The Not So Powerful President
Divine, untouchable, godly, the polar opposite description for the President of the United States. From the introduction of their inauguration speech, till the moment a different politician earns at least two hundred and seventy of the five hundred and thirty-eight electoral college votes. The President is viewed in the eyes of the American public as an indestructible ultra human. One who contains supernatural capabilities that can turn any policy, bill, or piece of legislation into law with merely one flick of their magic wand. However, the fact of the matter is that the President does not own a magic wand. The President does not own a magic sword. The President does not even own a magic spoon. The only tools that the President is equipped with are the ones provided by the constitution. Duties such as Chief Executive, Chief Legislator, Chief of State, and Commander in Chief, though flashy sounding, nowhere close to godlike. In fact, the Constitution also limits the abilities of the President severely. Despite how the President is depicted in today’s era, the system of checks and balances described in the Constitution restrains America’s leader from wielding monarch like powers and requires him or her to seek ratification from the Legislative Branch, Judicial Branch, and public opinion in order act upon their beliefs.
Given the numerous Presidential restrictions, the Constitution does grant America’s leader several powers such as Chief Legislator, Commander in Chief, and Chief of State. According to the Constitution, the duty of Chief Legislator is to “Give to the Congress information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient” (Article II, Section 3). For example, when current president Barack Obama presents his yearly State of the Union address speech, he is exercising his abilities as Chief Legislator. As Commander in Chief, the President is given the privilege to lead the Army and Navy (Article II, Section 2). Though the President cannot actually declare war on another nation, he or she is granted the power to generate a plan for the military. For example, in the 1991 Gulf War, George H. W. Bush mandated. a cease-fire after 100 hours of fighting (Dye, pg. 453). Finally, as Chief of State, the President can grant pardons and appoint Supreme Court judges (Article II, Section 2). For instance, President Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon of all committed crimes and accusations during the famous Watergate scandal (Dye, pg. 427). As for Supreme Court nominations, Barack Obama is currently waiting for the Senate’s approval on his pick Merrick Garland. It is clear that the power of the President is limited by the rules and guidelines dictated in America’s Constitution.
In addition those duties, the President is also handed the enormous responsibility as Chief Executive. As Chief Executive, the President wields the ability to deliver executive orders which are actions announced out of the executive branch by the President (Dye, pg. 724). Executive orders are a hidden weapon in which the President can resort to for policy advancement. For example, “In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 for the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II” (Dye, pg. 440). The power to either appoint or replace certain government officials is another luxury exercised by the Chief Executive. The importance of appointments in American politics are so gigantic that the fate of a policy can potentially rest in hands of the President. In order to utilize this game changing trick to its full potential, the President must appoint individuals which share his or her beliefs and viewpoints (Dye, pg. 441). Although the position of Chief Executive exerts a tremendous amount of power and responsibility, the likelihood of a President abusing it to defy the constitution is second to none.
Since the extent of the President’s abilities are confined within the writing of the Constitution, he or she must utilize crucial resources such as the media and leadership status within their own party in order to grasp power. With over 1,800 journalists having White House press credentials, and virtually every major newspaper and broadcasting network at their fingertips, the President can request an almost unlimited amount of airtime (Dye, pg. 435). This is critical since the single most effective way a President can reach out to the nation’s population is through the television. An educated and informed American public is a vital component that can not only boost or tarnish the President’s chances of passing legislation but can improve or submerge their popularity as well. In addition to media attention, being viewed as the party’s leader is also an extremely useful tool. Incumbent Presidents can apply this device in order to rout contenders within their own party (Dye, pg. 438). For example, “President Carter used it to help defeat challenger Ted Kennedy in 1980” (Dye, pg. 438). Party leaders can also earn unanimous support from congress members that reside within that particular party. Despite the President’s efforts in successfully salvaging these few nifty resources, due to the constitution, it is impossible for America’s leader to be labeled as untouchable or undefeatable.
As if not previously stressed enough, powers granted to the President are sharply limited. Due to the system of checks and balances, the abilities of the Executive Branch are frequently regulated by the Legislative and Judicial Branch. According to the Constitution, the President does not write the laws. Those duties are given to the individuals who reside in the Legislative Branch (Article I, Section 8). On top of that, if the President wishes for a specific action, bill, or policy to become law. He or she would require a majority vote in the House and Senate. For example, current President Barack Obama has been ineffective so far in his efforts to place Merrick Garland on the Supreme Court since a majority vote in the senate is mandatory. To worsen Obama’s troubles, Republican Senators have decided to not even hold hearings for a confirmation vote (Herszenhorn, pg. 1). According to the New York Times, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell “Sought to dismiss the fight over the court vacancy as an irreconcilable difference that should be set aside” (Herszenhorn, pg. 1). In addition to the legislative process, the President also has no power regarding the rulings of court cases. Due to the writings in the Constitution, the Judicial Branch, specifically the Supreme Court, is the only section of government that can weigh in on major court decisions (Article III, Section 2). For example, in June of 2015 the Supreme Court voted 5–4 in favor of the legalization of same-sex marriage in all fifty states (Liptak, pg. 1). The President however, wielded no authority to implement any sort of opinion relating to this issue. Thanks to the Constitution, the absurd number of political powers is divided into three pieces and redistributed to each respected branch of government.
However, despite the countless limitations that are burdened upon the President, there is a crevice sized window of opportunity for him or her to actually transform their ambitious promises into a distinct reality. One option is by utilizing the benefits of the honeymoon period. The honeymoon period is at the beginning of a President’s term when popularity is high and Congress and Senate are most willing to compromise (Dye, pg. 446). Franklin D. Roosevelt took full advantage of the honeymoon period and set a record for the most amount of legislation passed in his first hundred days in office. Having both the House and Senate under control of same party affiliation as the President is another way to sway the presidential box score in a positive direction. If the House and Senate share similar beliefs with the President, they are more likely to comply with his or her preferences and loosen from their state of gridlock. “Both Democrat Clinton and Republican Bush benefited from having their party control the Congress during their first months in office” (Dye, pg. 446). With the rigorous guidelines of the Constitution already set in stone, these few maneuvers can create flexibility and relieve stress for a President.
While the United States Constitution was being ratified, the original intent of the Founding Fathers was not to equip the President with an abundance of power. In fact, their blueprint outline was barely given any substantial power at all. The young nation had just fought an entire revolutionary war against the British Empire for the sole purpose of breaking away from a control hungry, power crazed monarch. That is why even though it is entertaining to partake in what is now a beauty pageant where presidential candidates are depicted as unbreakable super saiyans. It is certainly in the best interests of the American public that the President’s abilities are not even remotely close to that and instead, limited by the guidelines of the Constitution. The reason why this country and system of government is so versatile is not because the President is granted unlimited power, but because the people are granted unlimited power. When the steering wheel of choice is navigated by the average majority rather than the elite minority, democracy accelerates, and tyranny is left in the dust.
Herszenhorn, D. (2016, March 17). Merrick Garland Visits Capitol as G.O.P. Digs In Against Vote. The New York Times, Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com
Liptak, A. (2015, June 26). Supreme Court Ruling Makes Same-Sex Marriage a Right Nationwide. The New York Times, Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com
U.S. Constitution. Article I, Section 8. Retrieved from http://www.ushistory.org/documents/constitution.htm.
U.S. Constitution. Article II, Section 2. Retrieved from http://www.ushistory.org/documents/constitution.htm.
U.S. Constitution. Article II, Section 3. Retrieved from http://www.ushistory.org/documents/constitution.htm.
U.S. Constitution. Article III, Section 2. Retrieved from http://www.ushistory.org/documents/constitution.htm.