Sample Book Review of The President’s Czars

Introduction

The success of governments is determined by the kind of leadership in place. In the United States, the Constitution gives the president executive powers such as that of appointing individuals to head various federal departments, federal agencies, and others. However, the power is curtailed as most of the president’s appointees to the various departments and agencies must be approved by Congress. The fact that the legislative and judicial arms of government have to approve or scrutinize the president’s appointees brings forth the concepts of “checks and balances.” However, over the years, presidents have overstepped their mandates and gone ahead to make appointments without seeking the approval of other arms of government. Mitchell A. Sollenberger and Mark J. Rozell, in the book The President ‘s Czars: Undermining Congress and the Constitution, extensively explore American presidents’ appointments of Czars that go against the Constitution. This review of the book begins by summarizing the content of the book from the definition of the term “Czar” to how American presidents unlawfully make their appointments. The review also entails a critique of the books, which entails assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the book as well as its conclusion. There is personal response to the book’s content and contributions to public policy implementation in the U.S.

Summary

That the authors have come up with a crucial book for presidential scholars is not in doubt. The book revolves around the theme of presidentialism with a focus on academic treatments of the presidency. Their main objective is to address the deficiencies that come with the approach taken by American presidents with regard to appointments of individuals to key positions in government. According to the authors, “since the Progressive Era, there has been a steady and growing infatuation with a strong presidency.”[1] The authors continue to write that “To many observers, the complex system of separated powers engenders delay and gridlock. A strong presidency for them represents the promise of governmental efficiency.”[2]

Sollenberger and Rozell are strongly against the idea of a strong presidency. Their writing is a public law analysis of how presidential power has grown over the years while assessing how constitutional or legal the actions of presidents are. Their major focus is on presidential appointments of individuals commonly referred to as “czars.” The authors define “czars” as executive branch officials who despite not being approved or confirmed by the U.S. Senate, continue to exercise and enjoy decision-making authority. The said authority ranges from administration or coordination of a policy area, control of federal budgetary programs, or promulgation of regulations, rules, and orders bringing together officials of the government or those from the private sector.[3] According to the authors, the practice of appointing czars is unconstitutional as underlined by their statement “we declare executive branch czars to be a constitutional aberration, a practice that violates the core principles of a balanced governing system based on democratic control…”[4] The authors further state “we believe that the overall damage to our constitutional system is great and that this practice needs to stop”[5]

Throughout the book, the authors give a well-documented history of how American presidents have appointed czars. They assert that the appointment of czars began with the administration of Woodrow Wilson.[6] Wilson’s major belief was that the government’s effectiveness at the time was dependent mainly on presidential dominance and a subordinate Congress.[7] By appointing czars, Wilson believed that he was realizing his objective of having a dominant presidency. His first appointment of a czar came during World War I when one George Creel was appointed as a manager of a propaganda campaign that sought to explain and support the role of the U.S. in the war. Wilson further created czars who were put in charge of price-fixing and labor relations throughout World War I.

It is believed that president Wilson’ creations of czars were relatively modest when compared to czar creations of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Considered one of the firm supporters of a strong presidency, FDR created a number of czars putting them in charge of critical areas including labor mediation, transportation, civil defense, inter-American affairs, health and welfare, the New Deal, and Japanese internment.[8] FDR’s creation was condoned by the legislative arm of government with the its only attempt to rein in coming in 1944. Harry Truman continued with the appointment of czars during his regime thanks to the lack of checks and balances by Congress. Sollenberger and Rozell note that subsequent presidents, John F. Kennedy and Dwight D. Eisenhower, did not believe in strong presidencies thus avoiding appointment of czars. The two regimes relied on cabinet channels and making policies through legislation. The book notes that the use of czars was reintroduced by presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon, with the appointments resulting in significant political difficulties during both regimes.

When Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford came to power, the use of czars was stopped. The halt was largely attributed to the post-Watergate reaction. The use of czars arose again during presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama who appointed 11 and more than 22 czars respectively. During Bush’s regime, czars were in charge of the Faith Based Initiative and Homeland Security. On the other hand, Obama’s regime witnessed the appointment of czars to areas such as climate and energy, Asian carp, California water, the Great Lakes, automobile production, health care, as well as health foods. In the book, Sollenberger and Rozell question whey Congress allowed the rise in czar appointments during Bush and Obama regimes. One of the reasons noted by the authors is lawmakers’ interests in protecting the ideals and prerogatives of presidents of the parties to which they belong. For presidents, a major reason given for such appointments by the authors is the fact that they get more power and control allowing them to pursue their ends with minimal interference from Congress.

In their conclusion of the book, the authors give recommendations such as the need to disclose both responsibilities and behaviors of czars. They also propose compulsory confirmation of czars upon appointment by Senate. It is the authors’ opinion that implementation of the recommendations would be a boost to the constitutional separation of powers.

Analysis and Critique

The idea of a strong presidency brought forward by presidents’ decision to appoint czars while ignoring the constitutional mandate of Congress to confirm such appointments must not be condoned. Separation of powers is important if a government is to be effective in executing its duties to citizens. Based on the Biblical law of government that was proclaimed by government, ancient Israel existed as one unitary republic of one faith and one nationality. The republic’s King’s executed their mandates and were checked by the people thanks to the laws that had been put in place by God. Similar functions of government were borrowed by American Founders such as John Adams who pushed for separation of powers into three branches.[9] Just as it was in the Biblical context, American presidents must follow the biblical standard of separation of powers and do away with appointments of czars.

