Obama's Job Description
What exactly is the proper role of the president of the United States? As we prepare for another election and strive to thoroughly vet GOP hopefuls, an equally comprehensive examination of the job to which they aspire is in order.
A starting point for such an evaluation was recently provided in the 60 Minutes interview with President Obama. Although CBS News described its segment as a discussion of "both [Obama's] accomplishments and the challenges he faces as he begins his quest for reelection," many would argue that Obama's role of campaigning has never ended.
Obama revealed his own view of his job early in the interview, when correspondent Steve Kroft asked: "Isn't it your job as president to find solutions to these problems, to get results, to figure out a way to get it done?" Obama answered:
It is my job to put forward a vision of the country that benefits the vast majority of Americans. It is my job to make sure that my party is behind those initiatives, even if sometimes it's breaking some china and going against some of the dogmas of our party in the past ... And it's my job to rally the American people around that vision.
Prior to hearing those remarks, many of us had been operating under the naïve assumption that the primary responsibility of the president was as sworn in the oath of office: to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution. We assumed that a president's "vision" would harmonize with our founding documents, that the president would provide leadership to more than his own party, and that his "initiatives" would not "benefit the vast majority" to the detriment of the freedom and liberty of all.
The American Thinker article "President Obama, It's Business, Not Personal," analyzed the job of Obama as if he were an executive in corporate America:
As the man at the top, he sets the tone for the rest of us, and the best interests of all shareholders should be his top priority, all while operating inside the parameters of power granted him. He must be the number-one champion of his company's product -- the assurance and protection of our God-given rights of freedom and liberty. And he must faithfully represent his company, not some fundamentally transformed entity audaciously designed in his own mind.
Imagine a corporate executive saying something like Obama told Kroft:
[W]hen I came into office in 2008, it was my firm belief that at such an important moment in our history, there was no reason why Democrats and Republicans couldn't put some of the old ideological baggage aside ... And I think the Republicans made a different calculation, which was, "You know what? We really screwed up the economy. Obama seems popular. Our best bet is to stand on the sidelines, because we think the economy's gonna get worse, and at some point, just blame him."
Most CEOs would never dare to make such whiny sentiments public, and we wonder what exactly Obama meant by the phrase "at such an important moment in our history." Surely he referred to our economic troubles, and not to his own election victory. But then when Obama described to Kroft his view of Wall Street from "40,000 feet" above, it was difficult not to recall Newsweek's Evan Thomas' vision of Obama "standing above the world" as a "sort of God," or the time that Obama, upon accepting his party's nomination in 2008, declared: "...this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal." He has since informed us, however, that his presidential powers do not include "control [of] the weather."
In a speech describing the presidency, Rep. Mike Pence wisely noted:
[W]e as a people are not to be ruled and not to be commanded ... the president should never forget this; that he has not risen above us, but is merely one of us, chosen by ballot, dismissed after his term, tasked not to transform and work his will upon us, but to bear the weight of decision and to carry out faithfully the design laid down in the Constitution[.]
It goes without saying that the commander-in-chief should be loyal to our founding ideals. Bows and apologies to the rest of the world and assertions that the American experiment of "a you're-on-your-own economy ... hasn't worked ... [and] it's not gonna work in the future" display either a radically different view of our nation's history or the desire to dramatically remake its character going forward.
Another president's remarks have lately been making their way around the blogosphere:
Now, more than ever before, the people are responsible for the character of their Congress. If that body be ignorant, reckless, and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness, and corruption. If it be intelligent, brave, and pure, it is because the people demand those high qualities[.]"[i]
While those words of wisdom by James Garfield were written over 100 years ago, his additional comments in the same essay are even more noteworthy:
The legislation of Congress comes much nearer to the daily life of the people than ever before. Twenty years ago, the presence of the national government was not felt by one citizen in a hundred. ... Now he meets it in a thousand ways. Formerly the legislation of Congress referred chiefly to our foreign relations, to indirect taxes, to the government of the army, the navy, and the Territories. Now, a vote in Congress may, any day, seriously derange the business affairs of every citizen. [ii]
Garfield would be shocked to see the level of derangement produced by our government today. And he likely would never have dreamed that the burden of taxes are borne by only around half of the country, with a large proportion going to programs that redistribute to the other half or to pork-barrel spending. And if Garfield was concerned about the engagement of the constituency in his day, imagine his horror at the realization that today's electorate would likely never vote against the hand that feeds it, a hand that under the guise of governmental authority takes wealth out of the pockets of others.
Rather than considering "cutting taxes" or "gutting regulations" to boost our lagging economy, Obama instead has dug in his heels and demanded that wealthy Americans "do their fair share" plus "a little bit more." And if he lacks support, he asserted: "We're just gonna keep on looking for specific things that we can do without congressional cooperation."
Another president from the past viewed his role quite differently: Grover Cleveland, who "believed in keeping government expenditure at the minimum required to carry out essential constitutional functions." Cleveland famously vetoed the Texas Seed Bill, legislation that proposed to spend $10,000 on assistance to drought-suffering Texas farmers. Cleveland stated:
I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution; and I do not believe that the power and duty of the General Government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit. A prevalent tendency to disregard the limited mission of this power and duty should, I think, be steadily resisted, to the end that the lesson should be constantly enforced that, though the people support the Government, the Government should not support the people.
Cleveland could not find the power for a $10,000 grant in the Constitution. Well, "folks," guess what else besides the billions of dollars of today's spending is not in the Constitution: the job description Obama has written for himself.
In the next few weeks, the GOP will begin the formal process of selecting its candidate. In choosing the most qualified contender, we also affirm our idea of the proper role of the president.
Our founding fathers aptly designated the chief executive as the "President of the United States of America and Protector of their Liberties" [iii]. The best candidate is the one who aspires to that presidential job description.
[i] The Works of James Abram Garfield, Volume II, Edited by Burke A. Hinsdale (Boston: James R. Osgood and Company, 1883), page 486.
[ii] Ibid., page 485-6.
[iii] Ibid., page 475.