The Wax and Wane of Presidential Power

•November 16, 2009 • 1 Comment

            Throughout this semester, we have seen the office of the President revolve in a continuous cycle in regards to the relative power the office-bearer wields.  Admittedly, over the course of time, and especially in the 20th century, the bearers of this office have slowly increased their reach of authority.  But we do see relative peaks, which are oftentimes based on the individual in office.  George Washington exercised greater power than many of his successors, as the legislature dominated the era.  Lincoln also exerted perhaps unparalleled powers, although much of this was based on the Civil War.  Following Lincoln we observe decades of legislative dominance.  We see a relative peak in Roosevelt and Wilson as Progressive thought demands change and executive action; but soon after, an era of presidential inaction with Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover.  Peaks arguably occur again with FDR, and his expansive New Deal policies and war-time power, and Nixon who attempts to stretch executive power to a dangerous and unprecedented level. 

            Proceeding from Nixon, I would postulate that presidential power, influence, and appeal slowly increase again starting under Reagan.  And this brings us to the present, where we see a highly active, powerful, influential, and appealing Presidential office, perhaps to an unprecedented level.  This fact forms the basis for my next argument: that Obama’s administration will constitute a relative peak of presidential power, especially if it continues in its present course.

            Coming into office, the American people expected great things from the President, including fundamental policy shifts on health care, the environment, and foreign policy.  And, thus far, as previously discussed and mentioned, little change has occurred.  Furthermore, the financial crisis caused people to demand executive action, and as the economy recovers, desire for this sort of intervention will continue to decrease.

            This leads me to suspect that if Obama fails enact his agenda (or perhaps, even if he does), we will see a brief waning of presidential power, as people grow disillusioned with the increases and expressions of power we have seen in recent months and years.  Will this result in a severely weakened executive?  I sincerely doubt it.  Rather, I suggest that the Presidency will only reach a relative peak in the grand scheme of the office.  But, this argument is largely speculation, and so I am especially interested in others’ thoughts on this issue.

On Obama, the Constitution, and Political Realities

•November 10, 2009 • 2 Comments

This morning, our class engaged in a lovely discussion on the proper executive role concerning legislative affairs, proper Constitutional interpretation, the way modern political culture affects all this, and Obama’s own reading of the Constitution. 

            Multiple blogs have been written stressing the need for less presidential involvement in legislation, and the need for the executive to stop concerning himself with the affairs of another branch of government.  In particular, Obama’s pushing health care reform is viewed as unconstitutional, and unfitting for the Presidential office.

            First, I wish to defend Obama.  The man genuinely reveres the Constitution, and I do not think he believes he disregards the Constitution by proposing and pushing legislation.  Rather, as is evident from the chapter read in this book, Obama likely makes a broad interpretation of both the Vestings clause and the State of the Union clause.  I think it is wrong to suggest he is abandoning the Constitution, for honestly, that is up to interpretation, and I am confident Obama believes he adheres to it.

            And so, that is the second point.  It was suggested today that we (as an American people and our political leadership) are losing our regard and reverence for the Constitution in the face of political realities.  Clearly, current political culture demands an executive actively pursing a legislative agenda; but to some, this is blatantly unconstitutional.  But to many others, support for such a visible and involved executive can be found in the Constitution, and with the same reverence that a strict constructionist might hold for the Constitution. 

            That being said, and as our esteemed professor pointed out, there are many differing views on the Constitution.  But both sides esteem and protect the Constitution, and use it to defend their arguments.  Rather than throwing by the wayside, this document forms the foundation on which debate centers; each side of the issue believes they find their power grounded in the Constitution.  I would suggest that the assertion that we are losing a political and public reverence of the Constitution is misplaced.  Instead, we see vigorous discussion over whether or not the current political system truly abides by the Constitution, a subject that remains open to interpretation.

            Finally, this leads into a discussion on political realities.  We each possess differing views on whether or not the executive ought to be involved in legislative affairs, but we all know that current political culture demands a president that at the very least, concerns himself somewhat with policymaking, and presents some semblance of a legislative vision.  Some would view this as clearly other unconstitutional, others do not.  Thus, I would suggest we must be careful in condemning intense Presidential involvement with the legislature as entirely unconstitutional (or, for that matter, completely constitutional either) for it really isn’t a black and white issue.  And as Dr. Hogue said, that is the beauty of the Constitution: it leaves room for politics and this sort of lively debate.

