Richard Nixon: Advise, Consent & Restrain - Rolling Stone
Home Politics Politics News

Richard Nixon: Advise, Consent & Restrain

Dismantling the presidency

President, Richard Nixon, plays, piano, dedication, Grand Ole Opry, Nashville

U.S. President Richard Nixon plays the piano during the dedication of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee on March 16th, 1974.

David Hume Kennerly/Getty

The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive and judiciary in the same hands. . .may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny. Were the Federal Constitution, therefore, really changeable with the accumulation of powers, or with a mixture of powers, having a dangerous tendency to such an accumulation, no further arguments would be necessary to inspire a universal reprobation of the system. — James Madison The Federalist Papers

Respect the presidency and support the president. He’s the only one you got. — Folk saying of the late Republic

We may yet have one reason to be grateful to Richard Nixon if his conduct in office awakens us from our obsessive concern with the character, personality or intentions of individuals, and reminds us that decency and self-restraint are interesting qualities but not to be counted on. The venalities of the past few years are personal to the character of this administration, but the fact they could be committed can only mean that the democratic structure has broken down.

And even if the bus departs the White House for Leavenworth, it will leave behind a presidential institution prepared for the inevitable advent of a leader more pure at heart, one who cares more about power than money, whose secret fantasies are of Caesar rather than John Wayne. If such a person can serve these ambitions with intelligence, political skill and righteousness of purpose then freedom as we have known it will be at an end, replaced by the hope of official benevolence.

The assertion seems to resonate of apocalyptic hyperbole only because we retain some of that miraculously resilient native optimism which led us to believe there would always be plenty of gasoline and that, in America alone, power can purify the hitherto corrupt. Two political truisms have survived every change in the nature of government from Mesopotamia to modern America: First, if power exists it will be used; second, those who hold power will resent every obstruction to its exercise and extension. The lawgivers of ancient Greece, the barons who forced King John to sign the Magna Charta, and our own Founding Fathers understood that the only protector against tyranny was to limit and divide political power.

Over the past quarter century the executive has gradually broken free of the restraints which protected democracy — popular sovereignty, personal liberty, legislative authority and the rule of law. In the last decade, the presidency has acquired an immense, unchecked power over the society which is inevitably exercised to advance the ambitions of those in office.

Indeed, prior to Watergate the Nixon administration had come perilously close to establishing an elective dictatorship over significant aspects of national affairs. Over the previous four years the entire structure of economic regulation had been infiltrated by “loyal” dependents who could be directed to reward friends and punish adversaries. And even since Watergate, the administration has managed to destroy the autonomy of the Justice Department and fire the special prosecutor.

Upon taking office the Nixon men were disappointed to find that the combined services of the FBI, CIA and Internal Revenue Service could not provide them with sufficient control over the private lives of their fellow citizens. Their recommendation for a special secret police was defeated by the opposition of J. Edgar Hoover. Subsequent events demonstrated that the proposal was probably superfluous. By the time of the Watergate exposures, Hoover was dead, Richard Helms had been fired, and the President had moved to end the remaining independence of the FBI and CIA by naming directors who would be subservient to the desires and fears of the White House.

Our last minute reprieve from this mortal design is not a sign that the Goddess of Fortune is on the side of American freedom; it is a warning that a determined, unscrupulous and more skillful chief executive may well be able to use the existing apparatus of intelligence and law enforcement in order to coerce, intimidate and even imprison those perceived to obstruct his ambition. As long as this possibility exists, we must assume that some day it will come to pass. And if the executive power which has already destroyed the independence of institutions can also undermine the independence of individuals, no protection for freedom will remain.

Deeds such as theirs were possible only because the Nixon administration was the beneficiary of an accelerating executive growth and usurpation which has continued for decades. The momentum of this process is better appreciated once we realize that if Nixon is driven from office, it will be the consequence of incompetence and especially mismanagement of the economy, rather than corruption and usurpation of power. Impeachment would be inconceivable if we were in the midst of an economic boom. Even now, the argument is made that foreign policy achievements entitle the administration to remain. Yet such arguments imply we are willing to give up the right to govern ourselves, that we are willing to be, as Nixon benevolently characterizes us, the president’s “children,” thus assigning to himself a position left vacant by the decline of religious faith.