Regarding strengths, the authors raise the constitutional separation of powers as a key element in the analysis of contemporary presidency. That the authors raise the same is a major contribution of the book deserving the attention of presidential scholars.[10] Another strength of the book is that it provides a new and different list of what can be referred to as significant executive orders.[11] Moreover, the data or information contained in the book can help in the advancement of unilateral presidency literature in a different way.

There are various areas of weaknesses with regard to the book. One major weakness is that the authors extensively explain that American presidents rely on czars in controlling and centralizing the executive branch’s policy making process. Although this is a valid document, the authors tend to ignore the wider research on administrative presidency exploring the various policy tools as well as powers used by presidents in controlling and politicizing the executive branch.[12] The second major weakness is in the book’s conclusion where the authors give brief suggestions on how reforms of the executive branch can be done by politicians in a bid to mitigate the threat posed to the wider American political system by presidential czars. To be specific, the discussion of the reforms in the conclusion does not provide details on how the mentioned reform measure can be introduced to help curb presidential power.

Personal Response

I believe that the book makes a significant contribution as far as curbing presidential power is concerned. The U.S. Constitution gives guidelines on the separation of powers. The executive, headed by the president, has a responsibility to make and implement policies. However, appointment of individuals to head departments and agencies that oversee the implementation of such policies must be confirmed by Congress. The judicial arm of government also has a responsibility to determine the legality or constitutionality of policies formulated and implemented by the executive branch. The book is clear on what a czar is since not many people may be aware of what it is. I am of the opinion that the book’s content could influence readers and the general population to always oppose illegal and unconstitutional appointments of czars as has been witnessed in past presidencies as well as the current one.

Conclusion

The President’s Czars is an interesting book that enhances people’s understanding of the term “czar” and the power American presidents have when it comes to their appointment. Throughout the book, the authors talk about American presidents who used czars and those who did not. They single out Obama as one of the American presidents who used the most czars during his regime. The authors further recommend the need to disclose the responsibilities and behaviors of czars and compulsory confirmation of czars by Senate. They believe that these recommendations would help to enhance constitutional separation of powers if implemented. There are various strengths and weaknesses of the book as well. For the strengths, the authors raise the constitutional separation of powers as a key element in the analysis of contemporary presidency. Overall, the book makes a significant contribution regarding curbing presidential power.

 

Bibliography

“Parallel Concepts between the U.S. Constitution & the Bible.” National Center for Constitutional Studies. Accessed January 17, 2020. https://nccs.net/blogs/articles/parallel-concepts-between-the-u-s-constitution-the-bible

Bailey, Jeremy. “All the President’s Czars.” Law & Liberty, October 21, 2012. https://www.lawliberty.org/book-review/all-the-presidents-czars/.

Dill, Hannah Margaret. “Uncovering the Mystery of Presidential” Czars”.” IU South Bend Undergraduate Research Journal 12 (2012): 85-90.

Rottinghaus, Brandon. “Book Review: The President’s Legislative Policy Agenda, 1789-2002; The President’s Czars: Undermining Congress and the Constitution.” Perspectives on Politics 11, no. 4 (2013): 1150.

Schier, Steven E. “A Review of ‘The Presidents Czars: Undermining Congress and the Constitution.’” Congress & the Presidency 40, no. 3 (2013): 320–22. https://doi.org/10.1080/07343469.2013.825182

Sollenberger, Mitchel A., and Mark J. Rozell. “The Origins and Development of Executive Branch Czars.” Journal of Policy History 25, no. 4 (2013): 638–64. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0898030613000043

Sollenberger, Mitchel A., and Mark J. Rozell. The Presidents Czars: Undermining Congress and the Constitution. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2012.

Warber, Adam L. “The President’s Czars: Undermining Congress and the Constitution.” Political Science Quarterly 128, no. 2 (2013): 381-383.

 

[1] Sollenberger, Mitchel A., and Mark J. Rozell. The Presidents Czars: Undermining Congress and the Constitution. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2012.

[2] Sollenberger, Mitchel A., and Mark J. Rozell 178.

[3] Sollenberger, Mitchel A., and Mark J. Rozell 7.

[4] Sollenberger, Mitchel A., and Mark J. Rozell x

[5] Sollenberger, Mitchel A., and Mark J. Rozell x

[6] Sollenberger, Mitchel A., and Mark J. Rozell. “The Origins and Development of Executive Branch Czars.” Journal of Policy History 25, no. 4 (2013): 638–64.

[7] Schier, Steven E. “A Review of ‘The Presidents Czars: Undermining Congress and the Constitution.’” Congress & the Presidency 40, no. 3 (2013): 320–22.

[8] Dill, Hannah Margaret. “Uncovering the Mystery of Presidential” Czars”.” IU South Bend Undergraduate Research Journal 12 (2012): 85-90.

 

[9] “Parallel Concepts between the U.S. Constitution & the Bible.” National Center for Constitutional Studies.

[10] Warber, Adam L. “The President’s Czars: Undermining Congress and the Constitution.” Political Science Quarterly 128, no. 2 (2013): 381-383.

[11] Bailey, Jeremy. “All the President’s Czars.” Law & Liberty, October 21, 2012.

[12] Rottinghaus, Brandon. “Book Review: The President’s Legislative Policy Agenda, 1789-2002; The President’s Czars: Undermining Congress and the Constitution.” Perspectives on Politics 11, no. 4 (2013): 1150.