Publications & Research
Power Shifts: Congress and Presidential Representation (University of Chicago Press, Chicago Studies in American Politics series), 2021. Amazon.
That the president uniquely represents the national interest is a political truism, yet this idea has been transformational, shaping the efforts of Congress to remake the presidency and testing the adaptability of American constitutional government.
The emergence of the modern presidency in the first half of the twentieth century transformed the American government. But surprisingly, presidents were not the primary driving force of this change—Congress was. Through a series of statutes, lawmakers endorsed presidential leadership in the legislative process and augmented the chief executive’s organizational capacities.
But why did Congress grant presidents this power? In Power Shifts, John A. Dearborn shows that legislators acted on the idea that the president was the best representative of the national interest. Congress subordinated its own claims to stand as the nation’s primary representative institution and designed reforms that assumed the president was the superior steward of all the people. In the process, Congress recast the nation’s chief executive as its chief representative.
As Dearborn demonstrates, the full extent to which Congress’s reforms rested on the idea of presidential representation was revealed when that notion’s validity was thrown into doubt. In the 1970s, Congress sought to restore its place in a rebalanced system, but legislators also found that their earlier success at institutional reinvention constrained their efforts to reclaim authority. Chronicling the evolving relationship between the presidency and Congress across a range of policy areas, Power Shifts exposes a fundamental dilemma in an otherwise proud tradition of constitutional adaptation.
Reviews: Congress & the Presidency, Party Politics, Political Science Quarterly
Podcast: New Books Network (Political Science)
Talks: New Perspectives on Presidential Power panel at Vanderbilt, USC CLEAR Bookmarked event
Recipient of the 2022 Richard E. Neustadt Award for best book on executive politics from the Presidents and Executive Politics section, American Political Science Association
Phantoms of a Beleaguered Republic: The Deep State and the Unitary Executive (with Stephen Skowronek and Desmond King, Oxford University Press), 2021. Expanded paperback, 2022. Amazon.
A powerful dissection of one of the fundamental problems in American governance today: the clash between presidents determined to redirect the nation through ever-tighter control of administration and an executive branch still organized to promote shared interests in steady hands, due deliberation, and expertise.
President Trump pitted himself repeatedly against the institutions and personnel of the executive branch. In the process, two once-obscure concepts came center stage in an eerie faceoff. On one side was the specter of a "Deep State" conspiracy—administrators threatening to thwart the will of the people and undercut the constitutional authority of the president they elected to lead them. On the other side was a raw personalization of presidential power, one that a theory of "the unitary executive" gussied up and allowed to run roughshod over reason and the rule of law. The Deep State and the unitary executive framed every major contest of the Trump presidency. Like phantom twins, they drew each other out.
These conflicts are not new. Stephen Skowronek, John A. Dearborn, and Desmond King trace the tensions between presidential power and the depth of the American state back through the decades and forward through the various settlements arrived at in previous eras. Phantoms of a Beleaguered Republic is about the breakdown of settlements and the abiding vulnerabilities of a Constitution that gave scant attention to administrative power. Rather than simply dump on Trump, the authors provide a richly historical perspective on the conflicts that rocked his presidency, and they explain why, if left untamed, the phantom twins will continue to pull the American government apart. Now, in this expanded paperback edition, they address the tumultuous Trump-Biden transition and reflect more broadly on the problems of presidential democracy in America today.
Reviews: The New Rambler, 3Streams, Law & Liberty, Balkinization symposium, American Review of Public Administration, Foreign Affairs, La Vie des idées, Presidential Studies Quarterly, Political Science Quarterly, Congress & the Presidency, Political Studies Review, U.S. Studies Online, Survival, Perspectives on Politics, American Political Thought
Coverage: YaleNews, Christian Science Monitor
Podcasts: The Scholars' Circle, New Books Network (Political Science), New Books Network (Politics & Polemics)
Panel: Academy of Political Science / Political Science Quarterly Forum
"The 'Two Mr. Wilsons': Party Government, Personal Leadership, and Woodrow Wilson's Political Thought," Congress & the Presidency 47, no. 1 (2020): 32-61
"The Foundations of the Modern Presidency: Presidential Representation, the Unitary Executive Theory, and the Reorganization Act of 1939," Presidential Studies Quarterly 49, no. 1 (March 2019): 185-203
"The 'Proper Organs' for Presidential Representation: A Fresh Look at the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921," Journal of Policy History 31, no. 1 (January 2019): 1-41
Recipient of the 2018 Founders Award for Best Graduate Student Paper, Presidents and Executive Politics Section, American Political Science Association. Citation.
Review of The Paradox of Power: Statebuilding in America, 1754-1920 by Ballard C. Campbell, Political Science Quarterly, forthcoming
Review of The Unitary Presidency by Graham G. Dodds, Canadian Journal of Political Science 55, no. 3 (September 2022): 761-763
Review of The Idea of Presidential Representation: An Intellectual and Political History by Jeremy D. Bailey, Presidential Studies Quarterly 51, no. 4 (December 2021): 961-963
Review of Judicializing the Administrative State: The Rise of the Independent Regulatory Commissions in the United States, 1883-1937 by Hiroshi Okayama, Pacific and American Studies 21 (2021): 145-151
Review of Ideas of Power: The Politics of American Party Ideology Development by Verlan Lewis, The Forum 18, no. 1 (2020): 131-134
Review of Presidents on Political Ground: Leaders in Action and What They Face by Bruce Miroff, Presidential Studies Quarterly 49, no. 4 (December 2019): 992-993
"American Imperial Development," Journal of Politics 81, no. 2 (April 2019): e44-49
Book project on presidential power, the Rights Revolution, and the administrative state
"'Real Friends' versus 'Pretended Friends': Strategic Preferences and the Origins of U.S. Federal Tax Policy, 1909-1916" (working paper available upon request)
"Congressional Expectations of Presidential Self-Restraint" (with Jack Greenberg; working paper available upon request)