A Personal Flashback Friday: Why I Have Never Voted for President

The creation of the Presidency was [the Framers’] most creative act

–historian Jack Rakove

Birth of a President

While I won’t disagree with Mr. Rakove’s assertion, I have to question the Founding Father’s intentions and the long-term impact of the Office of President. What they had created was a position of power not based on direct overthrow or heredity; a person who owed their entire power to the will of the people. In this regard, it is not amazing that they created a president, but rather that they created a beast.

The Framers of the Constitution spent comparatively little time creating the Executive Branch. Debate raged over the powers for Congress, both the explicit and the implied, and as James Madison’s notes show, the creation of the President was a side debate during breaks from the congressional debates; the powers of the President were often discussed concurrently to the debate on the powers of Congress. (James Madison, Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention 1787)

Once finished, the Framers created a Constitution that, in 429 words, defines the powers of Congress in Article I, but delineated the powers of the President in half the number of words in Article II. The president has two specific duties: to give an annual address to Congress, and to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” There are two powers shared by the President and Congress: make treaties and appoint federal officials. The Office of President has little other power–they can veto bills, convene Congress, grant pardons, require Cabinet officials to write down their opinions, receive Ambassadors, serve as the Commander-In-Chief, and set dates for adjournment of either the House or Senate if they cannot agree on one.

What the Framers created was a position that could serve as long as wanted, either by the Congress or by the people, with little clear powers that they initially feared would become a puppet of the Senate, and given the ability to shape and define its own future. While that worked well for the Supreme Court–John Marshall established clear, workable goals for the Court in cases like Marbury v. Madison–the Framers missed the boat by miles with the president.

Sins of the Father

After the Watergate scandal–a scandal that, today, has lost depth and background no thanks in part to movies like Forrest Gump–most American’s have a distant and unsure relationship with their President. Watergate was more than just a break-in at a hotel; the bribes, kickbacks, and campaign shenanigans make anything that the Reagan or Clinton administrations did look like child’s play. However, the fact that a sitting president attempted to hide behind the veil of Executive Privilege means that future presidents can do so. Take, for example, the Obama Administration and “Fast and Furious”.

Presidents have long sought to bend the rules set by the Framers for the position they’ve sworn an oath to uphold. Jefferson, the strict interpreter of the Constitution, went out and bought the Louisiana Territory. His “power”? Nope. But it set a precedent that future presidents followed (Lincoln and the West/Alaska, for example). Here’s a list of my dirty half-dozen presidents that have soured my position on the Office:

1. Franklin D. Roosevelt: Sure, I’ll give you a president that served us through a Depression and a World War, but how he served established a precedent that could bite us in the ass soon. Here’s a president who tried to scurry behind the Supreme Court who repeatedly ruled that his New Deal programs were unconstitutional. In order to circumvent a rising tide of judicial activism begun by John Marshall (Marbury v. Madison)but rarely used until the 20th Century,he tried to pack the Court. By the time we get into World War II, Roosevelt has tasted power, and begins to act with an even greater unilateral paintbrush. In the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor, FDR was willing to get caught in an anti-Japanese hysteria and issued Executive Order 9066 which interned Japanese-American citizens in such wonderful places like Granada, Colorado’s Camp Amache or Death Valley, California’s Camp Manzanar.

2. Kennedy: The biggest problem with the expanding waistband of presidential power is the fact the executive branch is the final word on the executive branch. What this means is that the Department of Justice (DOJ) and its Office of Legal Council (OLC) which is charged with advising the president on his or her powers, is last word on the legality of executive powers. Kennedy opted to have his brother serve as the Attorney General. Conflict of interests. Sure. Through this, Kennedy was able to manipulate the messages that went out of the White House. As the Kennedy wrapped up the presidency around close associates and family, he created a world of group-think that convinced otherwise independent, Constitutional men and women to go away from their sworn DOJ or OLC expectations and tow the party line. After all, the President controls a large portion of the federal bureaucracy.

3. Lincoln: The Great Emancipator–who really didn’t emancipate. While this isn’t the worst of his sins, he’s worked hard at pulling in power to himself. His suspension of the Writ of Habeas Corpus, raising and funding an army, and expelling citizens to the South because they spoke out against him. I can’t imagine how close we were to finding ourselves in this situation post-9/11. The other issue with the Violet Beauregarde-syndrome of our presidents that I lay at the feet of Lincoln is the polarization of the two-party system. Party loyalty will now and forever trump Constitutional concerns.

