Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Constitutionalism, and Other Irrelevancies

I had email today from a fellow day-job sufferer, who was passing along something he had gotten from his son. Here's the part I'd like to share, with all due caution for the privacy of those involved:
I'm getting slightly annoyed at all of the presidential candidates. I'm getting annoyed that they keep claiming "change." I'm also getting annoyed at all the people who believe that the president can bring about "change." I wonder if they've ever read the Constitution of The United States of America. If they have, they should realize that the president only has certain, limited powers.

Here are the things that the president can do, has to do and what he is: The president is the Commander in Chief of all the armed forces. He can grant reprieves and pardons to anyone for offenses done to the United States (except in the case of impeachment). He can make treaties, provided the senate approves. He can nominate ambassadors, judges, other ministers and consuls, and any other offices that aren't listed in the constitution (provided, once again, that the senate concurs). He can fill up vacancies that happen when the senate is in recess (which expire at the end of the senate's next session). He has to give a state of the Union address from time to time. He can, in an emergency, convene congress. He can also suggest and decline bills.

I don't see anything in there about controlling/saving the economy, controlling/saving businesses, providing health care, making new laws, bailing out people who make stupid decisions, cutting taxes, increasing taxes, changing the source(s) of energy used, or anything the prevalent "issues" in the current presidential race.

I fear that the United States is becoming a nation of uneducated fools, especially when it comes to politics. We don't even know what our president can and can't do. He has never been, nor will ever be a unit of change. That's just not his job. If you want something changed, go to the legislative branch or judicial branch, NOT the executive.

Unfortunately, the presidential race has become a popularity contest. Rather, it should be a display of who can better be president. That doesn't mean promoting change. It means who can command the armed forces better, who can make better decisions about who to make treaties with, etc. In reality, the president doesn't have very much to do. In fact, the government as a whole, excepting maybe the judicial branch, has really overstepped its constitutional boundaries as to what it should be doing.
I like this young man's thinking, to a large extent. But what he doesn't see here is what most people, even the much smaller number who've thought about these things to any extent, don't see. And that is: what the Constitution says or doesn't say does not matter, not at all. Those who rule us ignore the Constitution essentially whenever it suits them. And they have more guns than "we" have (I'm very unsure who "we" are, in this matter), and they appear to have a monopoly on the willingness to use those guns. Dubya is supposed to have said that the Constitution is nothing more than a "goddam piece of paper," and we are outraged. But the trouble is: he's right; it is merely a divinely-accursed piece of paper. It's a document. Documents cannot enforce themselves. If we want to be free again, the price is blood. And it's not at all clear that we have that sort of interest in being free.


Mimi said...

I guess you and I and a handful of others know about--and, more significantly, care about--the intended limitaions on the presidency, but that ain't gonna cut it. You can be sure the electorate trusts that the government is following the constitutional path as best they can. They definitely aren't, but when you're worried about the price of milk and the drop in your 401K, it's hard to get excited about this, I'm afraid.

lemming said...

a lot of people (including politicians) think they know what the Constitution says and don't. Think about it - they read it for civics class in high school, when flirting or napping was more appealing. Then, of course, they take an oath to uphold a document they haven't read...