A Very Simple Job Description
President Obama complains constantly that his job is made harder because of the negative slant of the Constitution. The job description of the president of the United States, as described in the Constitution, consists of only 322 words (Article II, Sections 2 and 3). That's it. Three hundred and twenty-two words.
Not 322 pages, not 322 paragraphs, not 322 sentences. Three hundred and twenty-two words. Period.
More than twice that many words (664, to be exact) are used in Article II, Section 1 just to define the process of choosing the president, and they include even the exact language of his oath of office.
This short job description covers only five areas:
- The president is the commander-in-chief of the military.
- The president is responsible for insuring that the laws passed by Congress are executed and enforced as written.
- The president is allowed to grant pardons for crimes other than impeachment.
- The president can also make treaties, but only if two-thirds of the Senate agrees to the terms of those treaties.
- The president can nominate ambassadors, Supreme Court justices, and other officers (most commonly cabinet secretaries and federal judges). But he can only nominate them. Again, the Senate has final approval on any nominations.
That's it. That is all the person who is president is allowed to do by law. He or she can persuade, lecture, and speak publicly, using, in Teddy Roosevelt's phrase, his "bully pulpit" to encourage Congress to act. In fact, he is required by the Constitution to do exactly that. The theatre which is the State of the Union address made annually by the president is specifically required in Article II, Section 3, which begins:
He shall from time to time give to the Congress the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient[.]
It should be noted that governance of the nation by executive order or by administrative regulation is not mentioned in those 322 words.
There was a very understandable rationale for the members of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 to describe very limited powers invested in the president. A major source of contention between the colonies and Great Britain which led to the War of Independence was the behavior of King George III. George believed that as king, he was an absolute monarch rather than a constitutional monarch. As far back as the year 1215, with the Magna Carta, the absolute authority of the British sovereign was purposefully limited. King George, with support from a majority of Parliament, who agreed that the king's authority should be effectively absolute, aided and abetted this set of circumstances against nearly 600 years of precedent establishing limited sovereign authority.
With George III providing such a powerful example of what not to allow the head of government to do, the Constitutional Convention was adamant in limiting the unilateral scope of action of the president. With the inauguration of Barack Obama, we can see clearly that these men were not paranoid, but prescient.
Obama has acted in a way that is very similar to actions taken by George III in ignoring hundreds of years of tradition and legal precedent to enforce his whims. This is particularly ironic behavior from a man who has written that he was greatly affected by his biological father's anti-colonialist and anti-monarchal attitudes. One has only to look at Obama's own behavior to see that he himself tries to rule like a monarch in the mold of George III or Louis XIV, who famously said. "I am the State." (Of course, ol' Louis actually said "L'état, c'est moi," but then he was French, after all.) Obama governs as if Washington, D.C. was the mother country and the 50 states are just colonies that he too can rule according to his whim while ignoring hundreds of years of our history, tradition, and legal precedent.
Perhaps Barack Obama should examine what he is actually allowed to do and what he is actually supposed to do, and limit himself to those only. If not, there is a very strong chance that history will repeat itself, as it does from time to time. Over two centuries ago, the American people threw off a despot, and there is a high likelihood that such might be repeated on November 6. One hopes this second removal from power will be accomplished with significantly less violence and loss of life than the first one was in 1776.
I would also like to hear from all the remaining Republican candidates a list of what they guarantee they will not do if they become president. For example, they will not kill American citizens without arrest, indictment, and trial. They will not try to allocate resources within the economy because they feel that the market's allocation of those resources is not as efficient as they might like. They will not sign legislation that is of questionable constitutional validity. If each of these candidates made a speech telling Americans what they will not do, not only would it be one helluva speech, but it would draw a strong contrasting picture of how they see the job as president when compared to how Barack Obama sees it.
Jim Yardley is a retired financial controller for manufacturing firms, a Vietnam veteran, and an independent voter. Jim blogs at http://jimyardley.wordpress.com, or he can be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.