October 20, 2004
Questions Needing Answers

Beldar articulates a series of questions I've been struggling to convey for months now to my peanut gallery friends, not the least of which is:

Are you being realistic when you think that President Kerry is going to defeat the terrorists and the peace-at-any-price wing of the Democratic Party?

(Emphasis original)

The impression I get from most of my friends (from either side) is that they seem to see the presidency as a sort of disguised dictatorship. Sure, there's this congress over there causing trouble and there's these supreme court people dressing funny and making weird decisions, but the man sitting in the Oval Office is where the real action is. Right?

Wrong. The structure of our government makes our president one of the weakest heads of state of any modern country. He can't do anything, anything, without the approval of someone else. He can't introduce legislation without someone else's help. He can't make treaties without someone else's OK. He can't even hire his own staff without a green light from other people. It's the ultimate "mother may I?" position.

Even aside from that structural weakness, the job itself has been utterly impossible for one person to manage, even from the very beginning. From Washington to Jackson to Grant to Johnson to Bush the ultimate success or failure of a presidency lies not in the man, but in the people around him.

Let's take another tack for a second. We are a nation of 280 million people, and, as the old commercial jingle goes, "no two are quite the same". A large number of us are completely unreasonable when it comes to things we care about. You literally can't talk us out of certain things, and sometimes one set will completely conflict with the other. It's a country of titanic complexity, with trillions of data points making it up. If a president really were the ultimate "person in charge" in the manner most of my friends seem to think, he'd have to hold all that in his head and balance it all against itself and then come out with an answer.

It can't be done, which is why people who excoriate candidates based on their perceived intelligence are missing the point. You can't know everything about this job, it's utterly useless to even try. It would be worse than trying to drink from a fire hose. It would be like trying to drink from a fire hose that's connected to a pump at the bottom of the ocean.

Which is why a president has a "cabinet". It's these people, who advise the president and carry out his instructions, who are critically important. Even they are not where the real power resides. That lies several layers deeper, in the inscrutable beuracracies that fill the nooks and crannies of the government itself. But the secretaries are in control, however nominally, and it is they who set the tone, they who hire and fire, and they who control what the president even sees, let alone decides on.

When it all works properly, when the people the president surrounds himself with can get questions answered correctly, the presidency can indeed be a powerful force, and the country can succeed because of it. But when it doesn't, that power curdles and curls in on itself, and dangerous forces are unleashed that can, and have, threatened to pull the entire place down.

This is why it's more important for a president to be decisive than it is for him to be knowledgeable. This is why ideology matters. This is why parties count. Because a candidate can be as neutral as he or she wants, but a president must pick from the faithful for his advisors.

With one notable exception, I happen to agree with all of Bush's picks. I think the people around him have done a bang-up job, all things considered. This is one of the reasons I support him for re-election. I appose Kerry because I think he'll surround himself with the wrong people with the wrong ideas, and that this will be bad for the country. You can (usually do) disagree. But in the disagreeing, you don't seem to be paying attention to what your candidate really stands for. You're not missing the forest because of all the trees, you're deciding a single tree is the forest.

And, to be blunt, I think far too many of you have decided you're standing in a hardwood forest because of a single oak tree some enterprising farmers have planted in their piney woods.

Original essay via On the Third Hand.

Posted by scott at October 20, 2004 11:21 AM

eMail this entry!

Well, since I believe (as do many others yourself included I would bet) that those that stand on the soapbox and proudly proclaim "...at any cost/price/whatever" are the far leaning extremists that usually don't get major political attention by the people in DC.

I think those that feel "peace at any price" are probably a lot of the same folks that are 100% against animal testing for medical purposes (regardless of the outcome), only think you should eat things that don't cast a shadow, and other far far left ideals.

On the other hand I think that those on the other side also advocating the "any cost" are also in need of a reality check. That mindframe is not logical or based in reality. It (to use a phrase that pundits love to use) would cause a slipperly slop with no limitations.

Regarding a bulk of the rest of your post... don't forget the EOs (Executive Orders). So, there is an aspect where the president can enact directives once he signs them and it is put on the federal register without going through congress.

Posted by: Joshua on October 20, 2004 12:44 PM

"The President can retract an EO at any time. The President may also issue an EO that supersedes an existing one. New incoming Presidents may choose to follow the EOs of their predecessors, replace them with new ones of their own, or revoke the old ones completely. In extreme cases, Congress may pass a law that alters an EO, and the Supreme Court can declare them unconstitutional."

(emphasis added, citation: http://usgovinfo.about.com/library/weekly/aa121897.htm)

Additionally, the EO is actually an inferred power of the presidency, and not one that seems to have received a serious constitutional test in the courts, at least that I could find.

So, while it is possible today for a modern president to at times bypass congressional scrutiny, he does it more out of tradition than law, and that means the power is quite fragile and likely to be taken away if abused.

Posted by: scott on October 20, 2004 12:56 PM

Yeah, congress can make alterations to EOs, but the president still has the power of veto. Yup, SCOTUS can step in, but they are quite conservative in doing so (conservative in their actions not politics).

Yup, next presidents can do EOs to cancel out previous ones. I was just pointing out that while in office the president does have some solo power as long as that EO is in operation.

Posted by: Joshua on October 20, 2004 01:30 PM

agree - s/he does have the power via the EO to do things by bypassing congress. in practice, however, i think the EO's are mostly short term actions. From my understanding, the pres can go to war - for up to 90 days. after that, he's got to get congressional approval and all. so, yes, unilateral action is possible and does happen, however, it also must be exercised with some amount of care lest you get your hands slapped (presidential pardons might also fall into this sort of arena, not sure)

aside from that, i think the origin of the EO is mostly a leftover from Roman politics where the Caeser would be given ultimate authority in order to deal with some specific situation. once that situation is passed, the Caeser would step down or some other such arrangement.

Posted by: ron on October 20, 2004 02:19 PM

Let me also just make sure that you nut-jobs understand I don't believe for a moment that Bush would enact an EO that would cancel the elections, declare war on the remaining axis of evil locations, take away my birthday, or make Ann Coulter the new Miss America. Sure he is a doof, but I don't think he would go that far.... well, maybe the Ann Coulter part, you can never tell what they would do for a blonde.

-and if they wanted to take away my birthday that is fine. It means I won't get any older then 30.

Posted by: Joshua on October 20, 2004 02:50 PM

Actually, I prefer the term "wing-nut" myself.

The sad thing is, I really do think that some of the moonbats on your side really do believe he'll try all of those things.

Then again, the wing-nuts on my side said at least some of the same things about Clinton. As noted before, belief can sometimes be like a circle... go far enough in one direction and you end up meeting the people coming from the other side.

God I love this country.

Posted by: scott on October 20, 2004 02:54 PM

DAMMIT - if he was going to take away a birthday, couldn't it have been before I hit the trey-trey?!?

Posted by: Ron on October 20, 2004 03:24 PM

Good grief, y'all are young. Reagan would have had to take away my birthday to keep me from getting older than 30... sheesh!

Actually, I prefer wing-nuts too. You can turn them by hand, whereas you need a nut-driver for a regular nut... but if the left are moonbats and the right are wingnuts, what are we of the radical center to be called? ;)

Posted by: Kathy K on October 20, 2004 07:28 PM

Well, there's a saying I have, "standing in the middle of the road just means you get run over in both directions."

So I guess that would make you... ummm... roadkill?


Posted by: scott on October 20, 2004 08:13 PM

hahaha, roadkill....

Posted by: Joshua on October 21, 2004 09:40 AM
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