Imbalance of Powers: Constitutional Interpretation and the Making of American Foreign Policy

By Gordon Silverstein | Go to book overview

4
Johnson, Nixon, and the Assertion of Executive Prerogative

With Lyndon Johnson and finally Richard Nixon, the prerogative interpretation reached a new level of acceptance. The prerogative claim was asserted more boldly, and the executive branch no longer offered, as Truman had, both a traditional and prerogative defense for the president's policies, but rather relied upon the prerogative interpretation alone. No longer was there an argument for exceptions or adjustments--rhetoric and action combined to assert that there was a different way to read the Constitution, particularly in foreign policy. This raised obvious problems for the administration of foreign policy, but as it became increasingly harder to isolate foreign policy from domestic policy, this new interpretation began to affect the domestic balance of power, paving the way for prerogative arguments at home as well as abroad.

After following the Eisenhower model, and securing congressional authorization to act in Vietnam under the Tonkin Gulf Resolution of 1964, President Lyndon Johnson then blazed a new trail. Unlike Eisenhower, Johnson claimed that congressional support was welcome--but not necessary. And, unlike Eisenhower, Johnson took action, deploying troops into battle asserting that he had the authority to do so under the Constitution, with or without the broad delegation of power he had received in 1964.

Richard Nixon brought the evolution of the new interpretation to its apex. Facing both domestic and international violence, Nixon argued that the constitutional distinction between foreign and domestic affairs no longer made sense. Foreign and domestic affairs were interdependent, and the less restrictive constitutional rules that were by then understood to

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