Thursday, May 27, 2010

Our Perverse Political System

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the criticism of the White House resulting from it illustrate a very odd aspect of our political system. We are very proud of the "checks and balances" in our system. In fact, we have a LOT of checks in our system, both on Presidential and Congressional power. On the other hand, we've evolved to the point where we see the President as this omniscient, omnipotent being. So we have a system where we see the President as the face of the government and expect him to be able to address every issue. Presidential campaigns reinforce this as Presidents get lots of face time saying "as President, I will do X."

Once Presidents are in office, they get to face up to all the checks on their power. In the campaign they laid out their plans. Now Congress gets to weigh in. And policy positions that make for good campaign points don't always make for good policy. People don't actually understand the checks in our system, so they blame the President for every broken promise and everything they expect him to do. As Andy Samberg (as Rahm Emanuel) put it in a hilarious SNL skit, he "needs 60 votes just to take a shit."

In the context of the oil spill, James Carville, Mike Pence, Bobby Jindal, and a whole bunch of others are bitching about the President not "taking charge," whatever that means. I assume they want him to personally take a submersible down and cap the leak himself. The President may be the most powerful person in the world, but he still has to deal with a massive bureaucracy, intransigent and juvenile Congress, and the fact that he's not God. This messianism with regards to the President is somewhat disturbing. And when it comes from a group of people who've been decrying him as some sort of "Soviet crack dealer," to steal another line from SNL, it should be treated as noise, nothing more. The bottom line is that the President can't solve every problem on his own. If he were interested in histrionics, I suppose he could talk more. But I'm not sure how helpful that would be.

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