Is the Presidency Too Powerful?

February 21, 2019

 

On this Presidents’ Day edition of We the People, political historian Julian Zelizer of Princeton and constitutional law professor Eric Posner of the University of Chicago Law School join host Jeffrey Rosen to debate the question: Is the presidency too powerful? Starting with the Founding Fathers’ vision for the presidency, they trace the evolution of presidential power through the Progressive Era presidencies of Teddy Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson, the move to restrain presidential power in the 1970s during LBJ’s and Richard Nixon’s presidencies, and the uptick in exercises of unilateral presidential power by modern presidents like George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump. Finally, they share their thoughts on presidential emergency powers and President Trump’s recent declaration of a national emergency to fund construction of the border wall.

FULL PODCAST

An early transcript of the podcast is linked here. The text may not be in its final form, accuracy may vary, and it may be updated or revised in the future.

PARTICIPANTS

Eric Posner is Kirkland & Ellis Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Arthur and Esther Kane Research Chair at the University of Chicago Law School. He is the author of The Executive Unbound: After the Madisonian Republic which he co-wrote with Adrian Vermuele, and many other works on constitutional and international law and financial regulation.

Julian Zelizer is Malcolm Stevenson Forbes, Class of 1941 Professor of History and Public Affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of many books on American political history including books on Presidents Carter, Reagan, and Johnson, and most recently, the book Fault Lines: A History of the United States Since 1974 which he co-wrote with Kevin Kruse. He is also a CNN political analyst.

​​​​​​Jeffrey Rosen is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Constitution Center, the only institution in America chartered by Congress “to disseminate information about the United States Constitution on a nonpartisan basis.” 


Additional Resources


Our Interactive Constitution is the leading digital resource about the debates and text behind the greatest vision of human freedom in history, the U.S. Constitution. Here, scholars from across the legal and philosophical spectrum interact with each other to explore the meaning of each provision of our founding document. 

Visit the Interactive Constitution’s Article II page where you can find all of the IC's essays on presidential power.


This episode was engineered by Dave Stotz and produced by Jackie McDermott. Research was provided by Lana Ulrich, Jackie McDermott, Ben Roebuck, and Madison Poulter.

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