For those who don’t know, POTUS is the acronym for “President Of The United States”. Probably most Americans would say that it’s the most powerful position in the country, maybe even the world. The position is certainly one of, if not the most influential positions in the world; and in that sense, powerful. However, examining the actual “power” of the POTUS in the US may look a little different than you thought.
Reading the US Constitution, you’ll find the job description of the president to be one of:
- Service– The function of the position is to serve the welfare of the citizens of the United States. Every action of the office is intended to be to this purpose. Although the position carries honor (even if the person doesn’t), the president is a servant of the people.
- Accountability- POTUS is accountable first to the citizens of the US. Our government was founded on the principle of being “for the people, by the people”. We have the right to hold any elected official to accountability. Furthermore, if we do not exercise that right, then we’re releasing politicians to do whatever they please. Secondly, the president is accountable to the US Constitution and all branches of the government on every level that endeavor to uphold it. How can POTUS be accountable to an old document, especially one that gets re-interpreted all the time? That is an excellent question. Essentially, we elect presidents based on what they say their interpretation of the Constitution is (that and their promises about things like economy and education, etc.). Lastly, POTUS is accountable to the world. Especially as we progress toward a global community (regardless of it’s dysfunctions), the President of the United States is an influential figure, a representative of democracy, capitalism, freedom, alleged prosperity, power, and peace-making.
Looking beyond the Constitution, into the reality of the presidency today, it is a burden beyond the imagination of most people.
- POTUS is the biggest celebrity in the world. Every detail of the president’s personal life, past and present is under a microscope. Their effectiveness in office is, in part, based on approval. If their ducks are not in a row, spin doctors need to make it seem they are.
- Perhaps a majority of Americans over-estimate the power of the president. For example, if the economy is good during a president’s administration, he gets the credit. And if it’s bad, Americans blame the president. The reality is POTUS has almost nothing at all to do with controlling the economy. That power lies far above that office, in offices such as the Federal Reserve Board and The World Bank, places like that… Congress has far more influence on the economy than the president, and they don’t have much. When Tip O’Neal was the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the republican party began romancing him to run for president. He responded [paraphrasing] “Why would I take a pay-cut for a less powerful position?”
- Politics is a game. Jimmy Carter was a great man and humanitarian. He accomplished more toward peace than any other POTUS in over a century. He was an honest man. Unfortunately, these characteristics gave him a distinct disadvantage in the White House. History will remember Jimmy Carter as an ineffectual president. Politicians play a game, by certain rules. Things are done (or not done) a certain way. Special interests are pressed by lobbyists making behind-closed-doors deals with senators and representatives. Bills get presented, discussed, amended by other special interest issues that completely unrelated, but buried in the language of the bill so it can pass. It gets debated, back and forth. Eventually, what started as a simple idea plops on POTUS’ desk as a 1200 page bill, along with three more that twice as long. You get the drift?
I’ve gone really long on this post, and for that, I suppose I’m sorry. I feel passionate about this message. I have for some time. I just normally don’t go political. It’s timely. I believe it’s important. And I hope it is helpful.