Power Play: The Bush Presidency and the Constitution

Power Play: The Bush Presidency and the Constitution

by James P. Pfiffner
     
 

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The framers of the U.S. Constitution divided the federal government's powers among three branches: the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary. Their goal was to prevent tyranny by ensuring that none of the branches could govern alone. While numerous presidents have sought to escape these constitutional constraints, the administration of George W. Bush went

Overview

The framers of the U.S. Constitution divided the federal government's powers among three branches: the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary. Their goal was to prevent tyranny by ensuring that none of the branches could govern alone. While numerous presidents have sought to escape these constitutional constraints, the administration of George W. Bush went farther than most. It denied the writ of habeas corpus to individuals deemed to be enemy combatants. It suspended the Geneva Convention and allowed or encouraged the use of harsh interrogation methods amounting to torture. It ordered the surveillance of Americans without obtaining warrants as required by law. And it issued signing statements declaring that the president does not have the duty to faithfully execute hundreds of provisions in the laws he has signed.

Power Play analyzes the Bush presidency's efforts to expand executive power in these four domains and puts them into constitutional and historical perspective. Pfiffner explores the evolution of Anglo-American thinking about executive power and individual rights. He highlights the lessons the Constitution's framers drew from such philosophers as Locke and Montesquieu, as well as English constitutional history. He documents the ways in which the Bush administration's policies have undermined the separation of powers, and he shows how these practices have imperiled the rule of law.

Following 9/11, the Bush presidency engaged in a two-front offensive. In Afghanistan and Iraq, the administration aggressively prosecuted the "war on terror." At home, it targeted constraints on the power of the executive. Power Play lays bare the extent of this second campaign and explains why it will continue to threaten the future of republican government if the other two branches do not assert their own constitutional prerogatives.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

Public policy academic Pfiffner (George Mason Univ.; The Character Factor: How We Judge America's Presidents) addresses the Constitution's meticulously established system of checks and balances among the executive, legislative, and judicial bodies-and shows how the current President has stepped over the limits placed there on executive power, specifically in relation to habeas corpus, definitions of torture, employing surveillance without warrant, and disregard of laws that the executive branch is charged with upholding. Pfiffner's first chapters give a deep but very clear introduction to the legal philosophies behind our Constitution, then introduce the Constitution itself as an evolution from thinkers and circumstances in Europe. When he homes in on the particulars of overweening executive power, including examples from previous administrations, readers are well posed to understand and keep turning the pages. Highly recommended for suitable collections.


—Margaret Heilbrun
From the Publisher

"Those wishing for a more detailed legal discussion of what went wrong during the Bush administration would do well to check out James P. Pfiffner's book, Power Play... [it] is well organized and makes compelling reading." —Stephen Griffin, Balkinization blog

"This book should deeply trouble any citizen. In a clear, fair-minded review of the evidence, Pfiffner builds a powerful case pointing toward one unmistakable conclusion: since 9/11 the claims and actions of the Bush administration have been undermining the constitutional principles and rule of law on which our Republic is based." —Hugh Heclo, Robinson Professor of Public Affairs, George Mason University

"This is the right book, at the right time, by the right author. It is clear, dispassionate, and straightforward. A key strength is the manner in which Pfiffner interweaves historical and theoretical perspectives with his contemporary critique of Bush doctrine. Power Play epitomizes the best of Brookings Press's many distinguished titles that apply superb political science to contemporary problems and issues." —Robert J. Spitzer, author of Saving the Constitution from Lawyers

"This book offers a powerful counterpoise to recent defenses of presidential powers... Pfiffner makes a convincing case that the stakes are none other than the preservation of "rule of law and the Constitution." Recommended." — CHOICE

" Power Play is meticulously researched, engagingly written, and passionately argued. Its essential argument is that the United States was formed as a reaction to monarchy, and that U.S. presidents —no matter the threat against America —were never meant to have the power of kings. As long as diligent scholars such as Pfiffner are around, they won't." —Carl M.Cannon, co-author of Reagan's Disciple: George W. Bush's Troubled Quest for a Presidential Legacy

