The Cult of the Presidency

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The Cult of the Presidency

Post by BWV 1080 » Wed May 14, 2008 11:40 am

Is there any end in sight to the increasing power of the executive branch?

The Cult of the Presidency
Who can we blame for the radical expansion of executive power? Look no further than you and me.

In the revival tent atmosphere of Barack Obama's campaign, the preferred hosanna of hope is "Yes we can!" We can, the Democratic front-runner promises, not only create "a new kind of politics" but "transform this country," "change the world," and even "create a Kingdom right here on earth." With the presidency, all things are possible.
Even though Republican nominee John McCain tends to eschew rainbows and uplift in favor of the grim satisfaction that comes from serving a "cause greater than self-interest," he too sees the presidency as a font of miracles and the wellspring of national redemption. A president who wants to achieve greatness, McCain suggests, should emulate Teddy Roosevelt, who "liberally interpreted the constitutional authority of the office" and "nourished the soul of a great nation." President George W. Bush, when passing the GOP torch to his former rival in March, declared that the Arizona senator "will bring determination to defeat an enemy and a heart big enough to love those who hurt." Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, suggests she is "ready on Day 1 to be commander in chief of our economy."

The chief executive of the United States is no longer a mere constitutional officer charged with faithful execution of the laws. He is a soul nourisher, a hope giver, a living American talisman against hurricanes, terrorism, economic downturns, and spiritual malaise. He -- or she -- is the one who answers the phone at 3 a.m. to keep our children safe from harm. The modern president is America's shrink, a social worker, our very own national talk show host. He's also the Supreme Warlord of the Earth.


Law professors Jack Balkin of Yale and Sanford Levinson of the University of Texas at Austin are both Democrats and civil libertarians, so they take no pleasure in their prediction that “the next Democratic President will likely retain significant aspects of what the Bush administration has done.” Indeed, they write in a 2006 Fordham Law Review article, future Democratic presidents “may find that they enjoy the discretion and lack of accountability created by Bush’s unilateral gambits.”

Throughout the 20th century more and more Americans looked to the central government to deal with highly visible public problems, from labor disputes to crime waves to natural disasters. And as responsibility flowed to the center, power accrued with it. If that trend continues, responses to matters of great public concern will be increasingly federal, increasingly executive, and increasingly military.

In the years to come, many Americans will find that the results of executive action are not to their liking. And if history is any guide, they’ll respond by vilifying the officeholder and looking for another man on horseback to set things right again.

In The Road to Serfdom, economist and political philosopher F.A. Hayek chastised the “socialists of all parties” for their belief that “it is not the system we need fear, but the danger it might be run by bad men.” Today’s “presidentialists of all parties”—a phrase that describes the overwhelming majority of American voters—suffer from a similar delusion. Our system, with its unhealthy, unconstitutional concentration of power, feeds on the atavistic tendency to see the chief magistrate as our national father or mother, responsible for our economic well-being, our physical safety, and even our sense of belonging. Relimiting the presidency depends on freeing ourselves from a mind-set one century in the making. One hopes that it won’t take another Watergate and Vietnam for us to break loose from the spellbinding cult of the presidency.

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Post by Bro » Wed May 14, 2008 12:15 pm

I couldn't agree more. This is the result of the over exposure of politicians in the media. It is the cult of the personality run wild. I found it amusing that the Obamaphiles see their leader as a man similar to what Christians seen in Christ. For me a politician is a tool. You want something done, you pick the appropriate tool for the job.

Naturally, the current race for the presidency is all about the candidates personalities and not about what they hope to accomplish. I am reminded of a story about Harry Truman,... a little girl asked him what it was like to run the country, he replied that congress ran the county, not the president. How far we have come.


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Post by jbuck919 » Wed May 14, 2008 12:58 pm

Just wait for an important piece of social legislation, say something resembling universall health care, to be sponsored by the White House and we'll quickly see how close the President is to anything resembling absolute power.

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Post by piston » Wed May 14, 2008 1:20 pm

Who can we blame for the radical expansion of executive power? Look no further than you and me.
War, actually, not you and me.

