To begin, an anecdote that many are sure to recall and relate to is presented: as the United States found itself in a war, the likes of which it had never seen before, the President found himself at a crossroads of policy, power and the consequences of his actions, for whatever course he took, there would be political fallout. All of his advisors had something to offer, and of course, his critics and political enemies all stood ready to witness his downfall should he falter in his resolve or fail in his judgment.
Ultimately, the President took full advantage of his powers- granted and implied- and set forth with his course of action, touching off a firestorm of disputes over the level of power he actually possesses, how much input such governmental bodies as the US Congress has in times of presidential posturing, and the like. The scenario presented sounds as if it could have been torn from the current headlines, as President George W.
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Bush is engulfed in controversy and opposition for his exercise of power in the midst of the modern war on terrorism, but a quick glance backward into the annals of history shows that this same scenario, albeit with some differences in circumstance here and there, could apply to Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II, and certainly could apply to any number of other presidents.
The point to be made is that the increase and exercise of presidential power is one of the most critical issues and points of contention in American politics. Even in light of past (and present) poor decision making on the part of American Presidents, and the scandals that have rocked the presidency to its core in the past, every indication is that presidential power will only continue to grow as the 21st century unfolds and the complexity of the American political system grows (Shafritz, Weinberg).
In this research, the different conceptions of the proper role of the President in the American political system will be presented and discussed, with an ultimate goal of tracing the rise of the modern presidency, when/why the President became so powerful, why this power has endured, and whether or not the researcher favors and alternative, as well as the advantages/disadvantages of such powerful leadership. The Rise of the Modern American Presidency As this paper began, an anecdote was presented that in fact applies to every generation of presidential leadership in America.
The existence of such power begs the first question of when this power first began to emerge. By design, the presidency of the United States was constitutionally intended to be of course an executive leadership role that was ultimately independent of the Congress that was also originated by the same Constitutional mandates (Lowi, et al). Therefore, from the beginning of the US itself, the President was placed in the position whereby he would have assert the powers of the presidency if he were to be able to gain/sustain any sort of assertive power during his years as chief executive.
Throughout American history, there have been examples of passive and aggressive, weak and strong presidents, all because of their ability-or lack of ability- to successfully establish a power base within their administration. This power base can be gathered through a variety of means, such as the assembly of a powerful cabinet of advisors who in themselves possess the fortitude and connections to make their boss a more formidable chief executive, through holding the favor of Congress, such as when Congress is controlled by the political party of the president in question, or through his own cunning, skills or outright deception.
Whatever the case may be the net effect over the past two centuries plus has been that the presidency has risen to a pinnacle of varying degrees of power, depending upon the person holding the office. When/Why the American President Gained Such Power The power that the President has the option of exercising or relaxing, according to most sources, has its modern roots in a specific administration and period of American history.
The President was FD Roosevelt, and the time was immediately upon his assumption of office in 1932, through World War II, and up to the time of Roosevelt’s death in office in 1945 (Shafritz, Weinberg). In fact, the precedent that Roosevelt set with his administration seemed, in retrospect, to have taken the presidency to a new level of modern power. There are a few possible reasons for this. One reason that is frequently cited by many historians is the dawn of the development of the nuclear weapon- often called the dawn of the Atomic Age.
With the existence of technology that could literally destroy the planet in a matter of moments put forth an interesting dynamic for the political landscape of America- first, although it was a highly guarded secret at the time, prior to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan in 1945, the corridors of American presidential power undoubtedly came to the realization that they not only had an awesome responsibility to wield nuclear weapons in a careful manner, but also that there were likely other powerful nations, such as the USSR, who also held in their possession nuclear weapons that could likewise destroy the planet as we know it.
Therefore, the American President became not only in a sense the judge, jury and executioner for the nation and the rest of the world, but also a sort of protector for all of the peaceful people of the world. From that point forward, international relations, technology and the deterioration of the state of peace in the world has galvanized the power of the American President.
Why the Power Endures The endurance of the power of the President of the United States, it now appears, is essential to endure because of the dangers that lurk in the nations of the world, making it necessary for the American President to be a sort of watchdog for the entire planet. Additionally, there are other, more transparent but nonetheless significant reasons why presidential power endures.
Whether anyone would care to admit it or not, the President of the United States is in many cases kept as a powerful individual due to the fact that the major political parties of America use the presidency as a central source of influence and clout for their party when a President from their particular party holds the office; therefore, it is of mutual benefit for the President and his party to work to support each other, and a key ingredient that is needed to make the coalition work is the gathering and retention of power.
Elected officials likewise will help to make the President more powerful in exchange for his support in their political activities and aspirations. Literally, it must also be acknowledged that the President of the United States is explicitly granted certain powers by the US Constitution (Lowi, et al). Some of these-what are known as expressed powers- are somewhat automatic for the President. Others- known as delegated powers-many times require the consultation of Congress and others in order to be exercised.
This being said, however, one only needs to look at today’s headlines to find countless examples where the current President has overstepped the boundaries of what is traditionally permitted on the President’s own initiative. Many claim that this is literally illegal-others are simply outraged- some take both stances. Therefore, what we see is that the President of the United States has acquired some powers, has some powers that are constitutionally built-in, and has other powers that have simply been grabbed without permission.
Pros/Cons of Presidential Power Presidential power has its advantages and disadvantages- in many cases, the difference between the two lies in political affiliation and/or personal opinion. On the positive side, few would argue that a President with the ability to defend the nation successfully from enemies, keep the economy going strong, and provide for the welfare of the people through the acquisition of power would be an unfavorable scenario.
On the other hand, the “cons” of presidential power include possible abuses of that power, unfavorable consequences of the wielding of that power, etc. In any case, there will never be a perfect balance of presidential power, but perhaps there are ways to keep the power in check while still keeping the President as a strong leader for the good of the people. Researcher’s Views
The result of this research, in the mind of the researcher, has been to come to the realization that absolute presidential power is not a favorable situation, nor is the situation of a weak President who has to seek permission and motivation to accomplish anything. Therefore, the researcher herein puts forth an opinion that the issue of the appropriate level of presidential power cannot be answered with a political debate, election or document.
It can, however, be balanced with presence of politically active citizens who speak out when the president oversteps his boundaries of authority, works to improve the nation, and constantly holds the President to a high standard of accountability and responsible use of power. Then, and only then, can presidential power be correctly held and utilized. Conclusion The President of the United States, even centuries after the foundation of America, remains an enigmatic contradiction- he needs to be powerful, yet that power needs to be regulated and monitored.
Therefore, in closing, let this point be understood- blind faith in any leaders will inevitably create chaos. As such, every American has the responsibility to express their opinions, be heard, and fight to keep the presidency what it was intended to be- the voice of the people. Works Cited Lowi, Ginsberg, Shepsle (2005). American Government: Power and Purpose. 9th ed. New York: WW Norton and Company. Shafritz, Weinberg (2005). Classics in American Literature. 3rd ed. Pittsburgh, PA: Wadsworth.
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