Sunday, February 18, 2007

Damn Presidency

It is blasphemy to condemn or criticize the institution of Presidency on the eve of Presidents day, the day to memorize America’s great Presidents like Washington, Lincoln and Roosevelt and to thank them for their eternal services. But for mortal, fallible common people, after 6 years of Bush (Jr.) Presidency, one should excuse if the view is dimmer about this institution.

Historians and scholars will quantify to what an extent exactly the current President damaged American Presidency. But it is safe to assume that his policies at least have not enhanced the reputation of this institution. Presidency is worth its power and America’s total submission to this political bully pulpit is worth the price; if in the end it is able to address America’s core problems. That is in doubt now and this note wants to put forward at least 3 reasons why this crisis of Presidency is so deep and serious.

1. The core problem of ‘conduct of war and war time powers’ is very obvious with the context of Iraq war – there is no effective mechanism in the American political system to bring accountability to the sitting President when it comes to the business of war. If a President pursues a rogue war policy, no one can stop that President effectively regardless of enormous cost of life and dollars. President Bush’s Iraq war policy is a total ‘train crash’; but hardly any valid remedy is available for American people to avoid this crash in real time. So the Presidency has this potential to become totally imperial with limitless powers. How do Americans continue to believe that every occupant of Presidency will be as humble and as attuned to people’s will as how the great Washington was? This limitlessness of power is going to be ‘undoing’ of the Presidency.

2. Whole American political system is grappling with how to address the problem of Iraq war and meanwhile we have way too early (for campaign dollars) Presidential campaign underway where multitude of candidates get away with scant proposals to address this issue. All these candidates are in the intense race to raise literally Billions of campaign dollars in total, with all sorts of campaign sound bites; but no one with any practically grounded Iraq policy. America needs leadership which will show the path out of the morass called ‘Iraq occupation’; the leadership which is honest with people and the leadership in whose judgment people have reasonable faith. Presidency is supposed to manifest this fundamental role but we have all these men and women who want to be President with no sense of offering any truthful, workable plan for America’s contemporary crisis. Is it not then natural to think low of incoming Presidents? Columnist George Will may think that ‘market for presidency’ is working (because so many are in the arena); but there is indeed something sinister and rotten when possibly Billions of dollars will be raised and spent for a political office without offering any policy which is palatable to Americans and which does not ‘divide’ America.

3. In his first term President Bush (Jr.) essentially ruled America without the electoral legitimacy. As far as credibility goes, the prevalent ‘electoral college’ based system compromises Presidency otherwise what a legitimately elected office projects. In today’s world when we can effectively have an ‘on line’ vote to elect a nation wide leader; clinging to an ancient system of ‘electoral college’ is an orthodoxy at the cost of effectiveness. It is a mockery of democratic principles when one of the most powerful political offices of today’s world can be obtained by less democratic mechanisms. It is not unreasonable for Americans to expect that their leader, President, is directly elected, based on a system where every individual’s vote counts. Until then, we will continue to have Presidency as an ‘inferior’ political office when it comes to people’s mandate. Granted, American President is the only political office in the world where votes of largest number of people are counted in one go. But even that process is marred by the infamous Florida ‘hanging chads’ year 2000. One only needs to listen to Sen. Fienstein to understand still embarrassingly gapping holes in the American election system which elects a President. The long way to rectify lapses in the election system is still a long way; too much left unattended.

On the positive side, it is true that the fundamental unity and integrity of this nation is achieved and maintained through the office of Commander-in-Chief. But there is no reason for this achievement to come at the cost of democratic principles and political righteousness. The institution of Presidency needs to change and adopt for today’s needs and today’s aspirations of American people. It cannot be frozen in the times of Washington and Lincoln. Otherwise, History’s uncompromising Law will apply – those who fail to adopt and evolve will perish. American Presidency can not be an exception. Good deeds of Washington or Lincoln or Roosevelt are not sufficient to maintain the relevance and effectiveness of American Presidency. If American Presidents fail to address America’s core problems; Presidency will be nothing more than a decorative, pompous office and American people will be compelled to find other solutions.

Umesh Patil
Cupertino, CA 95014
February 18, 2007.

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