Time to Reconsider the Imperial Presidency

The growth of the imperial presidency, as it was described by historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. in 1973, has for decades distorted the constitutional contract between the presidency and the citizens of the republic.  That distortion reached its peak with the fanfare that accompanied Barack Obama's ascension to power in 2008.  Not only has Obama assumed powers never intended for the executive branch, but his messianic posturing raised expectations that could never be fulfilled.

Liberals in particular have not been this silly in love since the heady days of Camelot, as they labeled the magical aura that surrounded the Kennedy administration.  Like all such childlike fantasies, however, the hope that Obama could do larger-than-life things had to be dashed upon the hard rock of reality.  Now not only do his followers face the difficulty of admitting that he has failed to bring about the promised new age of prosperity at home and security abroad, but they have been disappointed in love to boot. 

We can only hope that Obama's spectacular failures will finally dispel some of the more grandiose myths and dangerous expectations about the American presidency.  Though voters may be solemnly warned that we are deciding in November who will "lead the nation" through the turbulent days ahead, or even that we are electing "the leader of the free world," in reality, we are doing nothing of the sort.

Americans are about evenly divided between those who want to live their own lives with minimal interference from government and those who expect government to meet every need, from wiping their tears to providing free contraceptives.  The first group is not looking for someone to lead it, and the blubbers-to-rubbers group will only follow someone who promises to keep the free cell phones coming.  Regardless of the outcome in November, we-the-people are too divided to be "led" by the winner.  So forget about healing our divisions; just bring sanity to our fiscal mess and call it a job well done. 

And as for the international community, other countries have their own agendas, and it is hubris in the extreme to think that they are waiting to be "led" by an American president.  It will be more than enough if the next president can simply do a good job of representing American interests on the complex and perilous international stage.  "Leading the free world" is too much of a job for any mere mortal.

Of course, our decision in November is critical to the future of the country and will have powerful impact on the world.  But let's be realistic about what we are doing and what we are not doing.  We are electing a leader for one of the three branches of the federal government, not a ruler for the nation or a savior for all that ails us.  The climate will not change, and the oceans will not rise or fall based upon our choice for president.  The next president will not create a single job outside the executive branch of the federal government, and even those jobs will be created with other peoples' money.  Realistically, we are looking for a manager, not a messiah.  Grasping that distinction is essential not only to making the right choice in November, but also for restoring the job of president to its intended -- and more sensible -- place in government. 

Romney's supporters have the advantage of admiring their candidate without having a crush on him.  As a result, they can view him in a more realistic light.  He is beginning to make the case not only to conservatives who may have doubted him at first, but also to undecided swing voters that he is just what the presidency needs right now: a competent manager who lives and works in the real world.

In a strange way, the vicious personal attacks mounted by the Obama campaign against Romney's character may have actually helped many voters to come around to his side.  When they finally saw Romney in the debates with Obama, Americans saw a decent and successful man who spoke in commonsense terms.  He was not the devil he had been painted to be, but neither did he aspire to messianic status.  He projects confidence without arrogance.  His promise of an "opportunity society" respects the right of individuals to follow their own courses and enjoy or suffer the consequences without unwarranted interference from Big Brother.

Romney has succeeded in the world outside politics, and his run for the presidency feels more like a call to serve than a claim to power by divine right.  Perhaps most importantly, Romney has succeeded in doing what the job calls for at this precarious point in our history.  He has made a career of putting failing enterprises back on a realistic course. 

Maybe that is not enough to make supporters swoon in ecstasy or run a tingle up the leg of Chris Matthews, but that was never the job of a president anyway.  Acknowledging that fact would be a healthy step toward restoring the republic.

Dr. Tim Daughtry is co-author of Waking The Sleeping Giant: How Mainstream Americans Can Beat Liberals At Their Own Game.

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