4. Nixon: Watergate. I find it greatly ironic that the President who rose to power as a Congressman by finding secret tapes in a pumpkin, lost power due to tapes.

5. Reagan: For all the things he did well as president, you can’t overlook Iran-Contra, and even for that you have to hand it to Reagan for thinking outside the box. After Congress denied funding, the Reagan team turned around and sold weapons that they had control over (Commander-In-Chief anyone?) and took the cash and sent it south. Congress tried to make a show of power with the Oliver North hearings, but by that time, Reagan had gotten what he wanted and Congress was left wondering what had happened behind their back.

6. Lyndon Johnson: Gulf of Tonkin Resolution… If you want to escalate a war, fake a tragedy. Sound familiar? For Johnson this was the incident in the Gulf of Tonkin. Carefully crafted, the Johnson Administration worked it so that Congress handed over war powers to Johnson (the vote was 416-0 in the House and 88-2 in the Senate)–the official statement authorized the president “to take all necessary steps, including the use of armed force, to assist any member or protocol state of the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty requesting assistance in defense of its freedom.” Though a repeal of the Resolution quickly formed three years later, the precedent had been established.

Ultimately, we have times where the Presidents have gained unilateral power that has gone mostly unchecked by Congress and the Courts. When the Court has tried to step up to reign in a president, they have faced resistance. In the cases above, we see a reactionary Congress or Supreme Court. When the President acts, Congress is faced with a difficult task of reversing the action; Presidents hold all the power, and the advantage is in their court.

Obscure Monarchs

It is strange that the media has adopted the once vilified moniker of an “evil empire.” I can’t blame them though; Assistant Secretary for International Affairs and Special Representative for Border Affairs is a bit unwieldy and occupies too much print space. Border Czar is so much easier. It has been widely reported, and even tweeted by John McCain–yes, the John McCain who admitted to be a computer illiterate–that President Obama now has more Czars than those that had served Russia in its history. As you look at the list, it begs the question: Which of the three of Obama’s “special masters,” as Robert Gibbs, White House spokesman called them in 2009, are the False Dmitry’s? My vote goes to Daniel Fried, Robert Bauer, and Alan Bersin.

To be fair, President Obama wasn’t the first, nor will he be the last, president to utilize outsiders for aid. The dependence on unofficial advisors began as far back as Andrew Jackson when he disbanded his regular cabinet and sought the advice of close friends and political allies in what was known as the kitchen cabinet. Wilson utilized The Inquiry to aid him on all things World War I, and he appointed his own “czar” Bernard Baruch who was put in charge of the War Industries Board. The Brain Trust would be formed by FDR, and he would also be the first president to begin appointing various czars to work close to the president. Robert Kennedy had the dubious distinction of being on both the Kennedy kitchen cabinet and the “parlor” or official Cabinet.

The problem with the czars is two-fold. The first is that they are redundant; czars perform duties that we already have in Cabinet members and their infinite bureaucracy. In their redundancy, we end up spending twice the money for one job. Imagine American’s outcry if we were to discover that a major bank was paying insane salaries to two people doing the same job. Occupy Wall Street might just get new life. Back through time, the position of czar has been an epic failure. The use of the czar is a way for the President to say that he or she cares about an aspect of American life. Be it drugs or immigration or AIDS or the climate. Why do we then continue to bloat the executive budget for positions that do little, serve little purpose, and ultimately are only good for a chat in the Oval Office.

The other issue with presidential czars is that they are specifically designed to circumvent the specific powers of Congress: Namely, to approve appointees to the Cabinet. The system of checks and balances was designed to maintain a means for each branch of the government to monitor the behavior of the others. By naming czars, the President has a means to work behind a veil of executive secrecy, concealing their actions from Congressional oversight.

Why They Won’t Get My Vote

Until the Office of President is reined in. When the last signing statement is issued (maybe on the anniversary of the first one by James Monroe on 17 January 1822). When a President operates within the confines of a system of checks and balances. The day these come to be, then, maybe then, I will cast a vote for President. Until that day, I will watch with trepidation, with a cynical outsiders view, like a child realizing that their parents don’t have all the answers, as the President chastises the past holders of the office while continuing with their legacies.

Ghetto Chavez

Recently, a new ad campaign was launched by Venezualan President Hugo Chavez nicknamed “Ghetto Chavez.” In an attempt to appeal to the youth, various artists have depicted Chavez as a younger, more-in-touch-with-the-youth man. He’s seen rapping, riding a motorcycle, boxing, and even dunking a basketball. Much of this attempt to reinvent the 58-year-old president is because as he seeks another six-year term, he finds himself set against a younger, dynamic rival–Governor Henrique Capriles of Miranda state.