The unique excesses of the present should not be permitted to obscure the fact that every modern president, with the possible exception of Eisenhower, has had occasional fantasies of benevolent tyranny, sincerely believed that the welfare of the country would be improved if he could run things as he wished without the interference of Congress, courts, press and public opinion. Most of them have expressed such sentiments to intimates. They were restrained from exercising such power, not by abstract convictions about the nature of democracy, but by institutions, laws, traditions, and centers of private power within the society.

We failed to respond to the erosion of these restraints largely because most of our presidents have been honest and relatively benevolent and their purposes have coincided with those of the citizenry. It took the advent of Lyndon Johnson and Nixon to remind us of history’s elemental lesson: Some must be permitted power but no one can be trusted with power not Gerry Ford, Henry Jackson or even Henry Kissinger.

We have had strong presidents throughout our history, nevertheless, the presidency which has developed during the last decade does not differ only in degree from its predecessors, nor is it an adaptation of traditional structures to new historical circumstances. It is a novel institution, a rupture with tradition which cannot be masked by the most diligent efforts to compare Jefferson’s handling of the Barbary pirates to the war in Vietnam, or Polk’s authority to order a few troops into disputed territory with the power to blow up the advanced industrial world.

Franklin Roosevelt managed to conduct the entire New Deal and World War II with a personal staff smaller than the number of men needed to cook lunch for the battalions of faceless ministers who now swarm through the corridors of the White House, the Executive Office Building, and, perhaps, other structures whose existence has not yet been disclosed. These men are not advisers; merely to listen to them for five minutes each would consume most of a presidential term. They are an independent bureaucracy whose authority extends to every function of government. In a kind of constitutional mockery, the Congress dutifully evaluates and confirms presidential appointees and its committees sternly interrogate cabinet members, while the real government toils on in seclusion, its activities so extensive that even the president cannot keep informed of its myriad deeds.

Congress’ loss of authority has coincided — and not by coincidence — with a transforming change in the function of government from framing and enforcing legislation, to regulation and the conduct of foreign affairs. A presidential staff charged with drafting laws for submission to Congress was an innovation, but not a danger. One which is invested with the modern power to regulate the economic process, and the multiplying relationships between the citizen and the state, has usurped the authority to govern.

This presidential bureaucracy is the consummation of a successful revolution, one which has already overturned fundamental elements of the democratic process. Until very recently, it was never thought that Congress was limited to passing laws and hoping for the best. Although the executive had the principal responsibility for administering the laws, to administer was not to rule; the authority to govern was shared by Congress, protected from executive usurpation by an array of constitutional devices. Through confirmation, for example, Congress could compel the appointment of officials responsive to the standards and intentions established by the legislative branch. The actions of those who administered the laws which Congress passed and who spent the money which Congress provided, were subject to scrutiny and interrogation designed to prevent serious deviation from the legislative will. The power to legislate and appropriate was also the power to direct the activities of government, at the very least to ensure that nothing of consequence could be done without the explicit or tacit approval of Congress.

The phrase “presidential staff” is a euphemism for an extra-constitutional institution which has stripped Congress of the authority to govern — to share in the selection and regulation of officials, enforce its intent, and even to know what is being decided, and by whom.

The federal government had grown enormously long before the advent of presidential bureaucracy. Functions and authority imposed by the emergencies of depression and war were expanded and made permanent by continuing world conflict and the necessities of new economic relationships. Even though the figure of the president dominated this swelling federal authority, until recently, the new functions of government — the armies and agencies, domestic regulation and foreign involvement — were not at his personal disposition, the compliant instruments of executive will.

When Roosevelt was president the executive office which, in recent years, has assumed virtually unchecked authority to “save” Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Vietnam or Cambodia was virtually impotent to act for the salvation of England. After extensive public debate and political maneuvering, Congress permitted Roosevelt to continue raising an army for the defense of the nation by only a single vote; while congressional and public opinion prevented him from taking other important measures to protect the national security against grave and obvious dangers. Until the 1960s the important choices of foreign policy were publicly debated, popular and congressional approval were sought, not as a ritual gesture but as a condition of effective national action. Harry Truman could not have aided Greece and Turkey without formal congressional support, while the prospect of congressional opposition contributed to Eisenhower’s decision not to assist the French in Indochina with military force. Today we — people and Congress — can think ourselves fortunate if the executive is willing to “brief” us on what new world policies it has adopted.

