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Presidential Powers

The campaigns are over. The dust has settled. This will be my last quasi-political post for a while. Thank goodness.

The president is often referred to as the most powerful man in the world, but it seems to me that the facts don’t back that up. What can the president really do? Take us to war, nominate judges, and set the tone for discussions with other countries. That’s nothing to scoff at, but it’s much less than what you’ll hear if you ask people on the street about presidential power.

We heard lots of promises about what Romney or Obama would do if they were elected, but the truth is, they can’t do just about any of that stuff. With their speeches, they can attempt to influence legislation and fix the economy, but if nobody listened to them, they would have zero control over the situation. Go read through the list of powers granted to the president and show me another way that they can influence the course of the country. Yes, they can veto laws but even that can be overridden. The country isn’t going to go down the tubes or get massively better because of what happened in the election. The economy will do what it’s going to do. It’s way to complex to be influenced by one guy. Congress will be the ones figuring out if we’re going to get national health care or tax breaks, not the president.

Why does the whole nation get so riled up about this for months on end? Because it’s an easy show to watch. There are only two characters. One of them is probably saying things you mostly agree with and the other is arguing the opposite. It’s a ready-made protagonist and antagonist. The campaigns rile people up with extremely polarizing ads and they have huge teams of marketers getting out messages customized to your individual thought process. It’s a huge business! And for the next four years, we have an easy scapegoat or hero. It’s a lot easier to point to the president instead of trying to figure out the group of congressman you’ve never heard of who are responsible for some particular measure buried in a bill somewhere. Couple all that with media outlets trying to make as much money as possible for their shareholders and you have one of the most expensive reality TV shows in existence.

Our government is an extremely complex system and the president plays a very tiny role in it. We have a tradition of giving them more credit or blame than they deserve, and so they do actually gain some power from our misguided attribution. But that’s one of the great things about our country: no single person has too much power. The checks and balances have worked pretty well so far and hopefully they will continue to do so in the future.