Saturday, August 25, 2007

We Expect Too Much From the President

I ended Electing a President suggesting that those who don't like for whom their State votes for President to move somewhere else. That's pretty silly when you think about it, because A) there is no guarantee the next place will be any different and B) you'd be moving just to be able to say your State voted the way you did. But this post is about the next suggestion, which you read in the title: we expect too much from the President.

No, that's not a dig at George W. Bush. It's a criticism of our society and the nation around which its politics are organized. While I'm not entirely sure at the outset of this writing how our politics ought to be organized, I can say conclusively that the way we're doing it now is not it.

I believe a lot of things without really having researched them. I think everyone does. You'd go crazy, or get nothing else done, if you had to verify experimentally things like whether the attraction of gravity and certain other attractive forces reduces with the square of the distance between objects, rather than at most working out the math a bit and calling it a fact. After all, it doesn't really affect how you make breakfast or play fetch with the dog. We just accept things, even if we give them a mental asterisk, and try not to drop the eggs. Gravity works, even if we don't have perfect knowledge of it.

One of these things I believe without perfect knowledge is that when we give government power, it doesn't give it back when it's through with the job we gave it the power to accomplish. Furthermore, when we give it power in one area, such as a tax increase, it leads to increased power in another area, such as where the tax money is spent. If the power to deficit spend is allowed, eventually that deficit will lead to a tax increase (even if that increase is accomplished by economic growth, it allows the government to avoid a tax decrease in the future).

So back to the real subject: the presidency is a position more easily critiqued than attained. It takes a person of great organizational skills and leadership, or at least a person who is at once willing to cede his handling to others while giving at least the appearance of leadership himself. To do both of those things without appearing insipid requires an exceptional person. Once elected, he will undergo the stress of being the micromanager for the most powerful and complex organization in the history of mankind.

There are too many details in the operation of a great nation, or a fair-to-middlin' evilly corrupt one, for one person to successfully handle them all. Even with a staff of hundreds of people at his disposal, no one should be asked to respond to every crisis, be moved by every heartbreak, or personally coordinate the rescue of every kitten who gets stuck in a tree.

Yet the media and general public seem to lay in wait for the next mistake, the next failure to fully meet their expectations, for better to jump on the office holder with an "Aha! Gotcha! You failed to fully prepare for this incident!". Blame is the latest game to sweep the nation, showing convergence with "reality" TV as a public pastime.

The separation of powers between the Congress and the Presidency provides many benefits. Not only was it intended to keep tyranny at bay, but to apply the right kind of decision making to each class of problem faced by the government. Many heads with at least geographical diversity provide wisdom (and hopefully some deliberation) when enacting new laws, while a single Commander in Chief is able to wage war without holding a hearing. Or, he was.

Since we have more laws than we need, the tripod of attention is tipped away from the Legislature toward the Executive and the Judiciary. As the President appoints the Judiciary, Congress is left trying to control that process however they can.

Harry S Truman is said to have had a sign on his desk that read, "The buck stops here". Anyone in a leadership position understands that with authority goes responsibility, and that a leader must accept responsibility for his mission.

So perhaps it is merely a symptom of our tendency to want the government to do everything for us that the President is unable to say, "That's not my job." But he should be able to say that, and what is more, the rest of us should be shouting at the tops of our formerly lazy little lungs "That is not your job!". He should not have to stop that buck, nor should he be asked to pass it: he should never get the buck at all.

When a hurricane hits some coastal city and the President doesn't fix it the next day, we say, "Gotcha! Failure!". When the home mortgage industry overextends, some fools want the President to bail out the banks, or the borrowers, or both. That's not his job!

When we demand that the President respond to every emergency, we give him power. Those who resent the growing executive "dictatorial" power should not blame their elected servant, but their own persistent demands for an omniscient, prescient, omnipathic nanny President.


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1 comment:

Jimmy said...

Not to mention how difficult it must be to manage the Executive Branch of the government with it's millions(?) of employees. It's almost like we need to split the president into two offices: General Manager and "President and CEO."

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