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The Cult of the Presidency: America's Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power

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January 22, 2009 12:30pm - 2:00pm

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The Bush years have given rise to fears of a resurgent Imperial Presidency. Those fears are justified, but the problem cannot be solved simply by bringing a new administration to power. Gene Healy argues that the fault lies not in our leaders but in ourselves. When our scholars lionize presidents who break free from constitutional restraints, when our columnists and talking heads repeatedly call upon the "commander in chief " to dream great dreams and seek the power to achieve them—when voters look to the president for salvation from all problems great and small—should we really be surprised that the presidency has burst its constitutional bonds and grown powerful enough to threaten American liberty?

Healy takes a step back from the ongoing red team/blue team combat and shows that, at bottom, conservatives and liberals agree on the boundless nature of presidential responsibility. For both camps, it is the president's job to grow the economy, teach our children well, provide seamless protection from terrorist threats, and rescue Americans from spiritual malaise. Healy takes aim at that unconfined conception of presidential responsibility, identifying it as the source of much of our political woe and some of the gravest threats to our liberties.

GENE HEALY is Vice-President at the Cato Institute and author of a number of studies criticizing executive power abuses by presidents of both parties. He has appeared on PBS's NewsHour with Jim Lehrer and NPR's Talk of the Nation, among other venues, and his writings have been published in the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, and elsewhere. Healy holds a B.A. from Georgetown University and a J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School.