Talk:Dana D. Nelson
From Citizendium, the Citizens' Compendium
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Presidentialism and unitary executive theory
I have tended to think of these as the same thing, but they are distinguished as separate ideas here. What are the differences? Serious question! Howard C. Berkowitz 05:31, 23 March 2010 (UTC)
- Nelson uses the term presidentialism in her book Bad for Democracy to describe a phenomenon in America akin to presidential worship by the public. People expect the president to solve all problems; people are willing to vest huge authority with this office. As a result, the public feels that it doesn't have to do what DDN describes as the "heavy lifting of democracy" namely, attending public meetings, staying informed about politics, participating, following events in Congress etc. The public remains aloof; all it does is vote for president every four years -- poof, problem solved -- and then it expects the president to (1) figure out foreign policy (2) keep people safe (3) balance the budget (4) manage the economy etc etc. Like, CNN commentator Jack Cafferty once in his book said he expects the president to "be our Daddy". What happens is no one person, of course, can solve all these problems, and as a result, the public is quickly disillusioned when things don't go swimmingly. There was a book similar to DDN's with pretty much the same theme, but from a different angle (title escapes me now -- but I think I reviewed it on Amazon). What happened was most likely that both writers -- DDN and the other one (name eludes me sorry) -- both looked at Bush II and it was like the curtain being ripped away from the Wizard of Oz. And they could see through the presidential aura.--Thomas Wright Sulcer 11:03, 23 March 2010 (UTC)
- Unitary executive theory is, in contrast, an attitude by the executive administration (ie not Congress) that the president should have full and sweeping power to run the nation, including perhaps micro-managing details. The president needs this power to do the job properly (according to this theory) and it benefits the nation. All the checks and balances stuff that the Framers wanted are time-wasting distractions, according to this view. Benjamin Ginsberg and others criticize this increasing move towards a unitary executive, and described administration efforts to coordinate all funding, and set priorities, of the vast federal bureaucracy as part of a move towards a unitary executive. As you know, federal agencies like the EPA make thousands of rulings -- and this is a form of regulation not directly subject to Congressional control or oversight. And efforts to coordinate and prioritize decisions by the bureaucracy were seen as ways to more firmly put the president in control of the government. There is some concern that this is a long term direction (ie increased executive authority at the expense of Congress). Nelson saw a tendency beginning with the Reagan administration (under which the huge non-wartime budget deficits soared), but that movements towards increased presidential power were most pronounced during the Bush II years. It's marked by actions such as signing statements which is an assumed unconstitutional power to, in effect, say how the president understands a given piece of legislation and whether the president will enforce it in a certain manner. Critics of signing statements are many (including the American Bar Assoc) and assert that it's an unconstitutional power grab by the executive. Signing statements are a recent phenomenon beginning with Reagan I think, but being extensively used by Clinton and particularly Bush II.--Thomas Wright Sulcer 11:03, 23 March 2010 (UTC)
- As background for unitary executive theory, prerogative power goes back into Britain. As you'll see in the unitary executive theory article, the issue, not named that, goes back to the Federalist Papers and the Constitutional framing. The history of signing statements is discussed there, and it sounds like Nelson is oversimplifying — yes, it was most intense under Bush II, but they are part of a broader issue of (especially) wartime Presidential authority. There was an extensive Justice Department opinion in the Clinton Administration.
- Thinking of your term of the "thicket" of ideas, I think we have to be careful, in writing about individuals, not to present their opinion, on controversial matters, as definitive. Presidentialism is used, by other authors, simply to refer to a non-Parliamentary system. I haven't read Nelson's books, but, from your lede, I wonder if she is sometimes more of an activist and advocate than a legal analyst. At the least, it would be useful to check her usage against more general analyses of Presidential functions, such as Rossiter's The American Presidency. Howard C. Berkowitz 13:26, 23 March 2010 (UTC)
- I don't think I presented DDN's opinion as definitive but rather presented it as her understanding of the term of presidentialism. It's fair game for persons to pick a term and give it a spin; many great thinkers have done this. Discussion of different senses of the term belongs in an article about presidentialism. There are different senses. If I write or add to an article about presidentialism I would normally do that. On another article about David Sirota, Sirota emailed me claiming to have coined a particular term -- I checked, but found the term had been used much earlier, but in an entirely different sense; so I included discussion about usage of the term (including references to the earlier sense) in the WP article I wrote about him.--Thomas Wright Sulcer 13:59, 23 March 2010 (UTC)
- About activism -- I think we're ALL activists of one sort or another, including you, even if perhaps you don't think of yourself as such. We all have biases, beliefs, ideas, convictions. So I can't fault anybody for being an activist. Writing on Citizendium -- that's being an activist, whether we'll admit it or not. We're actively doing something, actively expressing a point of view, pushing an agenda. One agenda I'm pushing is this: that information is good for people, that sharing stuff is smart, including knowledge and views and thinking. In a similar way, one agenda I think you're pushing is: legal analysts have more credible views than activists. One agenda I'd like to share with you is this one which I think everybody agrees with: ready? It's this: none of us knows anything for sure. One problem which I think Wikipedia doesn't understand, that I think is better understood here at Citizendium, namely, that there is no such thing ultimately as a "neutral point of view", but rather, only differing views, although some are clearly more "mainstream" than others.--Thomas Wright Sulcer 13:59, 23 March 2010 (UTC)
- I'm not sure I'd accept that as the general formulation. Let me, however, rephrase. Some activists are precise. Some are not. "Activist" may not even be the right term for Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, depending on if you consider them commercial opportunists, but there is a constant redefining of terms. Bill O'Reilly, in my opinion, stretches and exaggerates, but, if one listens carefully, he is often nuanced about generic "socialism" as opposed to specific people trying to drive the US into socialism. Occasionally, he even speaks of European-style social democracy as distinct from economic socialism.
- Going back to the Vietnam and New Left days, I had the opportunity to interview several members of the Chicago Seven. Now, on a podium, anything could be said, but there was an enormous difference in a one-to-one discussion between David Dellinger and Jerry Rubin. While I disagreed with Dellinger on many things, ironically, I found him more precise — again in calm discussion — than Noam Chomsky today. (I've never met Chomsky, just read him, but a linguist should, in my opinion, use words much more precisely). Personally, I despise Dick Cheney, but I hope I've reasonably presented his view of the Constitution and unitary authority, and then given counterarguments. --Howard C. Berkowitz 14:26, 23 March 2010 (UTC)
- And what did Uncle Dick ever do to get on your bad side!? (you realise he probably is monitoring this site right now, quickly say something nice) ;) Chris Day 14:51, 23 March 2010 (UTC)