I think the American presidency suffers from certain problems surrounding the expectations of the American public. This became most clear to me during the BP Gulf Coast Oil Disaster. I follow American and Canadian media quite actively. One of the key criticisms levelled at President Barack Obama was that he was emoting.
That’s right, emoting. Commentators were concerned that Obama wasn’t getting angry enough. Similarly, a comparable problem has developed involving the economy. Talking heads are critical of Obama for not being able to express that he feels the pain of the American public going through economic hardship. This inability is often contrasted to Bill Clinton, who is thought to have done the job of connecting to the public superbly.
It seems the American public doesn’t just want an administrator, but someone to be the penultimate symbol of American life to sit in the executive. One of the comments I heard after Barack Obama was elected was that it will be nice to see a President in the White House with young children, which is the first time this has happened since John F. Kennedy. Why should that matter? Information indicates that George Bush won election largely on the basis that he was the candidate people would rather have a beer with. How is that a relevant determinant of who should lead the federal executive?
Last week President Obama was on vacation with his family. Photos were released that featured Obama swimming with his children. It’s as though the American media establishment and public are obsessed with the personage of the America President, as more a celebrity than a leader.
I cannot help but compare this to Canada. Stephen Harper has been rarely photographed on vacation with his family, though he was famously seen taking his son to school many years ago. Harper also has a young family, though they rarely are mentioned or seen by the public. Though Canada is going through a recession no one has asked the Prime Minister to share the pain of the Canadian public. Contrarily, Canadians seem to pick their leaders, largely, on the basis of their managerial talent, like a meritocracy.
Perhaps the American public would be better served if they just make their desires more formalized. The Americans should get a royal family.
An American monarch could fill all the ceremonial, and public relations roles that now clutter the President’s schedule. No more ribbon-cuttings, and speeches about mundane asinine topics, the President could focus on his constitutional duties. In fact, the mystic of the imperial presidency could be stripped away. Because the American President has held such an informal regal authority it has resulted in the presidency exceeding its constitutional authority. If the presidency was reduced to the stature of the Speaker of the House, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, or Leader of the Senate, which it should be, perhaps the American system of government would work better.
The allusion to the President as monarch is not a new idea. The Kennedy administration was often referred to as Camelot. As mentioned above, the imperial presidency is an idea that has existed since the 60’s. The law suggests that the President may not be sued directly, or taken to court and that his advisers have legal immunity, just like monarchs of older times.
Many Canadians are familiar with Queen Elizabeth’s address to the Empire during the Blitz as a young girl in World War II. Her speech helped to connect her to the British public and motivate them. Likewise her Christmas address is tradition. The Speech from the Throne and the State of the Union are not terribly dissimilar.
Perhaps it is time for the American people to abandon the notion of a republic. The King or Queen of America can be the figurehead they so desire, who they foist their national narrative and ambitions upon. A living symbol of the American nation. Then, finally, the American President can get down to his/her real purpose – governing.