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Who Does Number Two Work For?

December 4, 2010

Article Two of the United States Constitution established the Executive Branch of our government and vested the immense power of that branch in one person, the President.

Being the only politician elected by the entire national electorate, the President derives his power and authority from the will of the people of the United States.  The President ensures that the law is faithfully executed, and is held responsible by the voters for success or failure in that role.  That is the very basic Constitutionally defined role of the President.  Reality, of course, is not quite that simple.

The President is also the head of a political organization that holds certain ideals and values, and derives their policy proposals from those values.  The President’s dual roles as elected leader of the people and head party official are inseparable, as he must do what is politically necessary to be effective at enacting his party’s agenda. This duality between politician and leader can and will create certain conflicts in decision-making, especially in times of crisis and social upheaval.  Choosing the right decision over the politically expedient one can be quite a struggle.  Choosing wisely between political ideals and pragmatic compromises to effectively address a crisis are where great Presidents are defined and poor President are destroyed.

President Obama has chosen compromise as his default position on nearly every policy dispute since taking office.  A party leader who is unwilling to stand on principle cannot be an effective President, as his policies will be diluted or defeated before they can do any good.  This intransigence is just as dangerous as a President who refuses to compromise even as his policies fail.

A President who fails to act within his Constitutionally defined role as an equal branch of government risks damaging the political process.  Once that process is damaged, whether by Executive overreach without Congressional intervention, or by the unilateral disengagement of the Executive from policy making, it opens the door for well-funded extremists to exploit the ensuing crisis of authority.  When the people no longer trust those in power to act responsibly and in their interest, then support for the governmental process breaks down, allowing extremism to take hold.

Our Constitution was designed to address extremism in one branch or another by counter-balancing each branch with another.  But that counter-balance is dependent on leaders who are willing to act against extremists.

We find ourselves today in a precarious situation.  Our Congress is beset by a monomaniacal block of extremists bent on destroying the Democratic President at any cost.  This intractability has caused a catastrophic breakdown in our ability to address our nations multitude of problems.  The President, as counter-balance to this extremism, is simply not willing to act.  Because of this breakdown in leadership, two of our branches of government are nearly nonfunctional, and the third is dysfunctional at best.

The U.S. Government, to use President Obama’s car metaphor, is brake-locked and spinning out of control.

Congressional Conservatives, as always,  are beholden to special interests and parochial issues in their own districts and States.  They fight for the interests of those well-funded constituencies with complete disregard for the safety and welfare of the nation.  That is the reality we live in.  I wish our leaders were all intelligent, honest, and capable people who acted with compassion and care towards addressing our nations problems, but they’re not.  They never will be.

President Obama must stand and fight against Republican extremism if we have any hope of regaining control of our government.  His idea that the Executive should refrain from political battles until a month before the election, lest he appear to be anything more than an even-handed arbitrator between the parties, is a fallacy.  It may sound nice in constitutional law theory, but in reality it simply can’t work that way.

Everything is political.  Choosing not to engage in political battles is still a political choice, and a poor one for a man who has to run for reelection.  What’s really disheartening is that President Obama knows all of this.  He’s an extremely smart guy and a damn good politician when he wants to be.  It’s a waste of talent.

Article Two works for us, and if he want’s to stay in that job he better step into the fray and start fighting for average Americans.  If he does, the voters will have his back.  That’s called good politics.  That’s called leadership.  That’s what we desperately need.

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