The presidency was "revived" with Teddy Roosevelt who, not surprisingly, was an advocate of military buildup and foreign intervention.

World War I generated hundreds of new government agencies such as the Food Administration led by engineer/investor Herbert Hoover, not to mention its "superagencies" such as the War Industries Board, resulting in a level of planning completely incompatible with the concepts of laissez-faire and deregulation. (It's not called socialism, however, but a "mobilized economy"). Wilson's suppression of dissidence is what led to the formation of the American Civil Liberties Union in 1920.
During the war the federal government intervened in the economy and influenced people's everyday lives as never before. Centralization of control in Washington, D.C., and mobilization of the home front served as a model for the future.
Of course, FD Roosevelt is often mentioned by the right as the individual most responsible for the growth/expansion of executive power during the Great Depression. Truth is, though, that government contracts during WWII ($175 billion) far exceeded spending on New Deal programs ($3 billion here, $4 billion there, etc.).
The federal government, in order to manage thee nation's war efforts, became a stronger presence in the lives of individual Americans -- regulating business and employment; overseeing military conscription, training, and deployment; and even controlling what people could buy to eat and wear. The Second World War was a powerful engine of social change.
Finally, the Cold War directly contributed to the development of a "national security state" wherein the U.S. government, especially its executive branch
essentially transformed itself into a huge military headquarters that interlocked with corporations and universities.
The National Military Establishment (1947) which became the Department of Defense (1949) rapidly became the leading government employer, having more employees before the beginning of the Iraq War than ExxonMobil, Ford, General Motors, and GE combined. Add to this the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the CIA and dozens more new government agencies such as the Dept of Homeland Security and you have a "military-industrial complex," with a population the size of a small country whose ruler is the president of the United States.

Given this long-term development, throughout the twentieth century, the presidency of the USA has become an "imperial presidency" and it has had very little to do with the role of "you and me."

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Post by Ralph » Wed May 14, 2008 2:04 pm

And to think it all started with George (Washington). :)

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Post by TopoGigio » Wed May 14, 2008 2:09 pm

Last edited by TopoGigio on Sat Jun 14, 2008 3:33 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: The Cult of the Presidency

Post by Corlyss_D » Thu May 15, 2008 12:13 am

Interesting article, Steve.
Reason Magazine wrote: The Cult of the Presidency
Who can we blame for the radical expansion of executive power? Look no further than you and me.
That's a very libertarian/small government/Republican attitude, to say the least. The cause of a powerful executive, when we had one, was two things: demands for big social programs in a modern state, and war. An institution as big as the US government needs some one to make it move, otherwise it would sit on its duff twidling its thumbs. We don't have a powerful executive any more - too much authority has been surrendered by the executive or seized by Congress, jealous, petty, and incapable of acting with one mind, with 535 whores all trying to grab the spotlight. When I was in DoD in the mid-80s, the DUSD for Procurement came to address the group I worked with. 80% of her calendar was filled with testimony before Congress. "I was hired basically to testify." With almost every agency responding to commands from at a minimum 6-12 separate Congressional committees, it's a freaking miracle anything gets done at all. Reason Magazine's cry sounds reasonable but it's not. It's not even right about the Executive being the out-of-control branch. That complaint garners a pethora of books on the subject, but I assure you, the next time a major disaster strikes the mainland, they will be first in line demanding why the executive didn't do something to prevent it and why it was so long mobilizing to respond to the human needs.
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Post by Donald Isler » Thu May 15, 2008 9:06 am

If you look at how things have been done for the last seven years I think it's a rather strange statement to say that Congress, and not the Executive branch, is overly powerful. Or that this President is any less of a whore in following selfish, narrow interests and not the country's, than most Congresspeople.
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Post by dulcinea » Thu May 15, 2008 2:47 pm

Like I said in a post that everybody except Topo Gigio ignored: all Presidents want to be FDR. Why do you think the Constitution now officially restricts Presidents to two terms?: as a brake against the messianism that infects too many presidential candidates.
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