Ghetto Chavez

So, I got to wondering. What would our candidates look like if they were to adopt “Ghetto Chavez”? Both candidates have admitted that they are looking to the youth vote, with both President Obama and Mitt Romney making repeated visits to state colleges and universities. And, in light of his “forty-seven percent” statement, Romney may very well need the youth to win this election. So, who would they appeal to specifically? What might they rap? Would they be even remotely credible?

Well, here’s my take:

Ghetto Obama

Ghetto Obama

Musical influence: Jay-Z, Dead Prez, NAS

Audience: President Obama has a built-in audience as he’s already appeared at Jay-Z concerts in video promoting the election and “rocking the vote.” In 2008, Obama carried sixty-six percent of the youth vote. He is looking at dwindling numbers as the 18-year-olds that poured out to vote are now graduating seniors looking at a bleak economy, soaring debt, and unemployment that hovers around eight percent. They accepted the “Hope” and “Change” but are now wondering where it went, and are realizing that politicians say one thing, and do something else. Obama will still get a fair share of the youth vote–after all, it is the youth how seek to change their world while the middle-aged seem set in their ways.

Song to Rap: “Hell Yeah” by Dead Prez and Jay-Z

Every job I ever had I had to get on the first day
I find out how to pimp on the system
Two steps ahead of the manager
Gettin’ over on the regular tax free money out of the register

I’m not the one to kiss ass for the top position
I take mine off the top like a politician
Where I’m from doin’ dirt is a part of living
I got mouths to feed, dawg, I gots to get it

Credibility: President Obama wins this category if only because, like Bill Clinton, Obama has cornered the niche on utilizing the tools that the youth use themselves: Obama has 27 million “likes” on Facebook, over 18 million Twitter followers, can be seen at major concerts opening up the festivities with a “rock the vote” message, and even in video games. Right now, Obama’s message to college kids is one of the cost of college. However, Gen-Y wants more. Obama is going to have to rock hard with the college kids and his soft rock message of student loans is going to get lost in the white noise of the election.

Ghetto Romney

Ghetto Romney

Musical influence: Eminem, Vanilla-Ice, Snow

Audience: Other than the modern, college Republican kid who grew up with Rap music, Romney’s audience isn’t quite up on the “ghetto” mystique. It is rather unusual to go to a Tea Party fundraiser and find Eminem playing in the background. However, Romney does have that new youth group to tap; in 2008, 62 percent of college kids identified themselves as Democrat with 30 percent Republican. In 2010, that number had changed: 54 percent Democrat and 40 percent Republican. Rap music has become more mainstream as R&B supplants “classic rock” on the airwaves. Cee-Lo Green judges on Fox’s “The Voice.” Beyonce and Alicia Keys are household names among America’s youth, and Beyonce is married to Jay-Z, one of Obama’s favorite musicians on his iPod.

Song to Rap: “White America” by Eminem

See the problem is I speak to suburban kids
Who otherwise woulda never knew these words exist
These moms probly woulda never gave two squirts of piss
Till I created so much mothafuckin’ turbulence
Straight out the tube right into ya livin’ rooms I came
And kids flipped when they knew I was produced by Dre
Thats all it took and they were instantly hooked right in

Credibility: Romney’s… well, let’s just say that with the Barry Manilow crowd, Mitt’s got the ballroom abuzz. The Republican handlers helped Romney’s “street-cred” with the selection of the hip, 42-year-old Paul Ryan, an avid Zeppelin listener and p90x trainer. He’s someone the youth can connect to. What Ryan brings to the Republican party is a person who has proposed solutions to problems while in Congress–rather than complain or blame–and though many college students may feel his policies are not in line with theirs, he is still someone who has presented a plan and stuck to it. For the seniors who voted for President Obama and his “change” four years ago, they now look to someone who has proposed change and fought for it.

Flashback Friday: Mitt the Landon, Obama the FDR

It is 1936. The Depression rages. Unemployment is at 16.9%, the lowest it has been since 1931. Government spending (expenditures and investments) is at $13.1 billion (2012 numbers).

The Republican party has just nominated Alfred Landon to run against the immensely popular Franklin D. Roosevelt. Despite what Literary Digest says (they predicted a Landon victory based on a “voluntary” poll of their readers who are primarily Republicans), FDR is a shoe in for another term.

