Unitary Executive Versus Commanders Guy

As I noted yesterday, President Bush's claim that he is a "commanders guy" is disingenuous and, if true, a betrayal of his responsibility as Commander in Chief. Here I want to note a tension between the "commanders guy" pose and the Bush Administration's genuine commitment to the unitary Executive. Among other things, the unitary Executive theory holds that the President must be capable of exercising ALL of the nation's executive power, which he does by directing the operations of executive branch officials. This Administration has shown its fondness for the unitary executive theory by disciplining wayward prosecutors and by running a great deal of the business of administrative agencies from the political office of the White House. Yet a "commanders guy" in domestic affairs would take just the opposite approach, deferring to professionals in the Justice Department on matters of prosecutorial priorities, deferring to the scientists at EPA and NASA on global warming, and so forth.

Is it possible to be a commanders guy with respect to some but not all parts of the federal government? Sure. A President who had special expertise in some area (e.g., Eisenhower on military matters, Carter on nuclear policy, Bush 1 on foreign relations) might choose to be more hands-on in that area and more of a commanders guy in other areas. But that principle can't explain the difference between the current President's professed preference for commander guy-ness in military but not civilian matters. He has no special expertise in all civilian matters that he lacks in military matters. Interpreting his record charitably, we might think that as a business school graduate, Bush 2 would defer less to experts on matters related to regulation of the economy than other matters. However, we see no such pattern.

Moreover, from a constitutional perspective, the one area least appropriate for a President to defer on grounds of non-expertise would be military matters, where the Constitution expressly makes him Commander in Chief, precisely to preserve the vital principle of civilian control of the military. So one could plausibly be: 1) a commanders guy and a Cabinet Secretaries guy, or 2) neither a commanders guy nor a Cabinet Secretaries guy; or 3) a commanders guy and a Cabinet Secretaries guy except in a few areas; but not the one thing Bush claims to be: 4) a commanders guy but not a Cabinet Secretaries guy at all. But since Bush is not in fact a commanders guy despite claiming to be one, his actual position--number 2)--is coherent. Phew.