Kaiser George

Mark accurately states that the Bush “philosophy” of executive power is more than Nixonian, and he is correct. So what actually to call it?

It hardly resonates politically, but at times it might be best to think of it as “Wilhelmine.” Godwin’s Law commands that we not analogize our political opponents to the Third Reich and I think that that is correct: but one fewer Reich seems accurate here.

As I understand it, in Imperial Germany, the Reichstag (the legislature) had one role: to debate the budget and other fiscal matters. Its power over the purse led to some remarkable occurrences: Prussian Chancellor Bismarck actually turned to a Jewish banker named Bleichroder to finance his wars privately. (In fairness, it’s the other way around in modern times: with Bush, the public fisc finances private contractors.)

But that was it. The Reichstag had no authority over the military or foreign policy. The Chancellor and other Cabinet officials were not responsible to the Legislature and could not be fired by it. This was why, even though by 1917, the Reichstag desperately wanted to come to a negotiate a settlement of World War I, it was simply ignored by the Kaiser–or more accurately by his military chiefs Ludendorff and von Hindenberg.

This appears to be the administration’s view. The only thing that Congress can do vis-a-vis the executive is to cut off funding. That’s it. Anything else runs afoul of the all-powerful Commander-in-Chief. There is literally nothing that Coingress can do, except the very clear power of the purse, that the administration believes that it needs to take notice of.

I should note for the record that there are some interesting parallels between Bush’s personality and Kaiser Wilhelm II’s: a tendency to like to dress up in fancy military gear without any military experience, a sense of absolute entitlement to manage the nation’s affairs, a refusal to face accountability, and of course, a need to show that he is better than his father and his father’s advisors in directing the affairs of state. (With Wilhelm it was actually his grandfather but the same principle applies).

Oh yes–Wilhelm’s rule didn’t turn out too well for Germany, either. Funny how that works.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.