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The President’s Czars: Undermining Congress and the Constitution Essay (Book Review)

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Updated: Jul 22nd, 2021

Introduction

The modern presidency model grants significant powers to the president by enabling the use of executive branch czars. While the word “czar” is not an official term, it often refers to people having significant executive powers without an official appointment and congress approval1 The practice of establishing such positions started with President Woodrow Wilson and was considered as an emergency due to World War I. Franklin D. Roosevelt expanded the polices and formed the modern model of the aggressive presidency. Even though the system had its ups and downs during the last century, the executive branch czars continue to exist, creating significant implication for presidents’ accountability. The present paper is a review of a book by Mitchel A. Sollenberger and Mark J. Rozell “The President’s Czars: Undermining Congress and the Constitution,” which elaborates a comprehensive definition of a czar, offers a history of the phenomenon, and provides analysis of the matter.

Summary

Sollenberger and Rozell contribute enormously to the research of the presidential power in the United States. First, the authors aim at defining executive branch czars, which is crucial for understanding their impact. As the notion is a popular term used mostly by the press, its utilization is inconsistent and needs clarification. The authors arrive at a specific definition, stating that a czar is an executive branch official with decision-making powers that often include “controlling budgetary programs, administrating/coordinating a policy area, or otherwise promulgating rules, regulations, and orders that bind either government officials and/or the private sector.”2 The authors further expand upon the matter, stating that authorities with established positions in the government may still be considered czars if they are granted with unconstitutional powers. In short, in the first part of the book, the authors coin out the term czar by reviewing its historical use by various sources.

The major part of the book is dedicated to the history of the phenomenon and how different presidents utilized czars. Sollenberger and Rozell believe that such positions historically were a reaction to the emergency during World War I.3 President Woodrow Wilson started the practices having a strong belief that the president is a center of the nation’s leadership and representation, and the Constitution should evolve to include this idea.4 Franklin D. Roosevelt shared the view and appointed several czars during World War II to support his New Deal Program.5 All the other presidents also exercised the practice to some extent; however, after the Watergate scandals and the passage of the White House Authorization Act, the presidents tried to limit the appointments of new czars. The presidency of George W. Bush and Barack Obama is associated with the aggressive use of executive czars, which led to severe accountability implications.6 In brief, the book gives significant insights into the history of the discussed phenomenon.

The third part of the book is dedicated to drawing conclusions from the findings and discussing the ways to address the discovered problems. In the last chapter, Sollenberger and Rozell state that the appointment of executive czars is unconstitutional, and the presidential power should be limited.7 The authors state, that even though originally the emergence of such positions was to overcome the bureaucracy, the situation has shifted from the state of crisis.8 The Senate is to be reformed to react promptly to the emerging needs of the society lowering the risk of appearance of new czars. Additionally, information about the phenomenon should be spread more aggressively to shape public opinion about the matter. The issue with the czars lies in citizens’ approval of the appointments due to the trust in the elected presidents and their cause. However, reforms are needed to address the issue as the practice violates the constitution and grants presidents too much power.

Critique

The book centers its attention on the issues concerning the growing powers of presidents. As stated by Schier, the authors utilize the academic approach to the matter and seek to correct the deficiencies in modern presidency.9 Indeed, the situation requires an intervention to improve the presence of Congress in appointing authorities. The central problem is people’s belief that a strong president is a symbol of governmental efficiency.10 The notion seems to be far from the reality since the czars often mimic the official positions in the government, making the country lose money.

The appointment of the czars is against the core principles of the constitution. These executive branch authorities are not controlled by other branches and may lead to disastrous consequences.11 These people operate outside the system of checks and balances, like Steven Rattner, also known as the “car czar,” who reorganized the US car industry without Congress authorization.12 If the position were subjected to the Senate’s approval, Rattner would be better vetted and restrained from exercising powers. Therefore, the growing tendency toward increasing the power of the president needs to be addressed to protect the constitutional form of government.

While the appointment of czars is a considerable concern, the authors seem to demonstrate bias against the presidency of Barack Obama. Sollenberger and Rozell claim that George W. Bush had 11 czars, while President Obama had 22 of them.13 However, that may not be the case, since some authorities labeled as czars were appointed to their positions by the Congress and their powers do not seem to exceed the framework described by law.14 Therefore, the book may be considered to be an attack on President Barack Obama, since it was published in the year of his reelection.

