Winning the Presidency 2008

Winning the Presidency 2008

Winning the Presidency 2008

Winning the Presidency 2008


The presidential election of 2008 is unique in a history of memorable campaigns for the highest office in the U.S. Never before has an African American captured the nomination of a major political party. Never before have the Republicans nominated a woman for vice president. Never before has a woman come so close to capturing the nomination of a major party. And with at once one of the oldest and youngest candidates contending for the office, never before has the campaign been stretched over such a range of voters and issues. Add to that the multiple threats to the U.S. economy and the longest war the country has ever waged and the electoral context is set. This book is the first to describe and assess these monumental developments with original analysis by an all-star cast of contributors. No other book captures both the range and depth of this one in its early look at the meaning of the most significant election in years-one with unprecedented institutional, constitutional, and policy consequences for all of us.


The actions and policies of the Bush administration established, directly and indirectly, the agenda for the presidential campaign. The accomplishments, failures, and ambitions of the Bush administration were the baseline from which all else flowed. Given the controversial and historically pathbreaking actions of the administration in a number of areas, it constituted a level of significance that is difficult to summarize. The issues generated by the Bush-Cheney years raised questions about the nation’s constitutional design as well as the wars in progress, the relevance of established legal procedures, and, most markedly for the 2008 race, an economy in deep trouble. How such concerns were to be addressed and their impact on the presidential contest and its outcome are questions at the heart of the 2008 presidential contest.

With this as prelude we turn to a discussion of governance—policy, administration, and law during the Bush-Cheney years. The canvas is exceptionally broad—academicians, legal analysts, foreign and domestic policy experts, and the courts will be debating and dealing with the issues raised as well as their budgetary and social consequences and America’s relations with the international community for decades and generations to come. The Bush presidency was in a very real sense a transitional presidency, one that set an agenda for the 2008 campaign and one the incoming Obama administration must address in its many multilayered facets.

The Expansion of Presidential Power

A reconstituted and substantially more powerful presidency may prove to be Bush’s most permanent legacy. The concept of the “imperial presidency” has been with us for generations (Schlesinger 1974). The empowerment of the “unitary presidency” took it to an entirely new level. The idea had been around for decades, advocated by a minority of neoconservatives. Within the Bush administration, Vice President Dick Cheney became its chief architect and most fervent proponent. Under these auspices, Bush was successful in using a succession of immediate rationales (national security needs, the war in Iraq, the fight against terrorism) to institute the unitary presidency at great cost to the separation of powers, checks and balances, and legal constraints and established constitutional processes more generally.

Compared to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the failure of the economy, the institution of the unitary presidency received little to no attention in the 2008 presidential race. In large part, this is because the complexity and subtlety of the issues involved are difficult to encapsulate in catchy slogans or 30second TV ads directed at a mass audience. The impact of a redesigned presidential office on voters is far from obvious and involves seemingly abstract and remote conceptions of governance, not the stuff of campaigns. Yet the depth of the changes in the powers and operations of the chief executive explains what and why the Bush administration did what it did. The consequences will be hard to deal with by the Obama administration and by future generations of Americans. That is why we will take some time to explore this phenomenon as the key backdrop to the 2008 election.

The concept of the unitary presidency originated prior to Bush’s first election and then was put into operation most expressly in the wake of 9/11. The idea of a unitary president is not based on any constitutional theory of American government. Quite the opposite is the case. It is a direct counter to the Constitution’s emphasis on shared power among three branches, restricted in scope and answerable to the public. It emerged from a neoconservative reading of the lessons of the Vietnam era. It was Cheney’s belief in particular that the Congress and the public had weakened the president in his ability to conduct the war and in the exercise of his role as commander in chief, leading to the loss of Vietnam . . .

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