadership and democracy press upon us. There is an office which is rhetorically committed to the ideals of the democratic tradition, but at the same time the office has become so institutionally powerful that on a pragmatic plane it no longer responds to the values contained in that tradition. Is the Presidency so institutionally imposing that it overwhelms the Presidents we have entrusted to manage it and thwarts democratic impulses? Can we, therefore, expect truly democratic leadership to come from the Presidency? These and other questions will direct our study over the next weeks close