A Lament for the Era of Eisenhower

•November 7, 2009 • 1 Comment

After reading about Eisenhower and discussing his approach to governing in Thurday’s class, I couldn’t help but lament for his style of leadership.  His apparently aloof nature on legislative issues provided the opportunity to publicly engaging in divisive partisan affairs, a fact that helped to maintain his popularity.  And yet, the man did not succumb to the folly of 19th century presidents by becoming subservient to the legislature.  His leadership brought tranquility on the domestic level, as he accepted the New Deal, while still avoiding unparalleled increase in government.  Simultaneously, Eisenhower did assert leadership on the international level, avoiding the American tendency for isolationism after war.  He sought to contain communism, while still reducing the excessive military spending of the outgoing administration (and thus he succeeded in provoking an immediate all-out arms race) and avoiding a potentially costly war in Southeast Asia.  Really, what is not to like about the man?

            And so, here is the part where I wish for the past, for a day in which the press did not speculate on the President’s every move, and the President did not have to live up to the rather impossible expectations the American people now place on him.  I truly do not think that we can ever recover such a style of governing, because the American people simply will not allow it.  If a President’s actions are not visible, and the President does not present some vision or agenda, our rather uneducated and often manipulated public will regard him as an impotent administrator and leader (at least as far as legislative matters are concerned).  And so alas, I afraid the days of Eisenhower are past, barring some unforeseen power shift in American government.  I would like to blame this reality on our largely ignorant populous, which seeks to find personal representation in a President (rather than a district or state rep.); a President who realistically represents 300 million people.  Of course, I admit my own hypocrisy on this issue at times, and I recognize that change in the American public is unlikely.  That being said, I end this blog by again lamenting the loss of a leadership style like Eisenhower’s, for his less partisan, yet subtly assertive leadership would bring a refreshing air to the tumultuous and highly partisan nature of the office today.

Re-energizing an Energy Bill

•November 1, 2009 • 2 Comments

Amidst Obama’s lofty initiatives of reforming health care and further regulating a reluctant financial sector, we find a rather stagnant effort to pass “climate change” legislation, which in part, will regulate emissions through a cap and trade system.

            I find this stagnation rather unfortunate, considering the major role the U.S. plays in consuming energy and producing emissions in this world.  Now, this impatience is regrettably a product of our political culture, and, as an advocate of the U.S. legislative process which is one filled with compromise and debate, somewhat hypocritical.  Yet, I would argue that Obama needs to renew his efforts concerning energy and the environment, and to stir popular support through a new political strategy.

            For the most part, climate change legislation finds the majority of its support among environmentalists and more liberal democrats.  Because of this, Obama must frame the debate over this issue in a new way, by making it more relevant and important to both conservatives and liberals alike.

            In order to do this, Obama ought to shift the focus from “climate change” to energy, or something similarly less benign.  A “climate change” bill inevitably carries with it the stigma and debate over the global warming issue.  Obviously, the Republican Party as a whole is opposed to such efforts, as it will likely place burdens on businesses with high emissions.

            And so, I have three suggestions for the President to help frame the debate and convince others.  First, pursuing alternative energy, hybrid and electric cars, and standards in building construction, etc. will help national security.  Yep, that’s right.  Obama can stress the importance of reducing U.S. oil imports from the Middle East.  Let’s be honest; if oil was not so important (and thus the Middle East such a geopolitically strategic region), the U.S. would not have to be contributing billions to a region that fosters the development of terrorism and threatens global security.  Second, the energy and climate debate can be framed as a positive for the economy.  Advancements in alternative energy and producing new cars will provide more jobs, a major selling point for people in a time of bleak economic circumstances.  Third, Obama must point out that U.S. international leadership and respect is required on this matter.  If the U.S. takes the initiative on this matter, other countries may be willing to follow the U.S. lead, and may be willing to accept U.S. leadership on other matters, and even aid the U.S. in other foreign issues, such as the Middle East.

            Finally, I have two final points, which may not be so applicable to politics, depending on one’s viewpoint.  First, responsible use of resources and environmental stewardship is part of the Christian calling, and must therefore not be ignored.  Second, as important as the health care debate is, and despite my wish to see debate and compromise, I have gotten bored of discussing this matter, and so it would be interesting for something new to talk about.

