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The Arrogance Of Power: Fullbright's View Of The Senate

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Chapter 2 of J. William Fullbright's book published in 1966 is entitled: The Senate and the Senator. Although this book is over 40 years old, it appears that not much has changed.

A REPRESENTATIVE ASSEMBLY, wrote John Stuart Mill, has the responsibility "to be at once the nation's Committee of Grievances and its Congress of Opinions; an arena in which not only the general opinion of the nation, but that of every section of it, and, as far as possible, of every eminent individual whom it contains, can produce itself in full light and challenge discussion; where every person in the country may count upon finding somebody who speaks his mind as well or better than he could speak it himself . . ; where those whose opinion is overruled feel satisfied that it is heard, and set aside not by a mere act of will, but for what are thought superior reasons, . . 

The American Constitution entrusts these functions to the Congress and particularly, in matters of foreign relations, to the Senate, which has the responsibility to review the conduct of foreign policy by the President and his advisers, to render advice whether it is solicited or not, and to grant or withhold its consent to major acts of foreign policy. In addition the Congress has a traditional responsibility, in keeping with the spirit if not the precise words of the Constitution, to serve as a forum of diverse opinions and as a channel of communication between the American people and their government. The discharge of these functions is not merely a prerogative of the Congress; it is a constitutional obligation, for the neglect of which the Congress can and should be called to public account.
In recent years the Congress has not been fully discharging these responsibilities in the field of foreign relations. The reduced role of the Congress and the enhanced role of the President in the making of foreign policy are not the result merely of President Johnson's ideas of consensus; they are the culmination of a trend in the constitutional relationship between President and Congress that began in 1940, which is to say, at the beginning of this age of crisis.

The cause of the change is crisis. The President has the authority and resources to make decisions and take actions in an emergency; the Congress does not, Nor, in my opinion, should it; the proper responsibilities of the Congress are those spelled out by Mill-to reflect and review, to advise and criticize, to grant or withhold consent. In the last twenty-five years American foreign policy has encountered a shattering series of crises and inevitably, or almost inevitably, the effort to cope with these has been Executive effort, while the Congress, inspired by patriotism, importuned by Presidents, and deterred by lack of information, has tended to fall in line behind the Executive. The result has been an unhinging of traditional constitutional relationships; the Senate's constitutional powers of advice and consent have atrophied into what is widely regarded as, though never asserted to be, a duty to give prompt consent with a minimum of advice.


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Sheldon Drobny was the co-founder of Nova M radio and Air America Radio. He has supported many philanthropic causes. Mr. Drobny specializes in business and tax matters and is admitted to practice before the U.S. Tax Court as a non-attorney. Less (more...)
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