2012 Unitary Executive: Presidential Power and Agency

  • This post is a response for Essay 3, Fall 2012, my PS 1010 students.
  • For outsiders, this post is teaching mechanism to supplement lectures.
  • Expected Niche Market: culture / thought and presidency researchers.

Student Essay 3: Presidential Power and Agency

Article for Class: by Jeremy D. Bailey.

The New Unitary Executive and Democratic Theory: The Problem of Alexander Hamilton. The American Political Science Review, Vol. 102, No. 4 (Nov., 2008), pp. 453-465.

A cleavage might exist between factions. Regarding faction α, a President as unitary executive under constitutional design and in accordance with democratic theory does wield great power and agency—inherent persuasion, and, powers of legitimate coercion. On the other side, faction π admonishes many of faction α’s prescribed and institutional designs as authoritarian (e.g., Ron Paul’s Farewell Address).[1] The consequences of implementing many authoritarian measures results in a partly authoritarian state, which is anathema to liberal and republican structures of constitutional design and democratic theory. As Bailey (2008, 454) relates, “Namely, what is the best way to arrange and organize the executive power within a constitutional framework?”

The unitary executive holds two main paths: domestic relations and foreign relations. Domestically, the congress has no authority to limit the unitary executive ability to manage the staff under the umbrella of the Oval Office. Thus, congress’s interview requests for executive office officials may be denied by the President at will. In opposition, the President should first be a republican President! And a republican President cannot by definition be authoritarian. The Supreme Court Decision to denationalize the steel mills (e.g. loss for Truman) affirmed liberalism, de jure, and Nixon had to turn over the tapes (e.g. republicanism affirmed).[2] Hence, there is a fight for the future trajectory of presidential power against the recent history of executive powers enforced and removed.

Proponents of the unitary executive argue that Hamilton was right: a branch lead by one person illuminates total responsibility for the voters to approve or disapprove of; hence, constitutional designs should not be articulated that would show only one pathway for positive executive authority, or to protect against only one pathway that would be regressive or negative in nature to the rights of the people. Rehnquist (Morrison v. Olson 1988) answered this question of separation of powers by testing “whether the act interfered with ‘the role of the Executive Branch’” (Bailey 2008, 454). Of course, Scalia (dissent) explained that the Supreme Court decision to declare “open season upon the President’s removal power” in violation of the separation of powers itself (Ibid). All seem to be breeching the fortifications of separation of powers. Indeed, an exemplar of history repeating itself; as Hamilton and Madison, respectively Pacificus and Helvidius, argued whether or not the President may “declare neutrality”—as an announcement—to the people.

According to republican theory, Geise (1984) argues that there is the (1) “possibility of action as distinct from behavior,” (2) presupposition that actions should be efficacious by republican nature, and (3) political action is worthwhile for the denizens on a daily bases in their local communities; regardless of his/her individual style (25). In this particular way, the people in a democratic society and the representatives “would need to demonstrate the continuing worth of the unitary executive” (Bailey 2008, 456, italics mine).

Conversely, measuring partisanship in a republican way should help explain the two diverging paths proposed by Republicans and Democrats (or perhaps Blue Dogs and Tea Partiers). Then, modern republican theory (e.g., Maynor, Pettit, Rodgers, Bock, Skinner, Viroli, Abbott, Bellah, Pangle, Urbinati, Kristeller, Shalhope, Pocock, Ostrom, etc.), helps explain the validity of the cleavage (see paragraph 1-3). For example, cronyism is admonished by republicanism as corruption, and corruption holds no grounds to be efficacious or worthwhile activity.

Hamilton argued that “energy” was inherently necessary for the republican President to lead the Union. Energy, under the best political science of the time, required duration in order to maximize possibility. To Hamilton, a republic requires the possibility of Cincinnatus to powerfully inject designs of efficacy in order to save the republic (extremely worthwhile activity). Central to the original and contentious institutional design regarding today’s (hypothesis) cleavage; the executive has in principle all authority, which is checked by duration and indeed made better via duration (4 years, subject to reelection). Bailey notes, “Responsibility in the executive power would be undermined by the Senate’s sharing the removal power” (2008, 461).

Of additional importance, Hamilton believed that representatives would operate under the same causes of factions as denizens (Bailey 2008, 463). The Senate was designed to control faction; the Office of the President was designed to lead in a republican manner regardless of factions. According to republican theory, the House was designed to originate legislation and allocate money because the House represents the people. With special respect to the “new unitary executive and democratic theory,” Bailey (2008) explains:

The first and most likely problem for unitarians is that Madison’s executive is too modest… Madison’s executive would not have the latitude in foreign policy desired by those who make foreign policy arguments from the unitary executive… Hamilton showed the need for not one, but two executives—one chained to electoral accountability and one freed from it. The one would use elections to make republican theory work with the requirements of energy. The other would be staffed by qualified men who would be attracted by the permanence of the office as well as its insulation from public opinion. Freed from republican theory, the second executive would be able to moderate the more republican, more unitary, president (464).


[1] I played some of Ron Paul’s address in class (YouTube), and expounded upon the differences of liberalism as democratic theory and when authoritarianism makes a country only party a democracy. Recall the supreme court decisions regarding “enemy combatants” and “denial of habeas corpus.” Recall the Esquire article on Obama, kill orders, drone strikes, and an American’s execution. Read again the NDAA policy…

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One thought on “2012 Unitary Executive: Presidential Power and Agency

  1. Pingback: Review for American Politics Comp. Exams | Political Pipeline

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