The Imperial Presidency

Thursday, March 02, 2006
One of the claims made against the current administration is that they behave as an Imperial Presidency. The Nation, Salon, NYT, and other media outlets have made this charge as have icons of the left such as Chomsky. Even CATO makes this charge.

I recently had reason to go looking for FDR's famous Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself first inaugural address. I hadn't read or heard it in a very long time and had completely forgotten these remarkable words (emphasis added):

It is to be hoped that the normal balance of executive and legislative authority may be wholly adequate to meet the unprecedented task before us. But it may be that an unprecedented demand and need for undelayed action may call for temporary departure from that normal balance of public procedure.

I am prepared under my constitutional duty to recommend the measures that a stricken nation in the midst of a stricken world may require. These measures, or such other measures as the Congress may build out of its experience and wisdom, I shall seek, within my constitutional authority, to bring to speedy adoption.

But in the event that the Congress shall fail to take one of these two courses, and in the event that the national emergency is still critical, I shall not evade the clear course of duty that will then confront me. I shall ask the Congress for the one remaining instrument to meet the crisis—broad Executive power to wage a war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe.

Has George W. Bush, 43rd President of the United States, ever threatened (or promised, as the case may be) to take over the nation and brush aside Congress?


terrye said...


I have often heard people talk about how "sad" they think it was that the government locked up the Japanese Americans here in the US. But the truth was, that government was FDR and it was not sad, it was an exercise of power.

I have often wondered what kind of rhetoric that action would still be inciting today if the man who hauled off the Japanese had been a Republican.

But then again even FDR can not be compared to Truman, Wilson or Lincoln in temrs of assuming power when they felt it was necessary.

I think that many of Bush's critics are depending on the historical illiteracy of Americans to make it possible for them to create a false impression of Executive power.

Someday Bush will be gone and if the next President is a Democrat he or she will also want certain powers. Count on it. We will have to wait and see if they are referred to as Imperial.

Rick Ballard said...


I've always thought this power grab to be the most illustrative in four time elected President (for life) Roosevelt's not quite but almost Imperial Presidency.


If you want make your head spin, consider that Earl Warren (yes, that Earl Warren) provided the impetus for internment as the Republican Governor of California. I've read several times, although I'm not sure I believe it, that his judgement on many of the issues that came before the SC during his tenure were heavily influenced by the guilt that he felt over proposing and fighting for internment.

Strange, no?

Knucklehead said...

FDR threatened to toss Congress and he tried a coup on the Supreme Court. Yet Bush is an Imperial President while FDR remains a Liberal Icon.

Before he issued his little, not so veiled threat at Congress he said these words:

Our Constitution is so simple and practical that it is possible always to meet extraordinary needs by changes in emphasis and arrangement without loss of essential form. That is why our constitutional system has proved itself the most superbly enduring political mechanism the modern world has produced. It has met every stress of vast expansion of territory, of foreign wars, of bitter internal strife, of world relations.

Which have, again and again, proven true. When circumstances are extraordinary presidents (Terrye notes Lincoln in addition to FDR) step over the line a bit but we seem to always be able to recover.

I just wish that, even once in a great while, the folks screaming about the current president would take some looks at past presidents. FDR is a great place to start when it comes to that. He had to face both the depression and WWII. Much, if not most, of the things he tried to "fix" the depression didn't work. There were false starts and failures galore.

WWII was a mess of ugly tradeoffs, quick fixes and coverups for the sake of the nation. Nothing is perfect and the Hero of the American Left was far from perfect.

And the Presse Ancienne! Here they go again with this blithering idiocy about these lame "Katrina" videos. They will not stop. They are going to attack every chance they get and they don't care whether or not they are lying and will be exposed for it. How's that for a detour?

terrye said...


Yes, it is strange. But truth be told a lot of people thought the Japanese were safer in camps.

Whenever we discuss these things out of the context of their times we can never see all the angles.