The Cult of the Presidency

April 23 I saw Gene Healy speak in San Francisco on his book The Cult of the Presidency: America’s Dangerous Devotion to Presidential Power. I’d noticed recently that Tim Lee thinks Healy is great, I’m extremely sympathetic to the idea that the temporary dictatorship is a problem, and the event was held on the top floor of (sadly) , with great views.

I found the talk pretty uninteresting, consisting of too many quotes indicating people expect the U.S. president to be a parental figure and warlord at the same time and a standard libertarian critique that simply says presidents who do a lot are by definition bad — Healy likes and . I tend to agree (though I favor ), but none of this is remotely news. Healy used a cute name for partisan interpretation of rules — “situational constitutionalism” — but didn’t bother to spell out why he thinks partisanship leads to the expansion of executive power rather than (or at least more than) a check on it.

Overall I got the impression Healy knew a whole lot of facts about the U.S. presidency and its baneful impact on the polity and culture, but not much more. His responses to questions from the audience indicated he hadn’t really thought about excessive executive power relative to judicial and legislative abuses, executive power in other jurisdictions, nor any approach to limiting executive power, each of which is many times more interesting than any particular collection of facts about any U.S. president or the presidency. To me.

I hope the book does very well and is read by many people who either don’t think the U.S. presidency is too powerful or is only too powerful when their preferred party is not in power.

Jim Lippard blogged about Healy speaking in Phoenix and had a more favorable impression.

View from 52nd floor of 555 California, looking southeast.

Gene Healy speaks.

One Response

  1. Jim Lippard says:

    There was one point during his talk in Phoenix when he made a comment about someone at the Brookings Institution worried about the loss of trust in government, and he suggested that this is actually a good thing.

    I agree that loss of trust in the government makes sense when the government doesn’t merit that trust, but I’d much rather have a limited government that follows the rule of law and does merit trust than one which is thoroughly corrupt and doesn’t follow the rule of law. A corrupt, untrustworthy government has negative impact beyond the government itself.

Leave a Reply