The drama of the early New Deal — the hundred days, the breadlines and braintrusters — tends to obscure realization that from the onset of war until 1965, Congress, and not the president, dominated domestic policy. When Nixon won, renegade liberals — many of them disguised as Harvard social scientists — deluged us with the glad tidings that the liberal experiment of postwar America was over; on balance, a failure. Professional intellectuals — these other professional intellectuals informed us — had misunderstood the country, forcing us to learn in the hard school of experience that the government couldn’t do everything. The relieved acclaim which greeted this absolution from responsibility toward our fellow man, tended to make us forget that the government had done almost nothing. For a quarter century there was no liberal legislation, with the exception of a few post-Sputnik education programs inspired by fear that Russian children were getting smarter than ours and a handful of bills allowing blacks some of their constitutional rights.

The programs of the first two Johnson years some of which — like voting rights and Medicare — did work, while the rest — like the war on poverty — were doomed to failure when the war in Vietnam froze them in the early stages of experiment. During this period, Congress rejected the domestic policies of Truman, agreed with the inactivity of Eisenhower, and forced Kennedy to adapt his actions and legislative requests to congressional power. (Nixon has dispelled the illogical delusion that “negative” policy is not policy. To neglect the poor is to sustain the rich, to deny the blacks is to reward the racists.) The major postwar battles over the relationship between business and organized labor, civil rights and tax policy were fought out within the Congress which shaped, debated and passed the basic legislation like the Taft-Hartley, the Internal Revenue Code of 1954 and the civil rights acts of the Fifties.

Although the Nixon presidency, even at its height, never had public support as strong as that enjoyed by Eisenhower, Kennedy or the early Johnson, the present Congress seems impotent to initiate or compel changes in domestic policy. While the country endures food shortages and inflation, the crisis of the dollar and the energy crisis, Congress inertly awaits some new display of executive incompetence or rushes off to bestow some new grants of authority on the most discredited and plainly corrupt administration in our history.

The reduction of executive agencies toward complete subservience to presidential will constitutes an even more radical transformation in the democratic structure. The departments of government have never been mere extensions of the presidential office. They were the creations of Congress, their powers and obligations defined by statute, the amount and nature of their spending determined by annual appropriations. The president was to “administer” in compliance with legislative directions, while his appointments to high office required Senate confirmation, so that, in Hamilton’s words, “He would be both ashamed and afraid to bring forward… candidates… possessing the necessary insignificance and pliancy to render them the obsequious instruments of his pleasure.”

Until recently, high officials were also restrained by public opinion and congressional scrutiny. Often men of independent reputation, they had a personal stake in the integrity and achievements of the departments they managed. The current passion for “loyalty” and “team play” tell us of the transmutation of the executive branch into a presidential dependency, manned by individuals selected largely for their willingness to subordinate the commands of law, tradition and honor to directives from the White House.

As a result, presidential discretion in enforcing the laws has become the power to decide whether the law shall be enforced at all; the authority to regulate has become the ability to reward friends and punish enemies. This power, once established, is used to reinforce itself. Congressmen who hope to benefit from defense contracts or pipeline decisions are unlikely to challenge the President’s power to reward them. The same is true of big business, television networks, and the Teamsters. The regulatory power of the federal government influences the fortunes of every significant force and interest within the society. The power to regulate is the power to destroy, or to enrich; much of what we have called domestic policy is now regulatory policy. The more this power is concentrated in presidential hands, the more remote the prospects of resistance to presidential ambitions.

One should not be tempted to extend sympathy for this disaster to the members of an enfeebled Congress. The power they have lost is not theirs, but our own. The public debate and disclosure which accompanies congressional participation in the conduct of government is the most effective, often the only, opportunity for the expression of popular will — either directly, or because of a congressman’s concern for his constituency.

Moreover the democratic process does not consist of the incarnation of the popular will in a single individual. Government “by the people” meant that each citizen participated in a number of overlapping constituencies — from city council and state legislature to congressional district and continental executive. More than a protection against official despotism, this division permitted the expression of a multiplicity of interests and concerns. The opposition to war which might win a Senate seat would not qualify a politician to run the city of Detroit. The same population which elected President Nixon has chosen a Democratic majority in Congress. One cannot assert that either the Republican President or Democratic Congress is more representative of the popular will, more “democratic.”

The process of democracy consists of a variety of choices directed to a variety of functions and responsibilities. As these functions are absorbed into the executive the citizen loses his power to choose; the form of election remains, but the right to select the impotent is not power. The contraction of choice, of the significance of choice, is a loss of freedom. One need only imagine a country which every four years elects a king empowered to name and direct all public officials in order to understand that the right to vote for a president does not satisfy the requirements of democracy.