" Power Play succinctly and convincingly lays out the historical backdrop for the development of our system of government, based on the rule of law, and just as convincingly presents his argument that the Bush administration has put that very system on precipice.... Pfiffner's book should be required reading for every Member of Congress, if for nothing else than to refresh their collective memory of just what that oath of office they take means." — Daily Kos

"With his customary thoughtfulness and scholarly integrity, Jim Pfiffner has examined the post-9/11 events, analyzed the legal arguments offered by the administration, and with great precision cut through to the central issues that should concern us all. A very important contribution to reviving constitutional government." —Louis Fisher, author of Presidential War Power

"Pfiffner's first chapters give a deep but very clear introduction to the legal philosophies behind our Constitution, then introduce the Constitution itself as an evolution from thinkers and circumstances in Europe. When he homes in on the particulars of overweening executive power, including examples from previous administrations, readers are well posed to understand and keep turning the pages. Highly recommended for suitable collections." — Library Journal

" Power Play is an accessible account of some of the ways in which the Bush Administration has advanced controversial claims about executive power and why their actions are constitutionally dangerous. The book should appeal to scholars of American politics, the presidency, and public law." — Law & Politics Book Review

" Power Play should be required reading for everyone with an interest in U.S. public administration. [It] is an excellent, unusually important and necessary book that deserves a very broad and attentive audience." — Public Administration Review

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780815701521
Publisher:
Brookings Institution Press
Publication date:
09/01/2009
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
299
File size:
465 KB

What People are saying about this

Robert J. Spitzer
"This is the right book, at the right time, by the right author. It is clear, dispassionate, and straightforward. A key strength is the manner in which Pfiffner interweaves historical and theoretical perspectives with his contemporary critique of Bush doctrine. Power Play epitomizes the best of Brookings Press's many distinguished titles that apply superb political science to contemporary problems and issues."--(Robert J. Spitzer, author of Saving the Constitution from Lawyers)
Louis Fisher
"With his customary thoughtfulness and scholarly integrity, Jim Pfiffner has examined the post-9/11 events, analyzed the legal arguments offered by the administration, and with great precision cut through to the central issues that should concern us all. A very important contribution to reviving constitutional government."--(Louis Fisher, author of Presidential War Power)
Hugh Heclo
"This book should deeply trouble any citizen. In a clear, fair-minded review of the evidence, Pfiffner builds a powerful case pointing toward one unmistakable conclusion: since 9/11 the claims and actions of the Bush administration have been undermining the constitutional principles and rule of law on which our Republic is based. "--(Hugh Heclo, Robinson Professor of Public Affairs, George Mason University)
From the Publisher

"This book should deeply trouble any citizen. In a clear, fair-minded review of the evidence, Pfiffner builds a powerful case pointing toward one unmistakable conclusion: since 9/11 the claims and actions of the Bush administration have been undermining the constitutional principles and rule of law on which our Republic is based." —Hugh Heclo, Robinson Professor of Public Affairs, George Mason University

"This is the right book, at the right time, by the right author. It is clear, dispassionate, and straightforward. A key strength is the manner in which Pfiffner interweaves historical and theoretical perspectives with his contemporary critique of Bush doctrine. Power Play epitomizes the best of Brookings Press's many distinguished titles that apply superb political science to contemporary problems and issues." —Robert J. Spitzer, author of Saving the Constitution from Lawyers

Carl M. Cannon
"Power Play is meticulously researched, engagingly written, and passionately argued. Its essential argument is that the United States was formed as a reaction to monarchy, and that U.S. presidents-no matter the threat against America-were never meant to have the power of kings. As long as diligent scholars such as Pfiffner are around, they won't."--(Carl M. Cannon, co-author of Reagan's Disciple: George W. Bush's Troubled Quest for a Presidential Legacy)

Meet the Author

James P. Pfiffner is professor of public policy at George Mason University. He is the author or editor of ten books on the presidency and American government, including The Character Factor: How We Judge America's Presidents (Texas A&M University Press, 2004) and The Strategic Presidency: Hitting the Ground Running, second edition (University Press of Kansas, 1996). Pfiffner is an elected member of the National Academy of Public Administration and taught previously at the University of California, Riverside, and California State University, Fullerton. A veteran of the 25th Infantry Division (1/8 Artillery), he received the Army Commendation of Medal for Valor in Vietnam and Cambodia in 1970.

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