Ronald Reagan's America - Vol. 1

By Eric J. Schmertz; Natalie Datlof et al. | Go to book overview

18
The Rise of the Arrogant Presidency: Separation of Powers in the Reagan Administration

Nancy Kassop

Conflicts between presidents and Congress over institutional prerogatives are all but inevitable in most administrations. We have come to expect that presidents will, almost by reflex, expansively interpret the scope and breadth of their constitutional powers in order to protect them from encroachment by Congress. Yet, something more than this instinctive sheltering of the chief executive's power was afoot in the Reagan administration: for, even when other presidents have reached out to protect their powers, most have done so only on isolated issues and policies. What distinguished Reagan's approach was an underlying, pervasive theory of exclusive presidential power that provided a consistent framework for so many interbranch disputes.

Separation of powers, as a governing principle, envisions the sharing of power between the two policy-making branches who engage in continuous dialogue and negotiation to hammer out acceptable national policies. President Reagan, however, had a very different vision of government. His was a vision of hostility and distrust between the branches, one where a strong executive believes that his office is where all power begins and ends. It is the vision of an "arrogant presidency," of one who wants to have it all and who does not want to share. We may only have gone from the "imperial presidency" of the late 1960s and early 1970s to this "arrogant presidency" of the 1980s, an outwardly more benign version but essentially the same at the core. The Reagan administration provides ample evidence to fit this description.

The areas of interbranch conflict that will be examined here are (1) war powers, as manifested in disputes over the president's power to use military force without congressional authorization in Grenada in 1983, in Libya in 1986, and in the Persian Gulf in 1987 (use of American military force in Lebanon in 1983 was congressionally sanctioned but only after a compromise had

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