Analysis and Explication: Presidential Power

In chapter nine “Presidential Power,” Fineman widely discussed about the presidents of the United States and their use of the presidential power. He did some compare and contrast in between them. There are presidents who used their leadership and power for the greater good of the people of this nation and there are also some presidents who used their presidential power as they thought it was necessary without thinking about the consequences of their taken actions. The power of a president is one of the most debatable questions in this modern world. The constitution explains about the presidential power in section one, two and three. But it is remarkably unclear and a short description to understand that how powerful actually a president is. The executive power gives a president access to some certain powers that sometimes violate the constitution. The vague definition of the presidential power gives presidents opportunity to dominate their political leadership on virtually all national issues.

Fineman started his discussion by providing information about President Carter and President Nixon. Carter was a Democrat, used his presidential power and showed his leadership during his term. Most of the people believed him as a weak leader and promising president more than a strong and directive leader since his declaration of “I will never lie to you (the people of the United States)” (p.160). The speeches he gave to the people and the way of his appearances in public made people to believe in that. The reputation and the trust of his presidency compromised when he dispatched a daring secret rescue mission to save fifty – two American diplomats hostage in Iran and failed to accomplish the mission (p.161). The secrecy of his misuse of administration came out after that and it happened before his reelection. Carter tried to save those innocent people but the failure of this kind of serious attempt made an unworthy president to the people. As Fineman asserts that presidential leadership dominates public discourse (p. 163) because people in this nation never interested in kings or dictators. People do not want someone powerful who takes their freedom and makes their life miserable. This is why people want a leader who can lead them and protect them from any king of war or battle. George Washington is the best example for that (p. 163).

Then it comes to the President Richard Nixon who is well known as the ultimate imperial president (p.159). He and his administration made a lot of decision without letting the Congress know and failed in some of them. His involvance in Watergate scandal made him a narrow minded president ever. He did a lot of progressive thing in his term, but people only remember the worse part of a president, not the best part. The using of presidential power started from the first President George Washington. He became the Commander-In-Chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War (p.163). This flow continued to the Abraham Lincoln while he was commanding in the Civil War. Almost every President used their presidential power as it was needed. Sometime they felt to share with congress but most of time they took the steps without the authority of the Congress.

Presidential power creates a real problem which is completely contrary to what the founders envisioned about presidents. The founders thought that presidential power will remain simple with the proper implication of checks and balances of three branches of the government. The concept of the president was created with some limited powers such as defend the nation and execute the law. But the power of being the commander in chief of the Army and Navy makes presidents think more powerful to take any action especially when it is about wartime or protecting the nation from outside attack or any kind of potential terrorist attack. But the founders limit this power of presidents by giving congress the power of declaring war. But in reality, presidential power dominates congress’s war declaring power. Starting from Washington to Bush, their war making decisions were totally opposite to the constitution. And that is what the founders were feared about.

War is perhaps the biggest factor that explains how and why presidential power has expanded (p. 167). Back to the civil war, Lincoln secretly suspended the writ in Maryland without knowing Congress, freeing military officers to make arrests of American citizens (p. 168). It was a power of the congress to suspend a writ not a power of the president. But Lincoln did not worry about breaking the law and lately he explained that he did it to protect the nation as well as protect the constitution. These types of exercises of presidential power continue throughout to George W. Bush while he used the same concept that Lincoln used almost 150 years ago. Besides war, great depression gave huge boost to presidential leadership (p. 169). In that time, the nation needed a new kind of domestic-economic president and commander in chief as Franklin D. Roosevelt who helped the people of the nation to regain their faith in themselves.

Things have changed after the terrorist attack on 9/11. The president on that time, George W. Bush seemed to call all the shots. He started an international military campaign which is called “War on Terror” to prevent terrorist activity on foreign soil (p. 164). He used the most presidential power in his term and took so many aggressive attempts that most of them were denied by high court. Most notably he greatly expanded the meaning and reach of “Commander in Chief” (p. 175). Bush and his lawyers attempted to assert the presidential power in startling ways such as they said “the president had the power under the Constitution to imprison without charges American citizens captured taking part in terrorist actions on foreign soil” (p. 176). Bush claimed for the authority to secretly wiretap and monitor overseas calls. Once again he was denied by the Supreme Court. Media and public criticized him for his actions and footsteps on war powers.

Washington to Lincoln and Carter to Bush’s presidency raises a lot of questions those still remain unanswered. The most important question is about the limitation of the power of the presidency in the twenty first century (p.177) where the current president is Barak Obama. Republicans say that Obama administration abused the executive power by providing executive orders for Obamacare, immigration and the environment. One of the republican house members said that “The Constitution gives Congress the responsibility to write the laws and the executive to enforce them, we don’t pass suggestions. We don’t pass ideas. We pass laws”. Another member added that “the president’s dangerous search for expanded powers appears to be endless”. As Obama explicitly said that he will find the path to defend the Congressional obstacles in the absence of Congressional action. In the meantime, scholars divide in two parts on whether the president Obama is using executive power accurately or not. Some of them are saying that Obama’s Presidency is increasingly lawless and Obama’s power grabs set a dangerous precedent. On the other hand some of them are saying that the framers wanted a strong president. At last we can conclude at some points that Fineman’s analysis is true for Presedent Obama.





Work Cited

Fineman, Howard.  “The Thirteen American Arguments. Chapter Nine: Presidential Power.”  New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2009.  159/ 160/ 161/ 163/ 164/ 167/ 168/ 169/ 175/ 176/ 177.  Print.

U.S. News.  “Is President Obama Abusing Executive Power?”  Web.  12 October 2014.


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