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Donald Rumsfeld on Presidential Powers

A correspondent directs us to Mark Bernstein:

PAW October 6, 2004: Rumsfeld’s senior thesis concerned President Harry Truman’s seizure of the nation’s steel mills in 1952 in response to a strike, and the Supreme Court’s subsequent decision striking the act down as an abuse of executive power. In his conclusion, Rumsfeld endorsed the Court’s decision to curb the president’s emergency powers. “There is much to be said for not tying the hands of the President unduly,” he wrote. “No one wishes to injure adequate defense action in the event of an enemy attack or an emergency of similar gravity. But, it must not be forgotten that the concept of emergency is elastic...”

That may have been the realist writing, but Rumsfeld went on to embrace the philosophical underpinnings of the Court’s decision, as well. Observing that, in America, almost anyone could rise to the presidency (something he saw as a mixed blessing), Rumsfeld concluded by quoting Jefferson: “With an eye ... [that] the Presidency may not always be occupied by a man intelligent enough to use his power sparingly, Jefferson had the correct answer 165 years ago, when he warned: ‘In matters of power let no more be said of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.’ Let us be thankful that we live in a land where we can demand of those in authority, ‘Give us an account of thy stewardship.’”

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