If the American public is suffering from a lack of information about the history of the presidency and the balance of power, especially prior to a national election, I don't see how a discussion of specific historical incidents can do anything but add to the lively debate in assessing the Bush presidency and the preemptive doctrine that occasioned the invasion of Iraq.
In the current political climate, dissent is under fire, accused of increasing the danger for our troops in Iraq. Recent statements from Washington indicate that such dissent may border on the treasonous. Schlesinger's book is a timely response to such assertions, because the author sites specific incidents in American history, making a strong case for the necessity of open dialog in the service of the democratic process.
The current preemptive doctrine is worthy of careful consideration. Schlesinger posits that military might is no substitute for wisdom and can only accomplish limited goals. Peace through the prevention of war is replaced with peace via preventive war, an entirely different prospect, with its own inherent problems. Even Truman opined the foolhardiness of a concept that war can only be prevented by war, "You can't 'prevent' anything by war except peace."
Preventive war depends upon accurate intelligence; certainly, it is human nature to guess the future from the experiences of the past. But do we use the historic perspective to create insight or justification for our agenda? The future will not yield itself to the vision of one man or one nation; hence, extreme caution is imperative. We must constantly monitor the inherent dangers of power and the arrogance it breeds.
Nixon was the last president to exercise the concept of "imperial presidency", when the balance of power is upset by the executive branch, via foreign policy decisions, with a lack of congressional oversight and the aid of the attorney general. But Osama bin Laden reopened the doors of imperial presidency for our generation, John Ashcroft at the helm, promoting the Patriot Act I and II, which must allow open debate by the Congress before any restrictions are made on the freedoms we enjoy.
Certain question arise, in reading this book and considering the problems at hand; for example, if war does nurture the concept of the imperial presidency, and certainly the events of 9/11 have made the public more vulnerable and willing to take direction from our leaders, do a democratic people have a moral obligation to stop dissent during wartime? Is this the example shown by our forefathers? And, in a nation born of dissent, what is the nature of patriotism? Schlesinger answers all these questions in detail. The answers are surprisingly informative, certainly worth consideration.
Both popular and electoral votes were at issue in the last election and may be again, so the author includes the pros and cons of the arguments as the framers of the constitution grappled with the safest way to preserve the will of the people. There are also issues regarding the uninhibited pursuit of runaway capitalism and its inherent dangers, including the imminence of a complicated global economy.
Religious fanaticism breeds terrorism, yet people are drawn together in the comfort of spiritual identity, searching for meaning in their lives, so how do we achieve a balance that allows belief systems to coexist, without taking advantage of the obvious fear or one "God" trumping another? It is critical that we refuse to allow fanatics to usurp emotion-driven decisions that cause violence in the name of God.
These are difficult times with serious issues confronting the voters and debate is critical if we are to live within the intended framework of our democracy. "The great strength of democracy is its capacity for self-correction", whether in the global market, the pressures of race and assimilation or spiritual frustration caused by global anonymity. As citizens, we are intimately invested in a process that has so far been successful in safeguarding our values and democratic ideals, but we cannot avoid personal responsibility when electing those to best represent us.
In the final analysis, history documents the nature of dissent in this country and the fact that no president has been sacrosanct, whether the country is at war or not, is well established. Dissent is viable in a democracy, dialog the lifeblood of citizenship and critical to voters. Schlesinger's book suggests an appreciation of our rich history of dissent and the valuable lessons of experience, positive and negative. Stimulating curiosity in pursuit of lively discussion is never a waste of time. Luan Gaines/2004.