Volume 1, Issue 2, 2007Reply to Michael D'Innocenzo
by Elkin Terry Jack and Edward N. Wright
We appreciate Professor D’Innocenzo’s generous review and his conclusion that we achieved the three objectives we set for ourselves with ‘brevity and clarity’ – essential characteristics of the ‘primer of sorts’ for understanding American politics that we set out to write. D’Innocenzo’s review adds great richness and expands and amplifies our initial discussions.
We did not address some of the points D’Innocenzo makes because our focus was on the three objectives D’Innocenzo commends and on the basic requirements of a ‘primer.’ However, his discussion of the expansive executive powers asserted by the current presidential administration—including such things as the President’s interpretation of the use of signing statements, the ‘unitary’ executive, the strategy of pre-emptive war, the selective use of intelligence and covert action, and the limits placed on certain constitutionally-protected civil liberties—would have made our discussion of the constitutional balance of power that is so fundamental to our liberty more complete.
It is our belief that the Founders intended a delicate balance of powers to include constitutional checks and balances between and among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, with the Congress at the centre. ‘We, the people’, for a variety of reasons have permitted the institution and its members to act in ways that have diminished the powers of Congress and emboldened the executive in unchecked ways. If we accept that the current administration has undertaken a course of action the nation clearly disapproves of, it is our further belief that our diminished civic capacity made it possible. Had citizens engaged one another and struggled with the difficult decisions to be made, perhaps the Congress would have had more backbone.
Professor D’Innocenzo’s review provides additional observations that are valuable for further understanding the issues important to an informed public empowered to engage in the public’s business. In his review, he raises the question of war powers and the war in Iraq. As James Madison remarked, ‘A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or tragedy, or perhaps both’. Through the lens of hindsight we believe the question now is, ‘How do you gauge a public’s responsibility to end war? Or to prevent a war? We are all—every last American—responsible for this messy war. We must demand a new moral accountability for ourselves that transcends self-interest—or ‘no-interest’. In order to do this we must find, or rediscover, a way to move, to act, to effect change. Our hope is that our book and the work of others like Professor D’Innocenzo will contribute to invigorating the civic capacity envisioned by Madison and others like him.
On a more pedestrian level, Professor D’Innocenzo is correct: the $7.5 trillion we attributed to the federal budget (p. 88) should have read $2.5 trillion, a figure that includes both on- and off-budget expenditures. We regret that such errors were not caught in proofing of the manuscript.