Friday, June 15, 2012

Who's In Charge Here?

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Today, a lot more Checks than Balances
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the debates surrounding the Presidential campaigns is how insanely unrealistic they are about the power of the President to actually implement any of his stated agenda.  The American system of governance is a weird, mutated hybrid.  It's true we have a system that grants more power to the Executive than any other democratic system, but by preventing the President from making law and appropriating funds we cripple him in the very areas he's likely to make the most sweeping promises.

Think about a Parliamentary system of governance.  The Head of State is usually a mostly ceremonial position, without any real power.  The Head of Government, on the other hand, is by definition part of the Legislature AND the head of the most powerful party or coalition in that body.  So the Prime Minister can enact his party's political and ideological agenda in a virtually unfettered fashion.

The American system started out with a very large number of veto points, with THREE branches of government, TWO Houses of Congress, Checks, Balances and a fully empowered independent judiciary with the final say over what became the law of the land.  But tellingly for a new nation throwing off the shackles of Monarchy, there was a quite reasonable concern about vesting too much power in the hands of a single individual.  So the founders placed what they believed to be the three most important functions - making laws, spending money and declaring war - in the hands of Congress.  Over time, Congress has found some of the powers granted to them by the Constitution to be daunting and fraught with fearsome consequences and have voluntarily surrendered many of those powers to the White House.

Thus, we find ourselves with an oddly limited yet frighteningly empowered Presidency.  He can, for example, take the nation to war on his word alone, but he does not have the power to agree to a treaty that might avoid war.  He commands the Treasury, but has no real influence over the Central Bank.  He has authority over a vast amalgamation of agencies and departments, but can neither independently appoint their leadership nor determine their funding levels.  He can destroy a bridge in another nation without even telling his constituency, but he has no power whatsoever to build one here in America.

So now we find ourselves embroiled in a raging argument about which party's leader would make the best steward of the American economy.  Who can create more jobs, increase GDP, provide the necessary conditions for private sector businesses to grow all while balancing the burdens of taxation on the American people against the need to provide the necessary government services the people demand.  This is delusional in the extreme.

We would be very well served to understand, and accept, the limitations of the Executive branch when it comes to impacting these critical areas.  They all require not just Congressional acquiescence, but active support in both houses, and some ability to create a single, uniform document that can be signed into law.  How might the President create jobs?  Well, he could build schools and bridges and airports and railroads.  Our infrastructure is old and failing, and it's well known that infrastructure projects do more to empower private sector growth than anything else, and these projects would require workers, thus producing real jobs.  But the President can't build so much as a gas station.  Only Congress can release the funds, and we have reached the point of political dysfunction where the opposition party in Congress won't approve funding for any project that might allow the President to be seen in a favorable light.

So please.  When you take part in these debates over the effectiveness of the Obama administration and the potential policies that might be implemented under a Romney Presidency, keep in mind that in order to make the slightest affirmative change they need to navigate a broken, obsolete and dysfunctional system of governance.  For all the power the President wields in matters of state, he simply does not have the power to drive real economic change.  When you hear their arguments, just think about this - the most profound change in American society to come out of the Obama White House wasn't a law or a policy or an Executive Order.  It was merely that clear, unambiguous statement that two people who love each other and want to make a lifelong legal commitment to each other should not be prevented from doing so.  For better or for worse, THAT'S the power of the Presidency.
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5 comments:

  1. When you hear their arguments, just think about this - the most profound change in American society to come out of the Obama White House wasn't a law or a policy or an Executive Order.

    I'd say it's the assertion that "due process" as referred to in the Constitution may be satisfied by a process at the White House.
    ~

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  2. Meh. While the denial of due process in killing or prosecuting suspects affects a few thousand people a year (and is neither new nor shocking at this point - indefinite detention without due process was brought to us by the previous Executive, the odious GW Bush), hundreds of thousands of Americans are denied the basic right to get married. So while the assassination program is a grotesque extra-constitutional expansion of the power of the government, it has nowhere NEAR the impact on American society (the phrase I used) that Marriage inequality has...

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  3. Saying a thing and doing a thing are different things, mikey.

    And while you might say, "Hey, it's only due process for these couple of dudes", what happens when a new Preznit comes along and sez, "Man, that guy mikey really chaps my ass. I'm going to have his ass killed."
    ~

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  4. Yep. As I said, a grotesque, extra-constitutional expansion of executive power...

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  5. You should remember that the ultimate Bitcoin exchange company is YoBit.

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