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Curbing the Imperial Presidency

Here is my presentation from the Take Back American panel on "Curbing the Imperial Presidency." I’m sure it didn’t come out this way. But it might be close.

One year after the publication of his book The ImperialPresidency, Arthur Schlesinger wrote the following for a column in Harpers:

We hear a great deal today aboutthe presumably grim consequences of the impeachment of the President—an endlesspublic trial, a people divided, a government paralyzed, a nation disgracedbefore the world. But suppose the House of Representatives should decide notto impeach Mr. Nixon. That would have its consequences, too—consequencesthat deserve at least as careful an examination.

For the refusal to impeach wouldbe a decision as momentous as impeachment itself. It would and could beinterpreted only as meaning that Congress does not think Mr. Nixon has doneanything to warrant impeachment. It would alter the historic relationship ofPresidential power to the constitutional system of accountability for the useof that power. The message our generationwould send to posterity would be that Mr. Nixon, whatever his other disasters,had conceived and established a new conception of Presidential accountability,and that his successors, so long as they take care to avoid the crudities of aWatergate burglary, can expect to inherit Mr. Nixon’s conception of inherentPresidential authority and to wield the unshared power with which he will haveendowed the Presidency. Failure to impeach would be a vindication of arevolutionary theory of Presidential accountability.

Now, I agree with Schlesinger. The fear of an endless publictrial, of government paralyzed, of international disgrace—those are notsufficient reasons to avoid impeaching a President (or Vice President orAttorney General) who has overstepped his constitutional authority.

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