By allowing its own powers to be diminished, Congress has seriously weakened what Hamilton described as “the two greatest securities” of the people “for the faithful exercise of any delegated power.” “First, the restraints of public opinion” which, Hamilton pointed out, would “lose their efficacy” if it was necessary to divide censure among a number or if there was any “uncertainty on who it ought to fall; and, secondly the opportunity of discovering with facility and clearness the misconduct of the persons they trust, in order either to their removal from office, or to their actual punishment in cases which admit of it.”

The impeachment of the President will not, by itself, restore these restraints; the conditions which permit abuse would still remain. It is not enough to throw out the thieves, it is also necessary to dismantle the den; to reduce the power of the executive and rebuild, as best we can, barriers against presidential ambition and desires. This is the mirror image of the task which confronted the Framers when they assembled at Philadelphia. The need for a more effective central government was the impulse to an assembly which, even as it met, was uncertain if its goal could be reached without endangering the principles of republican democracy. And if it did come to a choice, there was little doubt that the states and people would prefer the hazards of ineffective rule, and that no new Constitution would be ratified.

The resolution was the division of powers, not only among the branches of the national government, but between nation, state and the private society or, to use the Founders’ optimistic term, the “people.”

This division was more than a judgment about the appropriate location of power. To divide public power is to reduce the total power of the state; an aspect of a general principle which applies to all forms of authority. The worker of Marx’s day was helpless because his power was dispersed, as the history of unionization has demonstrated. The same principle explains why those who own major corporations — the shareholders — have no authority over its management, and why the rights to cast one vote every four years for a president is not self-government.

To concentrate power is to increase it, the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts. Thus the growth of executive power, the dissolution of traditional divisions and restraints, has not simply made the president more important in relationship to Congress, the courts or state governments. It has increased the total power of the state at the expense of private freedom and autonomy to the point where, in modern times, the original understanding — the reconciliation of authority with democracy — has been shattered.

For decades American presidents have been probing and extending the limits of this emerging executive power, and Nixon, for all his excesses, probably fell far short of existing possibilities, undone by incompetence and triviality. For power breeds power and, if the process is not checked, will some day override all restraints; if, indeed, that point has not already been passed without our having noticed or understood.

This perilous accumulation of authority has occurred even though the constitutional provisions which assign and limit power are unchanged and remain, in the phrase of Article VI, “the supreme law of the land… ” Yet this particular body of law has a distinctive, almost unique, attribute — it cannot be enforced through the legal process. No court can compel a defiant executive to relinquish powers. Courts do not control the instruments of compulsion — the marshalls and prosecutors. President Jackson refused to follow a Supreme Court order which returned land to the Cherokees, saying, “John Marshall has made his opinion, now let him enforce it”; while President Truman thought it wise to relinquish federal control over the steel mills in obedience to the high court’s decision. And it is self-evident that a reluctant Congress cannot be forced through legal process to exercise its powers or fulfill its constitutional obligations.

The actual division of powers at any historical moment is determined, not by law, but by the circumstances and necessities of the time, and by the willingness of the people and their representatives to protect their liberties. Clearly, for example, the existence of a mammoth defense force has expanded the content of a president’s power as commander-in-chief. The modern cult of the presidency, the president as supreme celebrity, could only be sustained by the new mass media with its ability to drown the nation in passionless curiosity.

The inability to guarantee the separation of powers through the due process of law was the source of Madison’s warning that “a mere demarcation on parchment of the constitutional limits of the several departments is not a sufficient guard against these encroachments which lead to a tyrannical concentration of all the powers of government in the same hands.”

The languishing democratic process cannot be restored simply by exhorting the president to self-restraint or the Congress to self-assertion. “Power” is an abstraction, but its exercise requires tangible organization and institutions. A will to freedom is essential, but the most fervent hatred of oppression can be frustrated by those who command the instruments of power — an army, a secret police or, in our own case, the public structures which contain and impose the presidential authority. Those involved in women’s liberation have repealed Freud’s dictum that anatomy is destiny, but it is still true that in government, structure is power. The present executive metastasis can be arrested only by changes in the instruments which permit the exercise and accumulation of an authority which is both unnecessary to the national well-being and dangerous to the nation’s liberty. We already have the formal power to make such changes. And one can readily illustrate the kinds of modifications which are required.

