RELIC by William G. Howell


How Our Constitution Undermines Effective Government—and Why We Need a More Powerful Presidency
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Two political scientists argue that our Constitution, perhaps suitable for the late 18th century, no longer works well.

Howell (American Politics/Univ. of Chicago; Power without Persuasion: The Politics of Direct Presidential Action, 2003) and Moe (Political Science/Stanford Univ., Special Interest: Teachers Unions and America's Public Schools, 2011) make a serious—and largely successful—effort to remain nonpartisan, attempting to be both descriptive and analytical about what they identify as the most serious problem in American government: it is simply too inefficient for the modern world. They examine programs advanced by presidents Roosevelt (both of them), Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, George W. Bush, Obama, and others and show how advances in quality of life, energy policy, health care, etc., are not at all due to Congress—which is, by design, a more parochial institution—but to the more comprehensive achievements of presidents concerned about their legacies. The authors frequently remind us about the Constitution’s history, the internecine politics that often bring congressional action to a standstill, the separation of powers, and the urgency of our current situation. Howell and Moe realize that a complete overhaul of the Constitution is highly unlikely and that the transfer, say, to a parliamentary system is impossible. Consequently, they recommend what they think might be an alternative: expanding the president’s fast-track authority, which now applies principally to trade deals. Via a Constitutional amendment, they write, we could and should empower the president to submit bills to Congress that they must vote on, without amendment. The rest of the Constitution would remain as is. The authors explain how this small change could do enormous good and would not make a despot of the president.

Focused, committed, convincing, and composed in moderate language that will appeal to those all along the political continuum.

Pub Date: April 26th, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-465-04269-2
Page count: 244pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2016


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