Even though the book by Sollenberger and Rozell provides valuable insights on the deficiencies of the modern presidency models, it has some flaws that need to be mentioned. According to Warber, the authors “overlook the broader research on the administrative presidency that focuses on the different types of policy tools and powers that presidents use to centralize and politicize the executive branch.”15 Additionally, Warber mentions that the measures to overcome the problem are only briefly without any specific recommendations.16 As another flaw, Altschuler claims that the book is not strictly academic writing, as the authors failed to analyze the considerable body of literature on the subject. 17 In short, while the book adds to the modern political research, it has some weaknesses that need to be addressed.

Personal Response

The fact that authorities with excessive uncontrolled executive power are called czars is symbolic. Historically, a czar is a Russian monarch who has virtually unlimited power like Ivan the Terrible. Even in modern history, Russia is associated with having strong leaders, like Lenin, Stalin, and Putin. However, what may suit a foreign society may not be a healthy model for the US. Americans value independence, privacy, and equality, which can be endangered by strong leaders. The US citizens are used to competition and being able to make their voice count. The emergence of czars that expand the power of the president may eliminate competition in the government and, therefore, diminish the importance of elections. Today, everyone is aware of how the human rights of citizens of the former Soviet Union and the Russian Federation are ignored. Therefore, I agree with Sollenberger and Rozell’s opinion that if the practice of appointing czars continues, American society may experience similar problems.

The nation is no longer at the state of emergency, and the society needs to realize it. According to Sollenberger and Rozell, the practice of appointing czars started during World War 1, during the presidency of Woodrow Wilson. At the time, the phenomenon was explained by the need for immediate action.18 Today, President Donald Trump and the propaganda machine convinces that the US is still in danger from the emigrants, China, and Russia. However, there is no direct threat, and the situation should be addressed institutionally rather than through appointing executive branch czars and expanding the president’s power. Therefore, the methods to diminish the power of the president offered by the authors of the book are not likely to succeed.

The transformation should happen in people minds since the basis of a president’s power is public approval. Hence, the primary method of resisting the tendency to centralized power is spreading awareness about the consequences of the matter. The US citizens are to understand that leaders all over the world have been using the propaganda about outside threats to detach the attention of the public from internal problems. Today, hardly any country or other entity can threaten the United States. Therefore, strategies to spread the word about the matter are to be elaborated and utilized to address the problem of power centralization.

Conclusion

The primary contributions of the book by Sollenberger and Rozell is the expansion of knowledge about the executive branch czars. The authors elaborate on the definition of the phenomenon, review the history of the matter, and offer measures to address the problem of growing powers of the president. While they make a clear point that the appointment of czars is unconstitutional, it lacks an academic approach and has traces of political bias, since the book was published on the year of Obama’s reelection. However, even though the book has some flaws, the authors indicate a crucial problem that needs to be addressed to preserve the traditional values of the US nation.

Bibliography

Altschuler, Bruce. Law and Politics Book Review 22, no. 7 (2012). Web.

Schier, Steven E. “A Review of “The President’s Czars: Undermining Congress and the Constitution”.” Congress & the Presidency 40, no. 3 (2013): 320-322. Web.

Sollenberger, Mitchel A, and Mark J Rozell. The President’s Czars: Undermining Congress and the Constitution. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2012.

Warber, Adam L. “The President’s Czars: Undermining Congress and the Constitution by Mitchel A. Sollenberger and Mark J.Rozell. Lawrence, University Press of Kansas, 2012. 356 Pp. Paper, $24.95.”. Political Science Quarterly 128, no. 2 (2013): 381-381. Web.

Footnotes

  1. Mitchel A Sollenberger and Mark J Rozell, The President’s Czars: Undermining Congress and the Constitution (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2012), 6.
  2. Ibid., 7.
  3. Ibid., 163.
  4. Ibid., 164.
  5. Ibid., 53-57.
  6. Ibid., 137.
  7. Ibid 163-168.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Steven E. Schier, “A Review of “The President’s Czars: Undermining Congress and the Constitution,”” Congress & the Presidency 40, no. 3 (2013): 320, Web.
  10. Sollenberger and Rozell, “The President’s Czars,” 178.
  11. Bruce Altschuler. “The President’s Czars: Undermining Congress and the Constitution: Book Review.” Law and Politics Book Review 22, no. 7, (2012).
  12. Ibid.
  13. Sollenberger and Rozell, “The President’s Czars,” 161.
  14. Bruce Altschuler, “Book Review.”
  15. Adam L. Warber, “The President’s Czars: Undermining Congress and the Constitution by Mitchel A. Sollenberger and Mark J.Rozell. Lawrence, University Press of Kansas, 2012. 356 Pp. Paper, $24.95.” Political Science Quarterly 128, no. 2 (2013): 381, Web.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Bruce Altschuler, “Book Review.”
  18. Sollenberger and Rozell, “The President’s Czars,” 163.
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