Simon Silverberg is a sophomore from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He intends to major in Public Policy and considers himself a certified American history nerd. Like many, his interest in politics was sparked by the Presidential election of 2008. He participated in his high school's student government, interned for a Louisiana Governor's race campaign, and is also a Stambaugh RA. Simon is particularly interested in the areas of international trade policy, environmental regulation and political rhetoric. His favorite twitter personalities include Nate Silver, Colin Cowherd and Keith Olbermann. Though from the deep South, Simon is an avid New York Mets fan. (long story)
While I am almost always wary of common sayings, I believe the sentence “this is the most important election in a generation” does hold much truth this time around and will continue to hold such truth in presidential elections to come. Each and every President that assumes office has been more powerful than his predecessors. We all know the drill: the sitting President will do something, the other side of the aisle will scream about executive overreach, a President of the different party will take office, and repeat.
Reasons for the increase in Presidential power are quite numerous and varied. Of course, the President’s power is very loosely defined in Article 2 of the Constitution; thus, they do not fret substantiated constitutional arguments preventing them for a certain course of action. In a similar manner, all actions taken by prior presidents are fair game for a current administration though the action may have initially been quite controversial. And the final of the eleven reasons for increases in Presidential power per a 2008 Boston Law article is the massive increase in polarization in our two-party system. I believe that this polarization results in two situations both of which take advantage of the increasingly identical set of beliefs that members of one party share.
First, if a president’s party is in control of both Houses of Congress (which now due to such widespread threat of the filibuster requires 60 seats in the Senate or creative policy manipulation) the President will be able to pass legislation at will since rarely are members of ones own party going to break ranks. The second situation involves a divided government in which case there is hardly any chance legislation will pass. “The last two full Congresses, the 112th and 113th, were the two least productive in history…Congress is still struggling to pass emergency funding [for Zika prevention] because of partisan squabbling over abortion and environmental regulation.” Per the Huffpost pollster aggregate, Congress has a 13% approval rating and 66% disapproval rating, yet numbers like these often give rise to the false conclusion that voters are mad their own Congressperson, which is not the case. Though Americans want to bring a change to Congress, their own representative’s seat is usually not at stake. In the 2012 elections, only 88 of the House’s 538 races were within 10 points. As Nate Silver pointed out, “Most members of the House now come from hyperpartisan districts where they face essentially no threat of losing their seat to the other party. Instead, primary challenges, especially for Republicans, may be the more serious risk.” So in an age where there is a small chance for one party to have the White House and filibuster proof majority, Presidents will begin to take it upon themselves to act.
Initially, President Obama was very skeptical of executive power because of the inherent circumvention of Congress that comes with it. But, “by the fall of 2011, after a summer standoff between the two political parties nearly caused a government shutdown, it was clear to Mr. Obama that little hope remained for moving his agenda forward in a Congress controlled by Republicans.” From allowing same-sex couples to have visiting hours in hospitals, protecting millions of immigrants from deportation, to implementing a carbon emission limit on automobiles, I think it has become the tendency of liberals to support not just Obama’s executive actions, but the power that comes with the executive action itself. And that is where caution needs to be drawn.
While the three above examples of the President’s executive actions make progress on what are seen by some as common sense issues and also make good campaign sound bites, certain executive actions have set a precedent that a more erratic President simply cannot have, especially on military issues. As Article II Section 2 reads, “The President shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States; he may require the opinion, in writing, of the principal officer in each of the executive departments, upon any subject relating to the duties of their respective offices, and he shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.”
The Gulf of Tonkin resolution in 1964 set the stage for Presidents to use military force without Congressional approval. In the modern age, with technology at the heart of war rather than ground troops, President Obama has come to embrace the authority of the executive branch to make war. I hardly blame President Obama for this action as Congress’ inability to do anything should not hamper America’s efforts against ISIS. And if one watched any of the GOP primary debates or were to scroll through the twitter feed of the GOP nominee, you would think Obama has done nothing to stop ISIS, let alone abuse any power. However, what does this action set the stage for for future Presidents? While yes, certain foreign policy decisions do need to take place behind closed doors with only a few people being privy to classified info (Congress should not have debated in public whether or not to raid Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad), this election cycle makes me quite anxious as to how crazy future party nominees or VPs will be and how these people may soon be in unilateral control of America’s military might.
All things considered, I think we have reached the point where Americans should not be voting for a person with such awesome power in the military realm. In an unthinkably complex time with one code sequence being able to produce irrevocable damage and campaigns trying to boil foreign policy down to 140 characters, no longer can Americans be expected to choose who would best use the wide array of powers given to the President.
I do not know what the better alternative is. There currently are foreign policy analysts whose job it is to advise generals and other military leaders. Yet, with any type of reality star as President, a couple of hours of information from these analysts cannot account for nuance that comes with foreign relations in 2016. But something has got to change. As Americans allow Congress to remain in the quagmire of partisan gridlock, Presidents will act in ways they see fit, no telling where that would lead.
[Image Credit: http://www.whitehousemuseum.org/west-wing/oval-office.htm]