How Executive Power Threatens American Democracy
The George W. Bush administration’s ambitious—even breathtaking—claims of unilateral executive authority raised deep concerns among constitutional scholars, civil libertarians, and ordinary citizens alike. But Bush’s attempts to assert his power are only the culmination of a near-thirty-year assault on the basic checks and balances of the U.S. government—a battle waged by presidents of both parties, and one that, as Peter M. Shane warns in Madison’s Nightmare, threatens to utterly subvert the founders’ vision of representative government.
Tracing this tendency back to the first Reagan administration, Shane shows how this era of "aggressive presidentialism" has seen presidents exerting ever more control over nearly every arena of policy, from military affairs and national security to domestic programs. Driven by political ambition and a growing culture of entitlement in the executive branch—and abetted by a complaisant Congress, riven by partisanship—this presidential aggrandizement has too often undermined wise policy making and led to shallow, ideological, and sometimes outright lawless decisions. The solution, Shane argues, will require a multipronged program of reform, including both specific changes in government practice and broader institutional changes aimed at supporting a renewed culture of government accountability.
From the war on science to the mismanaged war on terror, Madison’s Nightmare outlines the disastrous consequences of the unchecked executive—and issues a stern wake-up call to all who care about the fate of our long democratic experiment.
1. Madison’s Nightmare: How the Federal Government Became Unchecked and Unbalanced
2. Checks and Balances in Law and History
3. Iraq and the (Unlearned) Lessons of Vietnam: Presidentialism and the Pathologies of Unilateral Policy Making
4. Presidentialism, National Security, and the Breakdown of Government Lawyering
5. Form over Accountability: Executive Privilege, Signing Statements, and the Illusion of Law
6. The President’s Personal Bureaucracy: Administrative Accountability and the Unitary Executive
7. Recovering the Madisonian Dream: Visions of Democracy, Steps to Reform
"Peter Shane argues that post-1981 presidentialism is the enemy of the kind of deliberative governance that our founders intended. He shows how the Bush Administration's vision of the "unilateral" Presidency—the reductio ad absurdum of presidentialism—not only misinterpreted the Constitution, but failed as a philosophy and strategy of government for meeting the nation's needs. Shane goes well beyond bashing the last Administration, however. He explains how, if our government is to give us real solutions to our hard problems, the members of every Administration, as well as Congress and the judiciary need to re-read the Constitution and take critical steps to reshape our legal culture in order to resuscitate public accountability and the principle of checks and balances. But, first, they need to read this book."
"Since the Obama administration now has czars for cars, information technology, bonuses, financial products, etc., can a book czar be far behind? Well, here's a memo for the inbox of our book czar to-be. It's about a slender volume that I want our new czar to mandate as a 'must-read' for every American from middle school to grad school and way beyond. The book is titled Madison's Nightmare."
“Shane writes deftly to explain constitutional debates . . . in terms comprehensible to lay readers. His analysis of Bush 43’s use of executive privilege, control over regulatory policy making, and presidential signing statements are particularly illuminating. . . . Highly recommended. All readership levels.”
"Shane writes here about the enormous expansion of presidential power and its violation of constitutional principles. In particular, he argues that the rise in presidential power is contrary to the intentions of the framers, who imagined a restrained executive subject to the checks and balances of Congress and the judiciary. In modern history, the author argues, we have seen the rise of an aggressive presidency that too often ignores the will of Congress, which has led to bad decision making and illegal acts. Shane calls this 'presidentialism' and explores this theme throughout the book, giving examples of unrestrained presidential power, such as the Terrorist Surveillance Program of George W. Bush and the conduct of the Iraq War. Although he draws notable examples from the recent Bush administration, Shane is careful to say that many Presidents have been guilty of presidentialism; he traces the concept back to the New Deal and cites Watergate as a notorious instance. Later chapters offer solutions to the problem of expanding presidential power, e.g., election reform and increased access to broadband Internet. Recommended for academic and large public libraries."