Friday, November 19, 2010

Newsweek's Fatal Conceit

The Presidency is a big job. Back in 9th grade, my curmudgeonly civics teacher once enumerated and explained each Constitutional responsibility of the President, and after each one boomed, “Let's give him another job! The man has nothing else to do!”, then proceeded to describe the next Presidential duty. The list was pretty weighty.

So yes, the “modern Presidency” is a multitasking nightmare even under the best of circumstances. But the latest Newsweek cover and accompanying story betray a severe beating with the clue-stick that fell just short of imparting some crucial knowledge and insight.


The problem, Newsweek seems to have discerned, is that the President has too many things to worry about. Their graphic of ShivObama The Destroyer juggles war and peace (at least those are traditional areas of Presidential responsibility, shared with the Congress), an economy portrayed by a fistful of dollars, the housing market, medicine, and literally the whole world.

Let me go out on a limb here and say the President probably shouldn't be responsible for the entire world. Let's drop housing and medicine while we're at it. Purists will debate the extent of the Executive's role in the economy, but surely it can be said that the Executive has overreached in this realm as well.

It's almost as though Newsweek has stumbled upon the Fatal Conceit, that one man, or a relatively small number of men, cannot plan everything. And yet, they still fall short on the solution.

So close, Newsweek:

It’s hard to imagine how the office could sizably shrink, allowing the president to return to a more aloof, strategic role. Academics in Eisenhower’s day imagined two presidential figures, one for serious decision making and one relegated to the office’s ceremonial duties. Modern scholars see other solutions within the Constitution. “Presidents ought to give more thought to their cabinet choices, and then give them a little more deference,” says Marc Landy, a professor of political science at Boston College. The simplest experiment could involve reducing the West Wing staff, thus relying more—by necessity—on outside agencies.

(Wait, I thought Obama's problem was aloofness. Never mind, I guess.)

It's difficult to see how a ceremonial President would really free up enough time for the executive President to take care of the medicine, housing, energy, trade, etc., up to and including the whole world.

As to the dilution of executive power into the cabinet, anyone with the most cursory knowledge of Constitutional history must be aware of why we have a unitary executive. Consider the words of James Wilson, Founding Father, Constitutional signatory, and Associate Justice of the Supreme Court:

The next good quality that I remark is, that the executive authority is one. By this means we obtain very important advantages. We may discover from history, from reason, and from experience, the security which this furnishes. The executive power is better to be trusted when it has no screen. Sir, we have a responsibility in the person of our President; he cannot act improperly, and hide either his negligence or inattention; he cannot roll upon any other person the weight of his criminality; no appointment can take place without his nomination; and he is responsible for every nomination he makes. We secure vigor. We well know what numerous executives are. We know there is neither vigor, decision, nor responsibility, in them. Add to all this, that officer is placed high, and is possessed of power far from being contemptible; yet not a single privilege is annexed to his character; far from being above the laws, he is amenable to them in his private character as a citizen, and in his public character by impeachment.

The only real solution is for the Presidency to do less, which seems to be the only option Newsweek and the Left have discarded.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think it was Dennis Miller who said that the President should have two jobs: 1) Defend the nation, and 2) Stay out of the way.

~MJA