Jeffersonian Legacy in the Presidency

•November 1, 2009 • 2 Comments

It is easy to exalt Jefferson’s ideals and beliefs concerning government.  His beliefs in frugal government, and thus a small bureaucracy, and decentralized power are rather benign and non-threatening.  And even Jefferson’s belief that presidential power comes from the people appears desirable and ideal.

            Yet I think we must be careful in putting Jefferson’s ideals on such a pedestal if we so strongly believe in limited government.  For as we learned in class, his thoughts concerning the source of presidential power arguably give the President an unbounded hand in using government.

            Jefferson thought that the highest duty of the President was to respect the people’s wishes, and to ultimately act in the best interests of the people, even if this meant going beyond the executive power expressed in the Constitution.  Now, right there, I wish to say, hold it Mr. Jefferson.  Jefferson, who captures our mind by abiding to such tenets of Liberalism as limited government and federalism, blatantly disregards one of the most important ideals of American political thought: Rule of Law.  Everyone, including the executive, is under the law in this school of thought; the only way to go around the law is to change the law.

            I would argue that Jefferson’s emphasis on pursuing the people’s interests acted as a force throughout American history that expanded the government and centralized power, rather than one that encouraged his belief in limited government and decentralized power.  We see his same beliefs in part embodied by Jackson, Roosevelt, and Wilson.  These latter two sought to lead public opinion in their efforts to bring reform, reform which resulted in expanded bureaucracy.  And of course, under FDR, we see an unparalleled expansion of government and centralization of power, because the people essentially demanded this change and looked to their President to help resolve the problems of the Great Depression.  Thus, FDR acted in the people’s interests, whether or not his actions abided by the power granted to him in the Constitution.  And in last year’s presidential elections, we arguably saw the same thing; people voted for change, and now expect the President to pursue his promised agenda, one that will once again result in more expansive government.

            In conclusion, I think that Jefferson’s belief in pursuing the people’s interests has in some ways, whether consciously or subconsciously, fostered an increase in government.  Although these other Presidents may have found their use of power as grounded in the Constitution, it is ironic that Jefferson would likely consider these expansions unconstitutional, and of course, un-Jeffersonian, even while his own belief in executive power was unconstitutional and in opposition to Liberal thought.

God on Health Care

•October 15, 2009 • 2 Comments

The title of this blog is rather presumptuous, and so before I proceed to tackle this divisive and hotly debated issue, I wish to clarify my perspective, for incorporating my faith into politics is of utmost importance to me.  I do not claim to understand God’s intentions or possess divine spiritual insight to this issue; I merely hope to cause reflection, and hopefully, good-natured discussion.

            Considering this, a Christian must ponder the theological implications of the health care reform that represents Obama’s highest domestic priority, and is arguably driven by Obama’s own moral ideals (And therefore, makes this blog most relevant to our class).  Does not the Christian possess a calling to aid the least among us?  Jesus represents a most obvious example in this case; his miracles constantly reach out to the sick and disabled- these people are often rejected by society, and few people demonstrate willingness to lend a helping hand.  Furthermore, we see Jesus’ call to his follower to imitate his example in the parable of the sheep in goats (see Matt. 25: 31-46).  This parable commends those who look after the sick, among other calls to aid the poor, hungry, and imprisoned.

            Now, it would be slightly ridiculous to assert that no problem exists in the current American health care system, at least from a moral standpoint.  If you do not consider health care a moral issue, then I invite you to respectfully argue your viewpoint at the conclusion of this blog (unless you are not an individual of faith; then I respect that, and I can understand your denial of health care as a moral issue).  And if health care is a moral issue, than why shouldn’t Christians be clamoring for it in manners similar to their objections to abortion or appraisals of measure that protect and strengthen traditional family values? 

            It is undeniable that peoples exist who simply cannot afford basic health care due to their poverty.  This comes in addition to those who purchase health care despite its immense burden, to those who cannot find health care, or to those who find themselves victims of injustice within the health care system because of sometimes cutthroat industry practices. 

