Guest Opinion: Choosing president, not a monarch
In the thunder of a presidential campaign, it is sometimes hard to remember that the president of the United States is the head of just one of three co-equal branches of the federal government.
The president can’t raise or cut taxes, expand or contract the defense budget, commit the U.S. to treaties, or amend the Constitution. There is very little that a president can do without the consent of at least a majority of U.S. senators, who are under no obligation to support the president’s agenda, and a majority of the U.S. House of Representatives, lawmakers who face the voters every two years — and likely have the ulcers to prove it.
On television, the presidency could easily be mistaken for a monarchy, with all the pomp of red carpets and motorcades. The truth is very different. The American system of government has a fire alarm in every corridor of power — and many opportunities to break the glass and knock down the blaze of an ill-advised policy.
Some people call that gridlock, but it’s the founders’ design. After an election like the one we’ve just had, at least half the country may be newly persuaded of its wisdom and foresight.
No one should mistake the end of the campaign for the end of the dispute. Americans have deep and sincere disagreements about the causes of the nation’s most pressing problems: the lack of economic growth, the deficit of new jobs that pay enough to support a family, the increasing cost and decreasing choices of health insurance, the unaffordable cost of college, the threat of terrorist attacks in U.S. cities and the persistence of violent turmoil abroad.
In order to accomplish anything during the next four years, the president-elect will have to work with Congress in a constructive manner that respects the views of tens of millions of Americans who voted for a different candidate. There will not always be agreement, but we should demand civil discourse and reject any attempt to demonize or marginalize people of good will whose experiences led them to a different view of an issue.
With respect to vacancies on the U.S. Supreme Court, nominations should be made with an understanding that public confidence in the court is essential to public confidence in government. The Senate has the power to reject a nominee who might put that confidence at risk for any reason.
That’s just one of many checks and balances that are built into our system to limit the power of those who are elected to high public office. The U.S. government was not designed for perfect human beings, but for the other kind.