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Our Imperial President and His Congressional Court

Posted on August 30 2009 10:30 am
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cult of presidency

Generally speaking, Americans – as citizens of a representative democracy – are rather like children. At some point in our growth as a nation, we lost all perspective on the matter of what is necessary for our survival, and even for a respectable degree of comfort – as individuals, families and citizens –and how we should go about acquiring these things.

Children have many genuine needs and even more wants, as they’re still in the process of learning about and developing their system of values and work ethic.  They’re completely dependent upon their caregiver for the provisions necessary to meet both their needs and wants. They are powerless to provide for themselves, and their reaction to such powerlessness is typically limited to tantrums.

CNN’s Lou Dobbs program recently hosted a “Face Off” on the specific issue of a public option in health care reform, pitting Michael Tuffin of America’s Health Insurance Plans against Bruce Raynor of the Service Employees International Union. Raynor makes his case for a public option (aka – government-run option) by suggesting that as the wealthiest nation in the world, we should be able to provide adequate health coverage for all Americans, but this task cannot be entrusted to the private sector. Raynor seems unable to grasp the fact that it was the private sector that made the U.S. the wealthiest nation in the world.

Back to my comparison of Americans, as a citizenry, to children. We have become increasingly dependent on our government to provide for those who cannot provide for themselves. Through broad legislation and increased taxation, basic goods and services that would otherwise be provided through the private sector are now being demanded from our government. We have come to view the institution more as our caretaker than the limited institution described in our Constitution – hence the moniker “Nanny State.”

And we continue to make these demands of our government with no regard for the consequences – much as a child fails to consider a quid pro quo when pleading for the latest toy. Make no mistake – when you demand anything from the government, there is inherent reciprocity; whether it be universal health care or expanded oversight of corporate America, we are fundamentally and gradually increasing our government’s scope and permissible exercise of power. And continued over time, we bring upon ourselves a tyranny by degrees.

In his book The Cult of the Presidency: America’s Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power, Gene Healy of the Cato Institute made the following astute observation of such increasing public demands, as it pertains specifically to the office of the U.S. President —

“The Imperial Presidency is the price of making the office the focus of our national hopes and dreams.”

Perhaps this quote would be more timely if restated, “The Imperial Presidency is the price of making the office the focus of our national hopes and desire for change.”

Hope and change – two words inextricably linked to the Kumbaya-style campaign of President Barack Obama. He dangled these words before the American people, and too many of us reached for them without hesitation – like children lunging at a store shelf to grab the latest must-have video game – with no regard for the price tag. And too many Americans are reacting likewise to Obama’s promise of health care for all, and other legislative efforts that seem to fill the void of want – and yes, genuine need – of Americans.

Again, Healy said it well, harkening back to our beginnings as an infant nation.

“The constitutional presidency, as the Framers conceived it, was designed to stand against the popular will as often as not, with the president wielding the veto power to restrain Congress when it transgressed its constitutional bounds. In contrast, the modern president considers himself the tribune of the people, promising transformative action and demanding the power to carry it out.”

The same can certainly be said of our legislative branch, as it becomes more and more a mere extension of the presidency as executor of the president’s agenda. With its proven tendency to overlook constitutional limitations or the true good of the nation, the Democrat-run Congress shamelessly seeks to appease the popular will of the majority of Americans who have long since turned a blind eye to this thinly veiled government power-grab.

Americans need to come to terms with the intended nature of our relationship with our government. The government is not a parent. It is a spoiled child who is sweetest when it wants something. We must rein them in when they exceed their boundaries. We must tell them “no” from time to time. And we must control the purse strings. If federal spending is out of control, it is because we granted the government to authority to spend in such ways. They can do nothing without our consent – whether that consent is given explicitly or implicitly is irrelevant.

At what point do we, as a people, realize we have conceded too much power to our government? History has shown that such realizations are often made in retrospect – as historical analysis. Now is the time for some tough love.

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