Considering the Bush Presidency

Considering the Bush Presidency

Gary Aguiar

Considering the Bush Presidency. Edited by Gary L. Gregg II and Mark J. Rozell. 2004. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

In the popular ritual of appraising the sitting president, Gregg and Rozell present an informative collection of essays on George W. Bush’s presidency at its’ midpoint. Besides the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, this period includes many significant events in American politics, such as the 2000 presidential election, the subsequent Florida recount, the midterm congressional elections of 2002, and the eve of war with Iraq in 2003. The obvious audience for this slim volume is students in upper-division university courses; it is particularly suited as a supplemental text for presidency courses. The authors blend several writing styles, including empirical research, normative scholarship, and a bit of journalism. Most chapters are tightly focused bite-size chunks that present well-developed theories of the presidency.

The chapters, written primarily by established scholars, cover the standard topics in a presidency course. However, two fascinating chapters introduce the “symbolic presidency” (by Gregg) and executive privilege (by Rozell). Two other invaluable chapters are war-making powers by Louis Fisher and the evolving role of the vice presidency by Paul Kengor.

Fisher’s powerful critique of the expansion of presidential war-making abilities highlights congressional weakness in its “declaration of war” against Iraq. In transferring these important foreign policy decisions to the presidency, he argues that the contemporary Congress has abdicated its role in making war. Fisher implies that America’s republican efforts to build a democracy may be a pure facade. The historical and legal framework in this essay is a substantial contribution to the literature. This essay alone makes the volume a valuable addition to any political science library.

In an essay on Bush’s use of symbolism, Gregg argues that the presidency serves an essential role in instructing Americans about the meaning of political events. He characterizes Bush’s reaction to the terrorist attacks as “dignified authenticity.” The chapter bolsters the classic position that the president should be a strong executive, which reflects the subfield’s bias that presidents should play a large role in the American polity.

In a chapter on executive privilege, Rozell characterizes his topic as a battle between the Congress and the president. He develops a reasonable (and well-reasoned) middling position on whether presidents should be able to conceal some facts from the American public. Contrary to existing law, Rozell argues that Bush used an Executive Order to give sitting presidents the power to control access to former presidents’ papers. Moreover, he details the Bush administration’s actions to fight congressional efforts to learn about Dick Cheney’s controversial Energy Task Force and to examine long-closed FBI cases on organized crime. Rozell concludes that these efforts to broaden executive privilege probably diminished future presidents’ ability to withhold information.

Other chapters offer new empirical insights unavailable elsewhere. For example, the chapter on presidential staffing by Charles E. Walcott and Karen M. Hult presents new demographic data on high-level staffers (including age, turnover, and home state) that challenges conventional wisdom. In an essay on public opinion, Michael A. Dimock analyzes the “rally effect” and presciently explains that Bush’s once-stratospheric approval ratings were returning to normal by March 2003. In the context of a closely divided electorate, Andrew E. Busch details how President Bush’s political skills allowed him to snatch victory from a favored Al Gore in 2000 and assemble narrow majorities in the 2002 congressional elections. Kengor shows how Cheney completely revamped the vice presidential model by drawing on previous traditions and his own expertise.

The chapters comprise a mix of styles and perspectives, which collectively provide a balanced view of the Bush administration. Undoubtedly, the up-to-date analysis will excite and intrigue younger audiences. However, the shortened hindsight means the insights are time-sensitive and likely to expire quickly. As is often the case in edited volumes, several chapters rehash the same set of facts. Nevertheless, the text applies scholarly political analysis to current events in a fashion undergraduates can comprehend. This approach will assist students in understanding the recent past; thus, the volume serves its upper-division audience well. It could even be used in an introductory course in American politics with a roster of engaged lower-division students.

Reviewed by: Gary Aguiar, South Dakota State University

COPYRIGHT 2004 Nova Science Publishers, Inc.

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