Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

June 22, 2009


William Fisher, Public Record - Since the Obama Administration now has czars for cars, information technology, bonuses, financial products, et cetera, can a book czar be far behind?

Well, here's a memo for the inbox of our book czar (or czarina) to-be. It's about a slender volume that I want our new book czar/czarina 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: How Executive Power Threatens American Democracy." Its author is Peter M. Shane, a law professor at Ohio State University.

Understanding why Madison is having nightmares is a tall order for a country where a large majority of citizens is unable to name the three branches of their government. Where we are clueless about separation of powers. And about checks and balances. And where courses we once used to call civics are now landfill in our academic graveyards. . .

Peter Shane writes in compelling non-lawyerish commonsense prose about how ambitious assertions of presidential power are the logical outcome of a decades-long trend that started with Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, continued under Bill Clinton, and culminated most spectacularly under the "unitary executive" doctrine embraced by the George W. Bush administration.

What Shane calls "aggressive presidentialism" has seen presidents of both parties waging an assault on the basic checks and balances of the U.S. government that has diminished the role of the other branches of government - all too often with their supine acquiescence -- and led to ideological, inappropriate, and sometimes downright illegal actions.

Prof. Shane tells us why this trend is giving James Madison such nightmares. He writes: "At the heart of our founders' design for a new republican form of government is a web of political institutions structured to hold each other accountable." One-branch government holds only one branch accountable – and accountable only to itself.

"Time and time again," Shane writes, "it has become evident that presidents, left relatively unchecked by dialogue with and accountability to the other two branches, behave disastrously."

And even those of us who may be historically challenged can see the results of that disastrous behavior in the wreckage that currently litters our constitutional landscape.

"If we want our government to work as the Founders intended, simply electing a new president is not enough: both liberals and conservatives must launch a wide-ranging reform effort that will change all levels of government and support a renewed culture of accountability."


Anonymous Rally 'round the Flag. said...

Trouble is the media is aligned with the imperial presidency cadre because it benefits their elitists oligarchical aims There are persons of widely divergent political views who still see our number one problem as the gutting of the Constitution for temporary political gain, People like Ramsey Clark, Dennis Kuccinich, Ron Paul, and Paul Craig Roberts. These people have something in common. They are people of conscience who believe perhaps naively that their country stands for justice and decency and equal treatment before the law. When you start legislating your personal views as commmandments you might be sending yourself to the gallows if your party drops from power. What is the Becket line from "A Man for All Seasons"? I fear for the man who tries to stand in the hot wind that will blow" ( when the King declares himself to be the law). That is what is happening now: the piss-ant ambitious king is dclaring himself to be the law. The fucking guy who has sworn to uphold the law is saying he's above it . That is clearly treason and violation of the oath of office, not just for the President but for every constitutional officer who hasn't called him on this. Every citizen who hasn't stood up for what he wants his country and his fellow citizens to be should shut up or put up right now before it's too late. Or as Peter Tosh says,"Beat us up and kick us down and put us in jail..."

June 22, 2009 6:27 PM  
Anonymous Mairead said...

Ben Franklin urged his fellow delegates to support the proposed Constitution and the powerful central government it would create even though Franklin made clear that he believed it would degenerate into "despotism, as other forms have done".

That's the same government that Madison said must "protect the minority of the opulent [the wealthy few] against the majority [us]", and that has no proper safeguards built into it at all. It trusts the whole henhouse to the care of the foxes.

June 23, 2009 9:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As the late, great Robert Anton Wilson said, "The Constitution may not be perfect, but it's much better than the system we have now."

June 23, 2009 9:45 AM  

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