The peculiar thing about this book is that it manages to surprise in spite of the fact that none of the facts it contains
are surprising. Most of us are aware that this administration has been pushing the envelope as to expanding the
purview of executive power. What most of us do not know is who is behind all this, how they are going about it,
and just how incredibly far they are pushing it.
According to Savage, it has been the agenda of Dick Cheney to bring back the imperial presidency ever since it
was lost after the Watergate scandal. Cheney, who worked in the Nixon administration, experienced the great
ease with which the president could commit troops without congressional approval or spy on American citizens
with no oversight, and once Nixon was impeached and he found himself watching these powers slowly stripped
away during his time in the Ford administration, took it upon himself as a personal crusade to not only restore the
powers of the executive branch, but push them to even greater limits.
Cheney’s partner in evil for this whole operation was his chief of staff David Addington, who is also a fervent
advocate of presidential power, and who in spite of being relatively unknown held an incredible amount of
influence within the administration. Another key player, John Yoo, who became the default head of the Office of
Legal Counsel during the beginning of Bush’s first term when congress had failed to confirm any other
appointment, and whose “Unitary Executive Theory” which stated that the entire executive branch served as one
body with the President as the head, though widely rejected by law professors, served as the primary justification
for most of the administration’s usurpations of power throughout Bush’s entire term in office.
Although this book can seem somewhat tedious at times, it is absolutely worth reading just for the sake of
understanding how far the administration has gone in undermining our constitution and eliminating the system of
checks and balances that has served throughout our nation’s history as the foundation of our democracy. Slowly
but surely, Cheney and Addington, with the help of Yoo’s questionable legal theories, have eliminated the ability
of Congress and the Supreme Court to oversee the activities within the executive branch, providing the president
with free reign to do whatever he wants without consequence, from sending troops overseas to spying on
American citizens to withholding the right to due process from anyone detained as part of the war on terror.
Thanks to Cheney, the president can now kidnap anyone and keep them in prison for as long as they like just by
claiming that he is suspected of ties to a terrorist group. If anyone tries to question them, they can invoke
Executive privilege and prevent the courts from so much as reviewing the case because it could compromise
One of the most incredible abuses of power that almost nobody has ever heard about is the president’s use of
signing statements. When the president receives a bill passed by congress with parts he doesn’t like, he does not
have to veto the bill but can merely issue a signing statement, which is meant to offer the official interpretation of
how the executive branch is to enforce a particular law, but which in effect can subvert the entire law without so
much as a debate. The most striking example of this is John McCain’s ban on the use of torture, which was
passed with overwhelming bi-partisan support in congress. When the president failed to defeat this bill, he merely
issued a signing statement giving himself the power to ignore its provisions if he felt it was necessary. So although
it is officially a law that we must abide by the Geneva conventions, the president has declared in effect that he has
the power to ignore them if he pleases, and can torture whoever he likes.
The most frightening things about all of this is that the powers that have been given to the president are unlikely to
be rolled back when a new administration takes office. We would need a president who is willing to give up
power, and that it very unlikely to happen. The only hope for a real check on executive power is the Supreme
Court, but the bench has been severely compromised in Bush’s second term. It was absolutely disastrous that this
administration was able to appoint not one but two new supreme court justices, John Roberts and Samuel Alito,
but what is even more indicative of the trouble our nation is in is that most of the focus during the approval hearing
was on the wedge issue of abortion and not on the very real issue of presidential power. Neither Roberts nor
Alito are likely to overturn Roe v. Wade, but what they both hold in common is a record of decisions that reflect a
bias in favour of increased executive power.
One thing this book does not touch upon is the possible reasons as to why Cheney and friends are so interested
in localizing as much power as possible into the hands of one person. I can only speculate, but my guess is that it
will be far easier for the corporations which already own most of the government to exert their influence on
national and world affairs. It is far less expensive to buy one politician—the president—than to put your money in
the pockets of many separate politicians who make up congress.
Our democracy has admittedly never been a real democracy, but at least we have managed to go for the last two
centuries without a totalitarian dictator, thanks to our system of checks and balances. But that system is now in
serious jeopardy and things are far worse than most people are aware. Read this book and make yourself aware.
Takeover: The Return of the Imperial Presidency and the Subversion of American Democracy
Charlie Savage - 2007