Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Powers and Policies

No, wait... It was just before they talked about the Supreme Court allowing in television cameras, right?
They didn't say that, I was sure they did - wasn't it right after they said "Let's give the vote to every adult citizen of the United States?" Oh... wait.

Snarkiness about the cynicism of invoking the Founding Fathers only on things that they'd happen to agree with you aside, this plays into the conservative idea that the President is usurping their prerogatives.

But the President can't "bypass Congress and do whatever he wants" via Executive Order. If he could, does anyone honestly think that he would have farted around with Congress when it came to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act or raising the nation's debt ceiling? Or anything else the President finds important? This is just another example of the political reality that political parties would rather that executive offices be weaker when they don't control them. Eight years ago, it was the Democrats complaining about President Bush and his penchant for Signing Statements when bills passed by Congress were not to his liking, but he didn't want to veto them.

So, if you will forgive me the rather blatant tautology, the President can only do via Executive Order what the President can do via Executive Order - and expanding the scope presidential authority is not on the list.

Another point worth mentioning is that it isn't 1789 anymore. (Thankfully.) And in the intervening two-and-a-quarter centuries, the public's understanding of the office of the President has changed - with some assistance from Congress, who appear to rather like having a convenient scapegoat when things go wrong. While the President is both Head of State and Head of Government, we've also saddled the office with the role of Head of Getting Things Done. I don't recall the Founding Fathers ever putting forth the idea that the Presidency should be drafting laws and sending them over to Congress to have them passed But we've now come to see it as a failure when the President cannot convince Congress to adopt certain policies he favors - even though the job of the President is to _execute_ policies, not create them. That's what the Legislature was supposed to have been for in the first place. Still, we expect candidates for President to campaign on initiatives that they cannot exact solely on their own, and we judge their leadership by how well they sell that to ally and opposition alike - despite the fact that "leadership" and "salesmanship" are really different things.

This is often convenient for members of Congress, who are able to point to "a lack of leadership from the White House," especially when they need to explain a lack of progress on something that the public may find appealing, but that the Congressperson is dubious about. But I doubt that this was an intentional feature of the system.

In the end, President Obama and Congressional Republicans in the House and Senate are both playing the same game - they're attempting to advance their own ideas of what they feel is best for the country, and are accusing the other of sabotage. As for following the rules, they're each doing that mainly to the degree that they have to, or it benefits them to be seen doing so. And all of this is really just the way the game is played. It's a much a feature of Realpolitik as misrepresenting what the other side is up to.

No comments: