September 23, 2007
Presidential Power, in Perspective
By THE NEW YORK TIMES
Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., writing on April 27, 1967, described the
mutability of attitudes toward presidential power. The excerpt is from
"Journals: 1952-2000," a collection of the late historian's diary to
be published next month.
We are reaching some sort of crisis on Vietnam. L. B. J. has evidently
decided on a quick and brutal escalation of the war. It was clear in
February that he did not wish negotiation until the existing military
balance could be turned considerably in our favor; and his clear
intention now is to bomb North Vietnam until Hanoi is prepared to sue
for peace on terms which will meet Rusk's idea of a satisfactory
More than that, the administration is apparently determined to advance
the proposition that dissent is unpatriotic, and has brought General
Westmoreland back for this purpose.
The irony is that all of us for years have been defending the
presidential prerogative and regarding the Congress as a drag on
policy. It is evident now that this delight in a strong presidency was
based on the fact that, up to now, all strong presidents in American
history have pursued policies of which one has approved. We are now
confronted by the anomaly of a strong president using these arguments
to pursue a course which, so far as I can see, can lead only to disaster.
It is not hard to assert a Congressional role; but, given the
structure of the American system, it is very hard to see how the
Congress can restrain the presidential drive toward the enlargement of
the war. Voting against military appropriations is both humanly and
politically self-defeating. The only hope is to organize a broad
political movement; and even this cannot take effect until, at the
very earliest, the 1968 primaries, which may be too late.