One would begin, for example, by eliminating the presidential bureaucracy — through a simple congressional refusal to renew its annual authorization and approval. The president should be permitted a few speech-writers and personal assistants, a couple of press secretaries and a crony or two. But a president, mindful of tradition, might restrict himself to 11 — the number who served Franklin Roosevelt. The presidency does not need a private super-department to manage the public departments whose officials he also appoints and directs.

We have been told by every president since Eisenhower that a mushrooming foreign policy staff was a necessity of the complex modern world. Then Henry Kissinger moved down the street to the State Department, trailing clouds of power as he went. The justifications for other, less sensitive activities secluded within the White House are equally mythological.

Nothing is done — legally and in the public interest — by the presidential staff which cannot be accomplished by public agencies subject to those public and congressional restraints provided by the democratic process. Perhaps a good president might be trusted with a private government, but only theologians can be permitted to rely on the coincidence of goodness with power.

The ability to conduct national affairs in secret deprives Congress and public of influence on the process of decision; it encourages conspiracy between private interests, executive employees and a handful of powerful congressmen. Moreover, the systematic abuse of power requires a lot of time and a lot of people. Even the most corrupt, power-hungry and energetic president cannot — by himself or with a few assistants — run a spy system, issue secret orders to “independent” agencies, infiltrate the departments with loyal subordinates, pay off friends and supporters, monitor the media and pursue “enemies.” A general without a loyal army may abuse his authority but he cannot become a tyrant.

The independent regulatory agencies should follow the presidential bureaucracy into the limbo of discarded deformities. These agencies were established to regulate important sectors of the economy — railroads, airlines, communications and media, stock markets, etc. Since their decisions directly influence the personal fortunes of individuals and the earnings of companies — the ability to bestow or deny wealth — careful effort was made to insulate the agencies from the pressures of politics and the coercion of politicians.

Time and corruption transformed this “independence” into a shield behind which agencies and the industries they were to regulate, formed alliances against the public interest they were to protect. As a result, in the late Fifties and early Sixties, a variety of studies — conducted privately and by the government — recommended their abolition. But the businesses which had violently protested their creation fought to preserve them. And nothing was done. The Nixon administration, with its genius for innovative advance, discovered that regulatory agencies could be used, not only to help business in general, but to serve those particular interests and companies thought specially deserving of presidential favor, and those who had yielded to presidential blackmail.

It is time to follow recommendations — made by many during recent decades — to transfer the judicial functions to courts, whose independence is more secure, and to place the legislative power in government departments more readily subject to the corrective scrutiny of Congress and public. Even better, Congress might enact general regulations into law, thus re-assuming the legislative authority it has abdicated in the name of permitting “administrative discretion.”

It will be harder to guard against the sprawling apparatus dedicated to enforcing the law, collecting taxes, compiling intelligence, spying on individuals, and protecting the national security against all enemies real or imagined. Like all good bureaucracies, these organizations want to grow — to add functions and extend jurisdiction — but never to eliminate the redundant or obsolete. And that mischief which is due to idle hands, the need to make use of an excess of money or an agent, is sheltered by their relative secrecy of operation. By undertaking to redraft and reenact the legislation which establishes those varied functions, Congress could provide a public review which might at least serve to expose waste, incompetence and obsolescence.

Although one cannot eliminate all the dangers inherent in the inconsistency between democracy and a national police, some protection could be provided by the establishment of joint congressional committees to share presidential authority over the bureaus of intelligence and law enforcement. It would be necessary to equip such committees with professional staffs large enough to monitor all their operations. It cannot be assumed that any congressional committee will prove a zealous guardian of civil liberties, but, if only from self-interest, a congressional group might be counted on to obstruct lawless acts intended to advance the political fortunes of the president and his party. Certainly, it will increase the number of those who must be enlisted for illegal conspiracies.

Reductions in presidential authority will not, by themselves, eliminate the varied incapacities which have brought the Congress to its present low estate. Congress has been enfeebled, not by the personal defects of its members, but by the nature of modern politics and by the inadequacies of congressional organization.

Every member of Congress must share his constituency with the president. Open conflict is a risk made to appear far more dangerous by the president’s exclusive access to mass media. Even if a congressman is more popular in his district than is the president, most politicians are reluctant to relinquish a single vote, unless by so doing they gain even more. Since a congressman’s constituency also contains opponents of the president or of particular presidential policies, potentially damaging controversy can most readily be avoided by abandoning responsibility, by letting the president decide. This is the course dictated by contemporary political wisdom, except when issues touch the immediate interests of a district, or on those rare occasions when public passions force a congressman to a choice. Moreover, the same large private interests which benefit from presidential power also support and influence members of Congress, while the president can use his power over federal resources to enrich the districts of the faithful. Reducing executive authority along the lines suggested here will dilute some of these political weapons of control, but opposition to even a moderately popular president will never be made to seem a safe or easy course.