            Consequently, a moral problem exists.  The question is, where does the Christian, or any other person of morality, find an answer?  Personally, I would argue, that despite its apparent undesirability, the government must play an important role in bringing reform.  Speaking moral truth and seeking to redeem worldly structures by reaching to the “least among us” is, in my opinion, a vital part of Christianity.  Obviously, the government already stands deeply mired in health care, with such programs as Medicaid and Medicare.  And with Medicare predicted to go bankrupt by the end of the next decade, and with millions relying on these faltering programs, and millions more knocking at the door, government reform is required, whether or not one believes the government should be involved.  This in no way necessarily entails a public option (which I am personally not supportive of); rather, it must determine the best way to offer affordable and reliable insurance to everyone (a lofty goal, I know).

            On the other side of the spectrum many advocate the importance of the church’s role in addressing such issues as health care.  And… I agree.  But let’s be honest.  Where are the evangelical church’s efforts to open free health clinics or provide health insurance to the most disadvantaged?  The church needs just as much reform as the government for this to happen.  This doesn’t mean we should forgo our responsibilities in the church, for it is God’s instrument on this Earth.  Instead, if we insist that the church must play a significant and perhaps primary role, then we must move beyond mere talk and rhetoric (and admittedly, I am often a hypocrite here too).  We must act to follow the commands and examples of Jesus.  This means challenging churches to action in our communities, and not just saying, “Well, health care is the church’s job.”  For those Christian political scientists, politicians, and lawyers among us, we must remember our calling to the church and act on our beliefs concerning its responsibilities.

            In conclusion, as Congress continues to pursue Obama’s health care agenda in the coming months, it is important for Christians to consider the role faith must play in this debate, for it is also a moral one, not simply one of economics.

Fox News v. Obama

•October 13, 2009 • 2 Comments

The Obama administration seems to find itself in another growing and escalating war; but this time, it’s a domestic one, fought not with Marines and laser-guided bombs, but simply with words.  And yet, if we are honest with ourselves, we must realize that it is these very words that determine the fate of our elections, and thus the fate of the international wars we are fighting.

            With that in mind, it would seem that Obama stands to lose a lot and gain little in his deepening battle with the Fox News Channel.  Most of us would readily admit that the channel portrays itself as the “opposition” to both the President and what the news channel labels the “left wing media” (which is every other news channel in their opinion), with such shows as Glenn Beck, Hannity, and the O’Reilly Factor.  As an avid supporter of the free press, I find no problem with Fox’s general efforts to oppose Obama and his policies, even though I do find the channel’s rhetoric and attacks sometimes tasteless and perhaps out of place (a problem which of course is evident on other channels too).

            That being said, I would suggest that the President refrain from actively condemning and engaging the Fox News Channel in their concentrated opposition to his administration.  Fox News published an article today that highlighted the comments of White House Communications Director Anita Dunn on CNN, who called Fox News “a wing of the Republican Party.”  The article goes on to quote other officials on CNN who are voicing caution on the administration’s approach towards the Fox News Channel; this is followed by a portion of the article which essentially defends the channel’s opposition to Obama in the 2008 election cycle.

            The New York Times also published an article earlier in the day concerning this topic, outlining the nature of the battle between the administration and the channel.  The paper states that despite a speculated truce between the parties, “shots are still being fired, which animates the idea that both sides see benefits in the feud.”

            But let’s be honest.  Obama needs to refrain from escalating this conflict for both political and practical reasons.  Fox is gaining viewers and it “seems to relish the controversy” as The New York Times puts it.  Their ratings are rising, and as a result, their finances will likely increase too.  The channel has little to lose; in fact, the article on Fox’s website to which I refer earlier underscores the importance of this war with Obama for the news channel.  This controversy will likely only hurt Obama in the long run, barring some unforeseeable economic boom and war victories.  Furthermore, I believe that the office of the President ought to have more dignity than this, and Obama should stop making himself and his problems with a certain news channel the center of prime-time television debate.  This debate, as I hinted at before, will only strengthen his opponents.

            So in conclusion, I advise the President to engage the Fox News Channel in a civil manner, ignoring the uncalled for and ignorant far-right claims that are sometimes aired, and to instead treat and respect Fox as any other channel, and to not just act as another participant in this often tiresome war.

Sources:

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2009/10/12/white-house-escalates-war-words-fox-news/

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/12/business/media/12fox.html?ref=business