FROM THE EDITOR: Our weird relationship with Presidents

(BRANDON HANSEN/Managing Editor of the Chewelah Independent)

Why are we so concerned about the President?

Naturally this position in our national government has been a slight point of interest the past few years. But when you consider the many years of history as a country, it seems a bit weird.

It appears for over 100-plus years, the position of the president has continued to gain more and more power within our federal government. Through precedents, traditions in governments, everyone playing along and some vagueness of what the Founding Fathers intended, the office has gained more and more power regardless of which party was in control.

What’s funny, when the Constitution of the U.S. was getting put together, many states weren’t thrilled about the prospect of a strong executive. They wanted that position to be weak with minimal powers. Why? Well why would they fight off one monarch just to give their leadership to another person? I will say it’s a bit weird to me to read about some of the founding principles of our country only to also be like “oh yeah and we will have one branch where one guy runs things.”

With all America stands for, the office of the president is a weird one. The rest of the government disperses powers far and wide. Power and blame is so spread out in other branches of government, you can have a terrible job approval rating and remain in office because well… that problem you have was someone else’s fault! Ask Congress!

But the president? We’ve taken a position that really should be two positions – one prime minister and one head of state – and morphed it into this national obsession.

It rains somewhere? President’s fault. The economy topples because bankers ran things like drunken sailors? Thanks Mr. President. Aliens invade? Please save us President Bill Pullman. (We literally have a movie where the U.S. President fights off space aliens in a fighter jet, and it was played as dramatic sci fi. Yep.)

While other countries like the U.K. might have many documentaries on their former kings through the hundreds and hundreds of years of its history, there is much less attention put on their prime ministers through history.

U.S. presidents however? There is a cottage industry on presidential biographies, school children are taught the long line of executive branch leaders while they probably would be hard-pressed to name a famous Speaker of the House, Senate Majority leader or a Supreme Court Justice. Let’s be honest, most of the famous Americans are presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.

They’re always depicted as the leader of the country, the one who steered it one direction or the other. I think this gives people the impression that the president is the leader. This is the wrong impression. He is not a dictator or a king. What he wants does not immediately happen. Certainly there are avenues the president can exert his influence on, but we’re dishonest with ourselves with what the president can and can’t do.

Why are Americans – who are some of the most individualistic people on the planet – so wired to believe the president has all the power? Because history has slowly seen the rise of the presidential office and the lessening of power in other branches.

The last time the United States declared war was in 1942. You’ll note we’ve had a few wars since then that presidents carried out without approval.

You’ll note some of our greatest presidents also widely expanded the powers of the office during times of emergency – which we should ask the Romans how this eventually worked out.

Abraham Lincoln, considered the best president by many historians, was certainly heavy handed with the powers of the office. Franklin D. Roosevelt began what was coined the imperial presidency and widely expanded the powers of the federal government and presidency.

In fact, try to come up with an instance where we have scaled back the role and scope of the president in the past 100 years? It kind of flies in the face of time periods in American history when states or individuals were distrustful of too much power being concentrated in one part of the government.

Nowadays, it seems like if it’s the person from our team in the office, they’re free to do whatever they wish and they are the leader of the country. Give them the reins! Let them lead us to the promised land

Wouldn’t it be healthier for the country if the president was seen more as an administrator or mayor than some sort of governmental demigod each party seems to build their past presidents as?

Mention Reagan or Obama and you almost hear a choir singing or slasher horror movie music depending on what the person you’re talking to “believes in.”

(Which, why do we have to “believe” in something when it comes to government? We don’t have people flying flags of their favorite senator or district court judge.)

Look at the reality and myths around our great American presidents. “I cannot tell a lie!” “We choose to go to the Moon!” “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” It does tend to turn into a bit of a cult of presidents, where they can either be angel or demon depending on their political leanings. What if, instead of this cowboy of the year, we had some kind of bean counter behind the scenes that just ran the executive branch without fanfare.

With the advent of nuclear weapons and the swift response that is needed with today’s modern weaponry, it’s almost a natural reaction to give the president more powers – but then you’re now putting the outcome of millions of lives in the hands of one man. This imbalance of power simply can’t be overlooked.

Does the position of Washington’s treasurer give an emotional reaction as primal as the President? Are people posting “Not My Insurance Commissioner” on their Facebook posts?

I’m not Libertarian, but I do find one of their thoughts that the presidential powers need to scale back as something that needs to be explored more. It’s simply becoming an unbalanced government with the amount of power given to one person.

If we want to avoid election days like these again where it’s literally causing mental anguish or joy, perhaps we should stop making who is president such an integral part of our lives.