NICK ON POLITICS: A True Enigma, The American Presidency
By Nick Garrett
There are very few if any common denominators when it comes to qualifications for the job of President of the United States. The US Constitution prescribes that an individual must be over the age of 36. Further, an individual must have been born in the United States. Otherwise those who have graced the office run the gambit of qualifications and backgrounds. Some ascended to the office through their military roles due to the American people’s admiration of war heroes. Others rise to the office having had no ambition to serve whatsoever. Some ascended through nomination at a party convention or at times through assassination of the sitting president. Some enter the office with less then favorable reputations as servants and leave respected. More have probably entered the office respected and leave the office hated, only then to have historians of later decades look back with a modified view of the individual.
The presidency has evolved with time and as a result the role of the president has changed. Technically the responsibilities outlined by the constitution have not changed. However, in an experiment as unique as America each administration has had a measure of freedom in defining its role beyond those hallowed Words. External factors such as changes in technology, culture, and the role of government evolve the office. It is difficult to judge the success of the man based solely on the constitutional mandate.
The backgrounds of the men vary as do the campaigning styles and sentiment toward candidates over time. Most serve in an ascending progression of public offices locally and at the state and federal level and throughout all three branches of government. Neither President Obama nor Mitt Romney really did it this way.
When George Washington took the oath beginning his first term it was widely believed leading up to the voting that the office would be his. At the constitutional convention in 1787, much debate ensued over the office of the chief executive itself. Firstly, whether or not to even have such an office. Anti monarchical sentiment at the dawn of national reconstruction led initially to the idea of a chairman with limited powers and congress being the main governing body. I say reconstruction because we already had articles of confederation at the time but each state was riddled with debt from the American Revolution and lacked frameworks for developing any type of unifying economic or political identity. In order to sunset the articles of confederation though, James Madison, our fourth president and “father of the constitution”, motivated by a mix of classical Greek philosophy and a vast knowledge of the governments of the world, would have to build a system that could be widely agreed upon without alienating slave holding states. Dawning a new system and sun setting another was presided over by none other then George Washington. Benjamin Franklin was said to have looked at the carving of the sun on Washington’s chair and wondered whether it was rising or setting with respect to a United States of America.
Well the sun was certainly rising then, but some would question now whether it was setting. Those criticizing President Obama’s presidency clearly have the floor. While the most recent polls show him beating the presumptive nominee Mitt Romney 46 percent to 38 percent, he is being judged on every action with extreme scrutiny. It is difficult to say what we expect from either man. There is such a laundry list of problems in this Country that we would be fools to expect one man or woman to successfully tackle all of them him or herself. The office has evolved so far past the constitutional mandate that each person seems to have a slightly different vision for what they expect.
The President’s relationship with Congress should be one of our motivations in choosing a chief executive. As we have seen in recent years, government does not work when the two branches do not find consensus. Perhaps both Obama and Romney have been at times unrealistic about this relationship. Obama, initially making dramatic noteworthy attempts at “bi partisanship” (I really hate this fake buzzword that does not really mean what we want it to) has been classified by scholars such as Stephen Heyward as “the most polarizing President in modern history.” Personally, I think that is a stretch. The flipside has been Mitt Romney’s high ideal directives about what he is going to “tell” congress to do. Really? The same congress with a 6% approval rating? Good luck Mitt!
I think we are going to witness a good old-fashioned slugfest during this election cycle and I also believe that the stage is set for the most negative campaign in presidential history. Why? Money, and thanks to the Supreme Court, Super PAC’s that can spend as much as they want to erode reputations. All’s fair in love and politics. I think everyone would agree that neither of these men would even come close to a Washington, Adams, Garfield, or Eisenhower. But America has changed too. We are as individuals just as complex as our public structure. The presence of Ron Paul has certainly brought the Constitution into the public dialogue. Perhaps we will consider the President’s role through the Constitutional lens more then we have done in the past.