Taking the Measure: The Presidency of George W. Bush

By Donald R. Kelley; Todd G. Shields | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
The Unitary Executive Theory
and the Bush Legacy

Mark J. Rozell and Mitchel A. Sollenberger

A key part of the George W. Bush legacy will be his administration’s attempts to vastly expand the powers of the presidency. Under the “Unitary Executive” theory that espouses the inherent authority of the president to act unilaterally in a number of areas, the president adopted broad-reaching and in some cases unprecedented efforts to expand his powers. We address two critical areas in which President Bush made farreaching claims of independent presidential powers: executive privilege and appointments of executive branch czars. To establish the framework, we begin with a brief description of the controversial unitary executive theory.

Advocates of the unitary executive theory contend that “the president, given ‘the executive power’ under the Constitution, has virtually all of that power, unchecked by Congress or the courts, especially in critical realms of authority.” This theory has its roots in the works of many forceful advocates of expanded presidential power in the academic and political worlds. In 1960, Richard E. Neustadt suggested that the office of the chief executive is essentially divorced from the Constitution and that “presidential power is the power to persuade.” This viewpoint directly countered what had been the dominant view of such presidential scholars as Edward S. Corwin who believed that presidents could only exercise powers that were outlined in the Constitution.1 Neustadt thought that such a narrow view did not adequately explain the many dimensions of actual presidential power.

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