The casual observer may think that, with over 300 million citizens, finding a person with all the right stuff would be tantamount to falling off a log. Yet, because the demands are truly heavy in responsibilities, including, at minimum, a person who’s quick to problem solve really tough stuff like crime and drug abuse, threats to the nation’s security, natural and man-made disasters, along with a nearly interminable list of others, the perfect person’s not necessarily available.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Constitution maintains some constraints on the president’s power to act. For example, only Congress can pass legislation and we know from viewing it that, almost always, its two houses move at a snail’s pace. So, the president can only sign or veto legislation passed by Congress with the proviso that Congress can override a veto and make it law anyway while the Supreme Court can rule an approved law unconstitutional and thereby reject it.
Then there are the foreign nations where the President has a bit more freedom to act. The president has the power to act quickly regarding a threat or an opportunity the United States cannot ignore. Even so, Congress and the courts can limit a president’s actions. The Constitution says that the president must go to Congress to approve any big decision, like declaring or approving a treaty. Nevertheless, as history reports, presidents have worked around Congress.
The president has what’s called the “bully pulpit.” What that means is that some of the president’s powers are informal or they’re not spelled out anywhere in our Constitution or laws. The two Presidents Roosevelt (Theodore and Franklin), are examples who those who used the bully pulpit effectively. Theodore used it to bring attention to issues for which he sought action while Franklin used it to gather support for his policies.
Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt are remembered for their skill at communicating with the American public. Then, too, President Thomas Jefferson faced a dilemma over what became the Louisiana Purchase when he bought it for $15 million but did not have the authority by law to do so. He bought it and talked Congress into supporting him retroactively. Abraham Lincoln had to choose between supporting the continuation of slavery or the secession of the southern states. Harry S. Truman foiled the Soviet Union’s attempt to take over all of Berlin by initiating the Berlin Airlift in 1948 to public applause in America.
How can we voters be certain that a candidate will meet the demands of the nation’s highest public office? That has been proven difficult to impossible although candidates do provide strong clues as to their character. Yet, it’s commonly agreed that we want a person there who is smart and tough, someone who possesses the talent and character to hold up under the pressures of the White House.
One example of what may have been determined to fall short of the mark of what’s needed was former President Bill Clinton. He had excelled at all he undertook while his growing up years were spent in a home where an alcoholic stepfather used violence against Clinton’s mother and himself. Another American who just missed being president, Bob Dole, grew up in a poor, small town in Kansas and joined the U.S. Army at 18 only to be badly wounded during World War II, left from his injuries with a life-long disability. Dole’s reply, “I do try harder, If I didn’t, I’d be at home in a rocking chair.”
Comparing presidents and candidates from the past with the modern ones is probably not fair due to modern know-how and its ability to reveal everything there is to know about those who aspire to be president of the United States. However, a considerable number of us knew a whole lot about President Donald J. Trump before he was elected; yet, he was elected anyway. However, in the seven months he’s occupied the Oval Office, whether personally to blame for his failures to successfully launch anything is his fault, or, as he regularly prefers, someone else’s, so far he’s proven himself indisputably inclined to hyperbole, fake news and exaggerations and thereby, so far, apparently, ill-suited to the job and a President who’s managed mostly to further divide our nation.
Somewhat like one’s favorite team having lost all its games. Hopefully, we’ll choose a through-and-through winner next time.
(Gene H. McIntyre lives in Keizer.)