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Sample Essay
This is a "sample" essay for a summary/analysis assignment I sent out to my English 102 section. I actually think it sucks, because I was too worried that my students wouldn't know about what the "left" and "right" are, what the "balance of power" in our federal government is, and other minutiae that would be a given for most of the people I spend my time talking to. The actual editorial follows the essay.

Adam Schenck

English 102-017

31 January 2006

Summarization / Analysis Assignment

“Balance of Powers”: An Editorial of Peculiar Diversion

            To call the region that the Omaha World-Herald sells its daily newspapers to staunchly Republican, if not archconservative, wouldn’t be too much of a stretch. The paper’s editorials do not fence-sit; it’s as if the editorials are written by a man on the right, or conservative, side of the fence making a slight glance leftward. An editorial that appeared on January 26, 2006, entitled “Balance of Powers” takes on these traits.

            The byline says, “Now is an appropriate time to consider checks, balances in the federal government.” The word “appropriate” has an important function. Similar words like “properly” and “correctly” in the editorial’s text indicate that the editorial’s concern is in defining the terms and limits regarding the debate around President George W. Bush’s assertion of executive authority. The editorial argues that this debate about Bush’s power should be held along with a debate about those who would limit Bush’s power, namely, Congress.

            This is idea is slightly counterintuitive, because most readers would know that the debate didn’t really exist until “President Bush's assertion of his authority in detaining enemy combatants and unilaterally approving the monitoring of international phone calls for possible terrorist connections.” The fact that these issues are only mentioned, and not dealt with as the primary subject of the editorial, shows that this editorial seeks to change the current debate away from questioning whether or not it’s legitimate for the President to wiretap U.S. citizens without a judicial warrant or to detain “enemy combatants” indefinitely. This strikes me as a tacit approval of Bush’s executive authority, especially since in the above excerpt, the phrase “his authority” presupposes that Bush is merely asserting an authority already within the executive office.

            Bush is doing nothing new, in other words. To support this claim, the editorial refers to academic papers—two political science professors—the excerpts of which suggest Congress’s powers are in need of definition as well as the executive branch’s, and that former President Bill Clinton “’accepted and perfected’ the notion of an aggressive assertion of presidential power.” This editorial at once makes the terms of the debate about President Bush’s executive powers larger by introducing new elements, but the effect is to draw attention away from the specifics of Bush’s National Security Agency wiretapping program, which has grabbed so many headlines recently.

            The following paragraph’s language is worth looking at closely:

As for congressional authority, Levy correctly points to the hypocrisy of senators who bewail Bush's defense of presidential prerogatives yet self-righteously condemn any effort to rein in their own power under a proper system of constitutional restraint.

If the phrases in the sentences are separated out, this seemingly cautious editorial takes on an emotional aspect: “the hypocrisy of senators”; “senators who bewail”; “Bush’s defense of presidential prerogatives”; “senators who…self-righteously condemn”; “a proper system of constitutional restraint….” So, senators are hypocritical, whining, and self-righteous against “Bush’s defense of presidential prerogatives” and the “proper system…of restraint.” Why the emotional tone? One reason could be that the Senate, which is half of the legislative branch, is the only part of the federal government where Democrats really matter anymore. With the confirmation of Samuel Alito, the Supreme Court has tilted in a conservative direction, the House of Representatives has had a majority of Republicans since 1994, and the executive branch wields President Bush’s brand of conservatism.

But this editorial may not indicate a simple partisan divide. The Senate has a majority of Republicans, but many moderates are wary of extending President Bush’s authority, since the War in Iraq has cost more than was planned (the Senate approves where the federal government’s money goes), and the John McCain-supported torture ban, supported by ninety of the one hundred senators, was limited by Bush via a “signing statement.”

“Hush, hush,” says this editorial between the lines, I like to think. “Trust the rightful and inherent authority of President Bush to do what he wants to do to protect us,” I hear. And don’t trust those weaselly senators who would propose to limit his authority. The main idea of the editorial—its purpose—is to alter the debate around executive authority so that the debate becomes incapable of directly addressing whether or not President Bush broke the law or not, regarding torture, wiretapping, the detention of enemy combatants. This is why the editorial seems elusive to me; the writer(s) are uncomfortable in giving a blank check to President Bush’s authority. The editorial seeks a way to make that blank check disappear but still exist. It’s not fence-sitting so much as hiding behind the fence, with an eye and a forehead, partially obscured, peeping outward.

 

Adam Schenck

 

 

 

Works Cited

 

“Balance of Powers.” Editorial. Omaha World-Herald 26 January 2006. Accessed 31 January

 

2006. <http://www.omaha.com/index.php?u_pg=608&u_sid=2105365>.

 


The Editorial

 

http://www.omaha.com/index.php?u_pg=608&u_sid=2105365

 

Published Thursday
January 26, 2006

Balance of powers

 

Now is appropriate time to consider checks, balances in the federal government.

How far should a U.S. president's power extend in the national security arena? That question has properly been a focus of attention in recent weeks for several reasons.

First, because of President Bush's assertion of his authority in detaining enemy combatants and unilaterally approving the monitoring of international phone calls for possible terrorist connections. Second, because federal Judge Samuel Alito, nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court, endorses a concept known as the "unitary executive" that emphasizes the buttressing of presidential authority.

During the Alito hearings, senators skeptical of the nomination voiced concern that Bush is seeking to undermine proper checks on presidential authority.

Jacob T. Levy, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Chicago, aptly noted in a recent commentary that now is "the ideal moment for a thoughtful discussion about whether one branch of government can extend its constitutional authority without limit."

But Levy added a twist to the argument - and properly so. He wrote: "An honest consideration of separation of powers would take up the idea of limiting executive power and the idea of limiting congressional power. But Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee - joined, to varying degrees, by some of their moderate Republican colleagues, especially committee Chairman Arlen Specter - aren't much interested in limiting their own power, only that of the president."

Levy properly chided senators of both parties who "continue to insist that Congress has unilateral authority to interpret the Interstate Commerce Clause (of the Constitution), even if the interpretation results in unlimited congressional authority over matters that are neither interstate- nor commerce-related."

In regard to presidential powers, the executive branch and the Congress need somehow to reach a meeting of the minds. There is no question that, under the Constitution, any president retains a wide range of powers to safeguard the nation's security.

At the same time, the question of presidential authority in the fight against terrorism will remain a central question well after Bush leaves the White House. Over time, control of the presidency will pass from one party to the other. So Democrats and Republicans in Washington should strive to develop a workable long-term consensus on a president's powers in the national security realm.

Republicans, after all, are not the only ones who have championed the defense of a president's foreign policy powers. While Bush has issued dozens of "signing statements" per year indicating his reservations about various bills he signs, Bill Clinton also embraced that tactic of the "unitary executive" during his presidency. Clinton issued about 15 signing statements per year.

Christopher Kelley, a political science professor at Miami University of Ohio, wrote in an academic paper last year that "President Clinton did more to move the executive-branch agencies closer to White House control than either the Reagan or Bush (Sr.) presidencies" and that Clinton "accepted and perfected" the notion of an aggressive assertion of presidential power.

As for congressional authority, Levy correctly points to the hypocrisy of senators who bewail Bush's defense of presidential prerogatives yet self-righteously condemn any effort to rein in their own power under a proper system of constitutional restraint.

A balance of powers is indeed needed in the federal government. Checks and balances make sense for the powers of the presidency as well as those of Congress.

 
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