Sunday, June 7, 2009

Shouldn’t America Believe Having Strong, Powerful Presidents Is More Than A Little Bit 'Creepy'?

Just read this in the news today: OMB Director Peter Orsazg said, "Ultimately, as happened with the recovery act, it will become President Obama's plan." (italics added) [1]

Since when did the United States of America get reduced to having a sole person dictate (trying to be very careful not to use the word 'dictator' here) things as humongous as the reorientation of 16% of our national GDP spent on health care?

Anytime you hear the words, "The President's Plan", from either party in modern times, your ears should perk right up and make you wonder out loud: "Why are we citizens of a free democracy giving one person in this country so much power nowadays?"

I have to be careful and admit that when someone was in the White House with whom I agreed, mostly, such as Ronald Reagan, this conundrum did not bother me as much. Perhaps it was because I knew that there was so much inertia to move out of the way in Congress in the face of overwhelming opposition control of the House that there was almost zero chance Reagan would get everything he wanted out of any proposed legislation. He had to be 'principled and direct' in order to make any headway at the time.

Another reason why there has been a concentration of power in the White House over the years is that, in the age of electronic media, U.S. Presidents can speak with “one voice’ as opposed to the cacophony of 535 other ‘would-be’ presidents in Congress. It is just a lot easier to concentrate on the plans and actions of one man versus all the others.

For the vast majority of the past 9 years, we have seen what happens when a U.S. president has almost the unanimous support of Congress when his party controls both houses in Congress. The predilections of a president often get 'rubber-stamped' by a loyal supportive Congress without a lot of compromise or even consultation with the minority party and then put into action.

And that ought to give us all pause for concern.

As stated before in a separate posting, "compromise is not a four-letter word" and "divided government works better than unified government". (see "Divided..")

The fellows who were at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 were so repulsed by the notion of a powerful, centralized executive running our nation due to their recent unpleasant experience with King George III that they seriously considered the following options: 1) a 'triumvirate' of sorts where 3 people would share the powers of the presidency (imagine what that campaign would look, sound, feel and cost like in today's world!) and 2) a combination of the executive branch melded with the Supreme Court where the justices would 'advise' the president on every matter coming to him under the sun.

Just thank your lucky stars that the Good General George Washington willingly stepped down after two terms in office like his hero, Cincinnatus, did when asked to leave his farm and rule the Roman Empire for just a brief sixteen days in 458 B.C. to quell a foreign adversary. There were no term limits at the beginning of the presidency and Washington could have ruled for decades as a king had he chosen otherwise.

North Carolina's delegation was so repulsed by the notion of a powerful executive branch that they were the first state to not ratify the Constitution (amidst other concerns like no Bill of Rights enumerated as well).

North Carolina, incidentally, was the last state in the Union not to allow their very own governor veto power over legislative actions until 1996 or only about 209 years after the U.S. Constitution was signed in Philadelphia.

Talk about long memories and holding a grudge for a long time! Good for the Tar Heel state...would it be that such inherent distrust of concentrated executive power in one office at the head of the state or nation would become infectious once again in our national DNA. And maybe on Wall Street and in Detroit as well as other places of highly concentrated power, authority and responsibility.

So as the national debate begins on health care reform this week, just keep this thought in mind as you go over all the information that will be pouring out of Washington. If we are true to our roots of rebellion against unchecked power, then we will resist any effort to further concentrate decision-making control over our personal health care choices contained in the Obama bill.

It is “our” health care he is talking about, not ‘his’.

[1] NY Times article by Sheryl Gay Stolberg, printed in Charlotte Observer 6/7/09

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