The passing of former President Gerald Ford is perhaps an opportunity to reflect on the presidency as an institution. The presidency is an odd institution: responsible for executing law and policy, it is mentioned less than half the number of times the Congress is mentioned, but more than the passing reference to the Supreme Court, and no mention or parties and lobbyists whatsoever.If one were to design a flow chart of the U.S. Constitution, I think one would see that the parts don’t actually interact always; by design, intent or flaw. The so-called checks & balances, and separation of powers, are really ways of describing lack of connectivity or coherence. The President heads the Executive branch, now a bureaucratic behemoth. Though originally conceived as somewhat limited in scope, the Presidency now runs the country, determines policy, and lacks accountability.
The Presidency’s of Ford and Carter are generally agreed to have been ineffective. Why these two honorable men failed stems from their respect for the Constitutional limits of their office, their decency, and the flawed structure of the federal government. The Democratic congress that came into office in 1974, like the GOP congress of 1994 refused to work with the executive branch, undermined the executive branch, but Ford and Carter respected the Constitutional limits: therefore they were ineffectual.
Reagan demonstrated the potential unlimited power available to the assertive executive. His genial public persona, his rhetorical respect for the Constitution, combined with the marketing appeal of Reagan’s Tall Tales, especially in contrast to the dreary lecturing tone of Ford and Carter, allowed a new direction. Later George W. Bush would tell Congress, the courts, the press, our allies, all and sundry to get fucked and make it stick. That is not to say the country is better off for it, it is not. Americans who put loyalty to party and leader over country and constitution are symptomatic of a cultural shift toward obedience and ignorance.
Congress is not entirely irrelevant, just an obstacle, sometimes. There are not enough congressmen. Congress has ceded its power to the executive branch and unelected lobbyists and staffers. The recent big win of the Democrats will have no effect on a large scale. Their first hundred days proposals are very mainstream, mild stuff. A Congress worth a damn would take back control of itself from lobbyists/staffers, then retake control of the budget from the Executive Branch, impeach Cheney, then Bush, then justices Alito, Scalia, and Thomas, then create Congressional Inspectorates over every department and agency of the Federal government, then sort out state from federal purview, and then get serious about reform.
This government sucks.
After more than 200 hundred years of practice, and with a rich history here and abroad to draw on, one would think we could improve our governance. We need a new government, one of democratic enterprise to replace the monetized/bureaucratized feudalism we have now.