Any kind of talk regarding the power relation between the Office of the President and the U.S. Congress requires a basic clarificatory remark, that the genesis for this relationship originates with the establishment of the United States as an independent nation. It was after the American Revolution when the founding fathers created the US Constitution. The said document did not only ensure the freedom of American citizens, the statutes and legal concepts therein made it difficult for the emergence of tyrants or dictators. Thus, the separation of powers between the U.S. Presidency and the U.S. Congress was a mandatory minimum. Nevertheless, as the decades went by, the realities of international politics and the inherent uniqueness of the Federal Government as a governing power over 50 American states inadvertently created changes in the power relationship between these two branches of government. The best way to explain these changes requires the amalgamation of ideas coming from Greenberg and Neustadt.
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The Original Framework that Defined the Power Relation Between the Presidency and the U.S. Congress
It is important to underscore the genesis of the power relation that existed between the U.S. Presidency and the U.S. Congress. In other words, it is imperative to understand the context of the separation of powers between these two branches of government. The gulf that separates the Presidency and Congress was by design, in accordance with the legal requirements stated in the U.S. Constitution, a political set-up envisioned by the founding fathers. It had something to do with the main concern that hovered over the newly independent nation in the aftermath of the American Revolution. Before the United States was granted its freedom, it emanated from a geopolitical landmass characterized by European colonies. The North American continent was in principle the properties of Great Britain and France. However, the monarchy that controlled a significant portion of present-day America was wearing the British crown. Thus, after securing independence from its English overlords, the leaders of the fledgling nation made sure that the first order of the day was to establish a democracy. In order to make sure that the new government was not susceptible to takeovers from tyrants or despots, the powers to govern the land was subdivided into three major institutions, and these are the executive, the judiciary and the legislative branches of government.
In principle, the U.S. Congress is more influential and more powerful than the U.S. president. Greenberg and Neustadt were correct when they asserted that the founding fathers did not envision the U.S. Presidency to have the political clout and preeminence that it is imbued in the present time. It is not hard to agree with this view, because one can make the argument that the founding fathers were thinking of an administrator or some sort of general manager when they created the position of the U.S. president.
The Best Argument: Greenberg and Neustadt
It does not require a political scientist to perceive that there is little similarity between the presidency of George Washington and the presidency of the popular presidents of the 20th century, such as Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, and Reagan. Thus, one can argue that a seismic shift had occurred with regards to the power relation between the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Presidency. For example, it is hard to imagine how the U.S. Congress could have swayed Roosevelt when he declared war on the Germans. It is difficult to consider an alternative scenario when Truman decided to drop the atomic bomb. It is also difficult to imagine how the U.S. Congress could have prevented nuclear war during the time when the United States created a blockade to control the flow of products and armaments towards Cuba. It was all the result of Kennedy’s political clout. During all these critical chapters in U.S. history, it seems that the U.S. Congress took a backseat every time the nation demanded a leadership that knows how to handle a particular crisis.
After considering the gap in the power relation between these two branches of government, the best way to explain the evolution of the U.S. Presidency is to leverage the ideas found in the article written by Greenberg and Neustadt. Greenberg made an emphatic point when he said that although the president is not a monarch, he is accorded the respect and honor of a king. The beauty of Greenberg’s argument is not the fact that he pointed out the similarity between a sitting U.S. president in the 20th century and a king, but in the assertion that circumstances surrounding the president and the American people compelled the Commander-in-Chief to embrace the said dual roles. This assertion is even true today when the incumbent American President had to contend with the founding fathers’ outdated ideas on how to handle the responsibilities of the executive office. In other words, the U.S. president cannot afford to act like another spoke in the wheel of government so to speak when the nation is under the threat of terrorism or nuclear holocaust.
Neustadt touched on the kingly power of the president when he described how former President Truman was able to get his way even if restrictions were placed to limit the president’s power. Truman’s executive order to drop an atomic bomb that obliterated two foreign cities was unparalleled even if people compare it to royal edicts that declared war on foreign enemies.
The Worst Argument is from Huntington; The Less Persuasive Argument is from Wildavsky.
The worst argument is from the article authored by Huntington. The main weakness of his explanation as to the root cause of the changing power of the relationship between the U.S. Presidency and the legislative branch of government was at best the assertion that the separation of powers was at work. At its worst, his argument leads to nowhere. It was difficult to substantiate his assertion that the U.S. Congress was in an unwinnable position because the frustrations of U.S. congressmen to accomplish something significant is not due to a failure in leadership. This frustrations that the congressmen felt in the failure to enact certain laws was due to certain limitations set by the legislative system. On the other hand, Wildavsky’s argument was less persuasive but no less truthful. His ideas simply stated the obvious and did not offer something insightful compared to Greenberg and Neustadt’s articles.
Greenberg and Neustadt offered the best explanation for the changing power relationship between the U.S. Presidency and the U.S. Congress. They were correct in citing the impact of the circumstances unique to the 20th century’s political and economic environment. In addition, they were correct in stating that in an inadvertent manner, the reaction and desires of the American people compelled the evolution of the U.S. Presidency in order for the president to act as if he is the head of state and the head of government all rolled into one. Wildavsky did not offer anything inaccurate, however, he simply described the obvious. Huntington, on the other hand, was unable to offer anything concrete. In fact, all he did was to confirm that the separation of powers was working even in the present time.