And even if changing political conditions instill Congress with the will and courage to reassert its powers, the way will be blocked by a legislative organization based on impotence. Congressional committees, for example, are often little more than executive enclaves within the legislative branch. “Key congressmen” — the ranking members of important committees — are permitted to share the rewards and even the authority of the administration, in return for helping to protect the executive against unwanted interventions by the Congress. Their relationship with the executive, with which they also share a distaste for the hazards of public debate and legislative interference, is far more rewarding than their ties to other members, or to the Congress as an institution. That is why the White House staff has hastened to assert jurisdiction over these congressional relations which once helped executive departments to maintain some independence of the presidential will.

The most important source of congressional subservience, however, is not the committee structure or the seniority system, but the inability of members to obtain and use that expert knowledge and information which, given the complexity of modern government, has become necessary to the exercise of power. The official who visits Capitol Hill to argue the president’s case is backed up by studies and memos, supported by batallions of specialists and statisticians, flanked by assistants eager to provide a missing fact or suggest the answer to an awkward question. The congressman, on the other hand, is rarely equipped to debate the executive, or even to comprehend what is being newly proposed or what ongoing activities he is expected to support. The most diligent and conscientious member, although he may become expert in a particular field such as tax policy or the space program, cannot also master the intricacies of defense, inflation or agriculture. He must rely on a handful of colleagues and lobbyists or on the executive.

A Congress determined to share in the conduct of affairs will need its own counterpart to the Bureau of the Budget — a congressional institution large enough to monitor and evaluate executive activities, to master the details of complicated legislation, and to provide new ideas and specific recommendations for congressional initiatives to resolve important national problems. Congress is not an assembly of critics, designated to censure or applaud the president’s performance. It is also, and equally, responsible for ending inflation, reducing crime, or helping the poor. We cannot be sure that congressmen will want to forfeit the relative comfort and tranquillity made possible by the abdication of this responsibility. But the most zealous Congress cannot act without the resources needed to examine and understand the afflictions of the nation.

This new congressional agency will not be effective if it simply disgorges vast quantities of memos and studies for men who are already inundated by more material than they can read or master. Its officials and experts should participate directly in committee interrogations of their executive counterparts. Their expertise, their scrutiny of executive actions, and their continuing examination of national problems would be freely available to all members and, in most cases, to the public.

Congress is democracy’s only public forum, and its power to force debate and disclosure is also the most important instrument for the participation of the citizen. That power is drained of all content and meaning by congressional ignorance, or by congressional dependence on information that the executive tells it. If the deeds and policies of government are not subjected to the open clash of the diverse interests and ideas which Congress represents, there can be no public will or popular government, only a plebiscite.

It will not be easy to reverse the accumulation of presidential authority. Yet the prospects have been brightened by the emerging realization that the restoration of democratic principle is also a necessity of effective government. It now appears that even though the president’s power is a consequence of modern conditions, it is not a necessity. Our problems and circumstances do not require a usurping executive and an enfeebled Congress. Indeed, the clearest lesson of the past decade is that the removal of restraints breeds massive incompetence, increases the likelihood of actions and policies which damage the national well-being. The large industrial bureaucracies which dominate the modern economy have been a principal cause and support of increased presidential power, finding it more congenial to deal in secret with a small group of fellow executives than to master the confusions of the democratic process. They now discover that the price of this support has been an end to the sustained economic expansion of the postwar period. Surely an entire decade of misrule is enough to convince even the most sceptical that we are not the victims of bad luck, but of more fundamental defects in the organization of the state.

There is no guarantee against error, but to concentrate power over the immense complexities of modern life, to reduce public debate and congressional participation, is to make error inevitable, and to ensure recurrent crises each of which will lead to further encroachments by an executive anxious to mask its failures and subdue the opposition which failure arouses. We are far more likely to increase our economic well-being, resolve our social problems, and avoid self-destructive world policies amid the confusions of democracy than in the quiet intrigue of executive chambers.

Popular on Rolling Stone

In This Article: Coverwall


Powered by
Arrow Created with Sketch. Calendar Created with Sketch. Path Created with Sketch. Shape Created with Sketch. Plus Created with Sketch. minus Created with Sketch.