Takeover : the return of the imperial presidency and the subversion of American democracy

by Charlie Savage

Paperback, 2008

Call number

973.93 S



New York : Back Bay Books, 2008.


"Hailed by liberals and conservatives alike for its revelation of an emerging threat to the checks and balances devised by our Founding Fathers, Takeover is a searing investigation into how a group of true believers, led by Dick Cheney, has seized vast powers for the presidency – and permanently altered the constitutional balance of American democracy." -- Back cover.

User reviews

LibraryThing member reannon
Extremely valuable book. Deals with the expansion of presidential power during the administration of George W. Bush. That may sound dry, but it MATTERS whether we live in a democracy or a dictatorship. The administration of George W. Bush has sought, since its inaugeration, to seize every opportunity to expand the powers of the Presidency. This seems to be driven primarily by Dick Cheney, who first worked in the White Hose for Ford during a time when steps were being taken to reign in presidential power after the abuses of Nixon. Cheney stated often that those reforms were a mistake. The claims for the powers of the President by the Bush White House are extreme, yet the administration has for the most part has been able to get by with it.

Charlie Savage, the author, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist for the Boston Globe, makes clear that this is not a conservative or liberal issue, that many of both persuasions have attempted to fight back against the Bush encroachment. For example, the military JAGs, not known for being liberal, have fought hard to maintain their independence rather than be put under the control of civilian political appointees. It also just makes sense that conservatives who are for less government would not be for a more powerful president. However, the GOP-dominated Congress too often gave Bush what he wished.

Secrecy has been the tool used to hide the extent of the grab, and a justification in that so much secrecy is done in the name of national security. Savage talks about secrecy in many contexts, and the power grab in terms of many issues. National Security issues include the intelligence leading up to the Iraq war, the abuses at Abu Ghraib, the major issue of Guantanamo and the military commissions, the politicization of so many departments of government, the classifying and de-classifying of documents (such as the quick de-classification that led to the leak of Valerie Plame's name), the lessening of protection for whistle blowers, ability of the courts to deal with excessive presidential power, the little-noticed appointment of Supreme Court justices whose philosophy supports extremely positive views of expanded presidential power, and much more. It has a detailed discussion of signing statements, pros and cons, and their use in the Bush administration. Another fascinating discussion concerns the use of torture, which most professional interrogators deplore as getting unreliable information, and how the need for so many interrogators in Afghanistan and Iraq meant using people not trained in it. Moreover, many of the people interrogated were not terrorists: "Only later would it emerge that hundreds of the prisoners being hastily shipped to Guantanamo were not hardened terrorists at all. Aside from a handful of hard-core terrorists, most were poor peasants conscripted against their will into Taliban militias, while others had been turned over to U.S. forces on false pretenses in exchange for $5000 bounties." (p. 148)

Along the way Savage provides more information on some of the administration people most involved, including David Addington, Cheney's chief of staff, and John Yoo, who wrote memos while in the Office of Legal Counsel that justified torture and more (this book covers some of the same material as Jack Goldsmith's The Terror Presidency, and makes a useful supplement to that work).

Finally the book has an interesting tidbit on the Bush administration and the war in Iraq: ""One document, later obtained by Judicial Watch, showed that Cheney's energy task force was studying Iraqi oil fields, and the companies that had drilling rights on them, as early as March 2001..." (footnote, p. 91)

The book is meticulously researched with almost 50 pages of footnotes and an extensive index.

Well worth the time to read.
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