House Speaker John Boehner wants to push back against Barack Obama’s abuses of power with a lawsuit, which couldn’t possibly accomplish anything until Obama was out of office. Sarah Palin is talking about impeaching him, which is the Constitutionally-provided tool for checking an imperial president, but there’s absolutely zero chance of Senate Democrats agreeing to remove a Democrat president from office, especially this one; that check on executive power has been politically checkmated.
So maybe we ought to think about getting rid of the presidency altogether. Obama’s ideology has been trending toward getting rid of Congress, or at least demoting them from the status of co-equal branch of government, and the “gridlock”-loathing “get things done!” school of left-wing thought is having a torrid affair with the notion of elected monarchy. The Left has always been romantically attached to the idea of the enlightened strongman who rules with absolute power as an avatar of social justice, of course, as you can tell from the way they slobber over someone like Fidel Castro or Hugo Chavez. The “Great Man” fantasy is not a recent phenomenon.
But there’s a real and tangible sense of political momentum toward the notion of elevating the American presidency to the status of benevolent dictatorship, with a rubber-stamp Congress that has a little input into the fine details, but is broadly obedient to his agenda. The idea is that it won’t be a real dictatorship because We the People can vote a tyrant out of office. I could spend hours explaining how hideously mistaken that idea is, but it has a simple appeal to people who are tired of obscure congressmen from states they never visit controlling the “national agenda.” The President is the one and only politician we all get to vote for, so he should have all the power, because when he wins he becomes the incarnation of majority will.
Don’t worry, this will all dissipate with the speed of a super-collider experiment as soon as a Republican wins the Oval Office. But while we’re having the elected-monarchy discussion, I’d like to propose that it’s exactly backwards. The Presidency, as currently construed, is the office we should demote or eliminate.
Barack Obama is doing an excellent job of demonstrating how useless the office of the Presidency can be, filling his days with a mixture of photo ops, fundraisers, recreational activities, blustery threats to seize total power, and piteous whining about how powerless he is. You really wouldn’t miss him for a while if he was gone. It’s not like he’s springing into action when those fabled 3 AM phone calls come in.
Most of our titanic mega-bureaucracy runs on its own. It’s a staple of Obama rhetoric that he’s powerless to do anything about it, and in fact he doesn’t even know what the government is doing – he reads about it in the newspapers, just like you do. He’s explicitly said that several times, when scandals blew up in his face. He didn’t know anything about the IRS, or the VA, or the Department of Health and Human Services, not even when the latter was working on a program named after him. What’s the point of expending enormous resources on having someone that clueless around? The Cabinet can just report to Congress. That’s pretty much how it works now, anyway, except House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa has to write subpoenas to get the reports.
We’d need some sort of Commander-in-Chief, but it would be better if that worthy reported directly to Congress, because we’ve been having way too many wars without full congressional involvement. Obama spends his days giving us excuses for why he didn’t pick up the 3 AM phone call. Let’s have someone Congress can immediately dismiss if he lets those calls roll over to voice mail. His whole job would be protecting national security and responding immediately to crises.
The President spends much energy serving as a public-relations agent for the federal government. Congress can hire somebody to do that. It doesn’t have to be the same guy who answers the 3 AM global-crisis phone calls.
The President also serves as a pitch man for his Party’s agenda. We don’t need taxpayers covering the frankly ridiculous expenses for an overstuffed office that serves the interests of whichever Party won the last presidential election. Let each Party hire its own salesmen and saleswomen. Plenty of time in the 24-hour news cycle for all of them to get a shot at pitching agendas to the rest of us.
“Wait!” you say. “The American people hate Congress, no matter which party runs it! If executive functions reported directly to them, nothing would get done, because they argue with each other all the time. People would grow even more frustrated with Washington than they already are!” Now you’re catching on!
Look, a vast nation government by a representative republic simply will not produce a lot of imperatives that “everybody” supports and “everybody” should be forced to pay for. It’s appropriate that a lot of bold Washington proposals should die a miserable partisan death. The current model of the all-powerful Presidency makes the fundamental mistake of assuming there are many issues that dissenters should be bludgeoned into going along with. It’s better that our elected representatives should be settling these debates – or, in many cases, failing to settle them. The best way to avoid the tyranny of the majority is to avoid empowering one man or woman to issue commands that no one is allowed to disobey.
Would Congress grow frazzled at the task of managing our immense and shadowy central government without a ridiculously powerful and well-funded White House? I sure hope so. They might actually decide to make things easier on themselves by making the central government smaller, and devolving power to those fine men and women we call “governors,” who have many of the powers and duties we currently associate with the imperial Presidency, plus one very important additional feature: you can run away from them if you can’t abide what they’re doing, and they know it.
Without the glittering prize of the imperial presidency dangling at the end of the Electoral College, it would be far less likely that the rest of the nation might be forced to bail out incompetent governors who run their states into the ground. If you’re not sold on my proposal to eliminate the presidency yet, maybe we can talk again after one of the big blue states collapses, and you’ve enjoyed the experience of paying for its unsustainable commitments, even though you’ve never set foot there.