Bryan Caplan  

Wilson, the Decider

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Reflections on a Metaphor... McCarthy, the Wilsonite...
Jon Stewart milked much hilarity after Bush publicly anointed himself "the Decider."  While reading Ralph Raico's new book, I discovered that compared to Woodrow Wilson, Bush was a modest man:
When foreign affairs play a prominent part in the politics and policy of a nation, its Executive must of necessity be its guide: must utter every initial judgment, take every first step of action, supply the information upon which it is to act, suggest and in large measure control its conduct. The President of the United States is now [in 1900], as of course, at the front of affairs. . . . There is no trouble now about getting the President's speeches printed and read, every word. . . . The government of dependencies must be largely in his hands. Interesting things may come of this singular change.
Interesting things indeed.

Question: Does it weigh for or against Wilson that he wrote these words in 1900, thirteen years before he wore the crown?


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COMMENTS (3 to date)

Good question. When did Americans lose sight of the limited role the Constitution gives the Executive? By my read of it, the Constitution empowers the President to be an executor of others' decisions, not to be a "decider." Probably I just don't read well.

david writes:

Even before the New Deal and Cold War secrecy (and the ensuing tradition of Presidents introducing legislative agendas upon election, or of claiming extensive powers for reasons of national security), the presidency played a nontrivial role in forming legislation - remember that the Constitution grants the President veto powers:

"Every bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate shall, before it become a law, be presented to the President of the United States; if he approves, he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the objections at large on their journal, and proceed to reconsider it... Every order, resolution, or vote to which the concurrence of the Senate and House of Representatives may be necessary (except on a question of adjournment) shall be presented to the President of the United States; and before the same shall take effect, shall be approved by him, or being disapproved by him, shall be repassed by two thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives, according to the rules and limitations prescribed in the case of a bill."

If you wanted bright lines between legislatures and executives, the American system is not it.

cassander writes:

As far as I'm concerned the world does not contain enough bile and hatred to give Woodrow Wilson what he deserves, but I can't say that he's wrong about this. If you want a large active government, it can't be run by committee anymore than any other large active organization. Of course, the wisdom of such a government is another question entirely.

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