Our system ironically features a powerful Presidency but a weak President, and Obama's no exception.
by James Leroy Wilson
May 28, 2009
In 1947, the National Security Act was passed. Since then, the government has done its best to keep us fearful of one thing or another, and constantly justified its secrecy, its invasion of civil liberties, and its wars on grounds of "national security." This same culture also gave rise to the Military-Industrial Complex.
A funny thing happened after that, in relation to what went on before. From 1860 to 1912, the Republican Party held the Presidency for all but eight years. In 1912 the people voted for "change" and elected a Democrat for two terms, though that's mainly because Theodore Roosevelt split the Republicans. In 1920 they voted for change back to the Republicans, then a change back to the Democrats in 1932. No change again for 20 years. From 1860 to 1952, there were just six changes.
Beginning in 1952, however, we've seen the American people vote for change of parties in nine of fifteen Presidential elections. When there was no incumbent, the winner has almost always been less experienced in Washington politics than the loser:
1952: change (of party): general with no political experience over governor
1956: no change: incumbent re-elected over governor
1960: change: sitting Senator over sitting VP
1964: no change: inherited incumbent over senator
1968: change: ex-VP over sitting VP
1972: no change: incumbent re-elected over Senator
1976: change: inherited incumbent defeated by governor
1980: change: incumbent defeated by governor
1984: no change: incumbent over ex-VP
1988: no change: sitting VP over governor
1992: change: incumbent defeated by a governor
1996: no change: incumbent over senator
2000: change: sitting VP defeated by governor
2004: no change: incumbent over senator
2008: change: first-term senator over longtime senator
From 1976 through 2000, outsider governors were 4-1 in Presidential elections. Since 1960 Senators have won twice, and they had less experience than their opponent. No Senator has beaten an incumbent, but three governors have. The sitting Vice President went 1-3.
Is it good that, in years incumbents aren't running, the less experienced or "outsider" candidate wins?
It's certainly good for some people.
A longtime Senator or other Washington insider entering the White House would more likely have his own networks and personal contacts in the bureaucracy, the Pentagon, intelligence communities, and the media. He's more likely to bring in his own people, and not fall back on the recommendations of elder statesmen. For better or for worse, he's more likely to trust his own judgment rather than defer to others.
An inexperienced President is easier for more knowledgeable bureaucrats and advisors to control. They could overwhelm him with facts, stats, and figures he wasn't aware of on the campaign trail. They can weave and spin information in ways that limit the President's options, in order to advance their own agenda.
When you put an inexperienced person in the White House, the power of the President himself weakens while the power of the Presidency, of the Administration, grows. For instance, if you give the President false intelligence on, say, weapons of mass destruction in a foreign country, how is he going to know otherwise?
Likewise, if the President sounds like he wants to reverse a predecessor's course, his advisors can present false or exaggerated information to persuade him to stay the course. How is he going to know anything different?
Finally, the ghost of JFK must haunt every modern President. Many believe if he remained alive we would have pulled out of Vietnam before we were in it to any significant degree. But, he was killed and we did go into Vietnam. The power of the Presidency, specifically the military and intelligence community, grew under his successor even as the political strength of the President Johnson diminished because of Vietnam.
I'm not suggesting a JFK conspiracy theory. But most Americans don't believe the lone gunman theory, and no sitting President can know for sure what really happened. If it's possible that rogue elements of the intelligence community were involved then, it's possible it could happen again. It doesn't have to be sensational; Presidents are always middle-aged or older. They can die of a "heart attack" any day and it's instantly plausible.
It's unlikely, however, that the threat of assassination will work. A President who dies in office these days will invite even more conspiracy theories and undermine more people's faith in The System. Instead, the President is told something like this: "Mr. President, if you don't follow our recommendations, there will be another 9/11, and you will be blamed for incompetence."
Is this an opinion, or a threat? Does the President dare find out?
In any case, there are reasons Presidents flip-flop. There are reasons they disappoint and fail to live up even to low expectations. The deck is stacked against him.
So don't be surprised by any of Obama's betrayals. The two-party system is set up so that there is enough "change" and enough "hope" to please most people every four or eight years.
But we almost never see a President reversing a predecessor's course on a major issue. Rather, he builds on what predecessors have done. This leads to more power for more advisors and bureaucrats. Some change.
About the Author:
James Leroy Wilson is author of Ron Paul Is A Nut (And So Am I). He blogs at Independent Country and writes for DownsizeDC.org. Opinions expressed here do not represent the views of DownsizeDC.org.
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