Voter Mistake: Overestimating the Power of the Presidency

Influence, yes: Voters, aided and abetted by the media, almost invariably refer to the president as "the most powerful man (or woman, someday) in the world."

It is true that the presidency has tended to become more powerful over time, but it is by constitutional design and accumulated procedures a position of influence more than power.

Except for the role of "commander in chief of the Army and Navy," the power to "grant reprieves and pardons," and "the power to fill up all vacancies during the recess of the Senate" (and these expire at the end of the Senate's next session), the U.S. Constitution gives the president no unrestricted powers.

The description of the president as the "most powerful man in the world" is probably related to his role as commander in chief, specifically with his not inconsiderable power to command the firing of nuclear weapons. No small thing, admittedly, but it is a power that would be cold comfort if used. Very cold.

A key characteristic about the presidency is that the U.S. president is both "head of state" and "head of government." In a constitutional monarchy such as the United Kingdom, the head of state is the king/queen and the head of government is the prime minister. In such countries, the prime minister is far more powerful than the U.S. president, at least if her party has a parliamentary majority. In modern parliamentary systems, where there is no king or queen, a "president" fills the head of state role in a ceremonial fashion, perhaps asking the head of one of the parties to fill the prime minister role and form a government. If the prime minister can form a government without resorting to a coalition, she has much more direct power than the president.

As Republicans have proved in the past six or eight years, the real power in the government, however unwieldy, is found in the Congress, which itself is checked both by its own bicameral structure and the power of the president to veto bills.  In that sense, the president has some limited negative power over Congress.

The tendency of people to think and vote as if the President of the United States is the most powerful leader in the world, guarantees disappointment. The President cannot possibly live up to the messianic expectations of the electorate
—unless of course the President is the Messiah.

The electorate should vote for the president, of course, but it should pay more attention to Congress, which means paying attention to the mid-term elections as well as the presidential-year elections. One of the parties, the Republicans, seems to understand this. The Democrats do not. 

The president, in his role as head of state, is a readier symbol for the people to hold onto than the arguably more powerful speaker of the house and thus commands more attention and influence. But power? Nah, unless he drops that bomb. Wile E. 



Government: Lincoln's Vision

... Government of the people, by the people, and for the people ... : Perhaps my favorite civic phrase is known (by some, at least) to have come from the last paragraph of the Gettysburg Address.

"... we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

The phrase crystallizes the American vision of government so well that I wondered why it was not used before. It turns out that phrases close to it were used before. Lincoln himself might have been influenced by the wording he found in a book given to him. On July 4, 1854, an abolitionist minister named Theodore Parker gave a sermon in which he said, "Democracy is direct self-government over all the people, for all the people, by all the people." 

Or maybe he was influenced by Stephen A. Douglas who said in one of those famous debates with Lincoln: "In my opinion, this government is formed on the white basis. It was made by the white man, for the benefit of the white man, to be administered by white men, in such a manner as they should determine." 

In any case, the concept of government of the people, by the people, and for the people was at the core of the American revolution and what the founding fathers had in mind when they created the constitution. Consider that they had been living in a colonial circumstances where none of the following was true.
Thus, the colonists were distanced on every level from government, which they saw as of the Crown/Parliament, by the Crown/Parliament, and for the Crown/Parliament. This is abundantly clear in the nature of complaints listed in the Declaration of Independence and, from the more positive point of view, in the structure provided by the Constitution and the freedoms protected in the Bill of Rights. 

The colonists saw government as completely connected to the people--of them, by them, and for them. 
President Lincoln well understood this, even extending the concept of "People" beyond the idea that "people" meant "white men."



We're Back: Topics to Come

Beep, beep: The coyotes have been busy for the past couple of years, trying to run their businesses. However, we'd like to get back to our blog and there is much to cover. Topics like these:

... And more. See you around. Wile E. Wonka

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Why the Government's "Strings Attached" Bailout Is Working

Because they hate it: Of course, the federal government's insistence on executive-compensation restraints is hard on bailed out corporations. Of course, the government has no business imposing such restrictions--except that the government saved their sorry behinds by shoveling money at them. Of course, it's stupid to hamstring these financial and auto behemoths' ability to attract the very executive talent that could restore them to health. Stupid, stupid, stupid--except that these stupid restrictions are driving these corporations to pay the money back, sooner rather than later. The coyotes guess the government knew what it was doing after all. Smart, smart, smart. Wile E.



Let's Get Away from Employer Provided Health Insurance.

... and do the following: Having said what we said in our previous post, let's acknowledge something odd. If you think we should get rid of our reliance on employer-provided health insurance, you have too paths:
Let's talk about the second approach--because the first is rather straightforward--and make the following points.

The most radical approach--a single payer option--would relieve business of the need to provide health insurance benefits. While the costs of such a program should give everyone pause, it would be a boon to a U.S. business.

A more conservative approach could also be used to move the country away from employer provided insurance (where it is going away anyway). Some ideas that have been proposed and on which there is fairly widespread agreement.

Wile E.


If Congress Fails to Pass a Health Plan ...

... you will lose your insurance anyway: At least the employer-provided kind. The extreme right--maybe just the right--is trying to scare people by saying they will lose their health insurance if "Obamacare" (whatever that is) passes. What they are not telling you is that you will lose your health insurance--at least the employer provided kind--if Congress fails to act.

It's already happening. Employer provided health insurance is just too expensive. Small businesses haven't been able to afford it for a long time. They pay high rates--double, we discovered when we were in business--what you can buy as an individual. And the rates have been going up dramatically every year. If you think large corporations are going to be able to continue providing coverage, think again. Chrysler and General Motors went into bankruptcy, largely because of huge legacy costs generated by their commitments to worker/retiree pensions and health care.

Even when companies continue to offer health insurance, workers and would-be workers are at risk, especially older workers too young for medicare. If you're 50 to 65, watch out. You'll be first in line to be laid off and last in line to be hired--precisely because you are too expensive to be covered.

While this is painful, it may not be entirely bad in the long run. Our reliance on "benefits" has had some unfortunate consequences.

However, insurers are the fuse of a ticking time bomb. Insurers raise prices to groups--and exclude individuals from coverage of pre-existing conditions. This practice forces more and more and people to seek more expensive group insurance through employers. Eventually, companies and individuals begin to experience pain from increasing insurance costs.

Employer provided health insurance has other consequences.

In another post, we'll talk about what we might do instead. Wile E.



Focus on the Good News.

Update: The news media, on the whole, rides the wave of momentum. In an economic slowdown, their reporting is unremittingly negative. To compensate, we'll identify some of the good news.



The Bad Economy Has a Bright Side

The media can't get enough of telling you how bad things are. And they are, but there are bright spots:

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