Lucy Mercer (1891-1948)

Lucy Mercer (1891-1948) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Roosevelt has taken to the airwaves to promote his successes, namely the CCC, PWA, and AAA. Americans are happy to get a paycheck, no matter where the money is coming from. The press has chosen to not run negative ads about either candidate, and is even concealing FDR’s early bout with polio and his two affairs: one with Lucy Mercer–his wife’s personal assistant–that had begun in 1916, and another with Missy LeHand, his personal secretary.

Despite these possible taints to his presidency, the Republican Party chose, instead, to focus on the New Deal. Though many Republicans found it hard to deny that a number of the relief programs created by the President were helping, they still focused on the programs as ineffective and overly costly to the United States. They also cast their views abroad. Looking at the programs coming into prominence in Germany and Italy, the Republicans saw distinct similarities. The Hitler Youth and their road, bridge, and park building campaigns echoed too closely to the CCC. Landon would champion the cry that Roosevelt was moving America into a Socialist Dictatorship.

Of course, we all know that FDR would win, and would win the presidency two more times.  We also know that FDR’s plans were differentiated into three groups: Relief [short-term jobs to get people back on their feet, i.e. CCC], Recovery [temporary programs designed to pump the economy as a whole, i.e. AAA], and Reform [long-term programs that were meant to ensure the Depression would never happen again, i.e. FDIC]. And we also know that FDR did not intend to maintain massive government spending… see Roosevelt Recession, causes.

I just find it very funny that no matter how much things change, there are always similarities in our current world.

Here’s to the Republicans who continue to call the President a Socialist Dictator, but can offer little in the ways to improve the economy. Here’s to the Democrats for continuing to insist in putting forth a government spending program that will continue to inflate the deficit despite the “advice” of the man who started it all.

Flashback Friday: Together We Are Divided

This election might be considered the election of “The People Fed Up with the Last Four Years” and “The People Fed Up with America”.

We live in a very divisive society; we are pitted against one another at every turn. Either by the media or our churches. By our friends or our neighbors. Against our colleagues or our superiors. For little funding or to have our voice recognized.

Now, we hear that this election is one of the most divisive of our time. That President Obama is the “Great Divider.”

But really people. This is divisive?

Not quite. Remember that little thing we call the Civil War? How about Vietnam? The New Deal?

So, which elections might upstage our current “divisive” little war the media is playing into our homes each night?

Here’s my list:

5. 1948:  Truman/Dewey/Thurmond

When Harry Truman created the Committee on Civil Rights he assured himself the abandonment of one chunk of his party: The South. Splintering from the Democratic party were the Dixiecrats (Strom Thurmond as their candidate). Their platform included the following:

We call upon all Democrats and upon all other loyal Americans who are opposed to totalitarianism at home and abroad to unite with us in ignominiously defeating Harry S. Truman, Thomas E. Dewey and every other candidate for public office who would establish a Police Nation in the United States of America.

Sound familiar? Thought it might.

Though the Dixiecrats never amounted to much of a political party, they did remind America that the issues surrounding Civil Rights had not healed since the Civil War. No longer was it assured that a Democratic Presidential candidate would win the “Solid South.”

4. 1868: Grant/Seymour

Known as the first “Bloody-Shirt” Campaign, this was the first election post-Civil War. Both parties raised the banner of the “bloodied shirt” of either the Civil War martyr or hero, and continued a sectional divide. In the case of Horatio Seymour (Democratic candidate) he got hung with the shirt because of an address given to NYC draft rioters in 1863 where he addressed them as “My Friends.” Beyond that, Seymour’s family was called into question; his father had committed suicide and Republicans called Seymour mentally unstable. Grant wasn’t spared the “shirt”, either. He was labelled “Grant the Butcher.” Northerner and Southerner were kept fighting, and the spirit of the Civil War lingered with the “Bloody Shirts.”

3. 1828: Jackson/J.Q. Adams

The animosity during this election was born of the 1824 election which the Jackson campaign called the “Corrupt Bargain.” America was quickly being torn in three: East vs. South vs. The New West.

Today, we have personal attacks on President Obama and Mitt Romney (including everything from their religious views to their origin of birth), however, this pales in comparison to the attacks on Jackson and Adams.

Jackson was labelled as a murderer (his handling of military deserters coming out via the Coffin Handbills), an Indian killer, and unstable (his love of dueling).

The Adams camp learned that Jackson was dating and married his wife Rachel before she was legally divorced from her first husband. The Jackson campaign uncovered the fact that while Adams was serving as Minister to Russia, he’d allowed the Czar to have his way with an American servant girl.

Ultimately, the campaign came down to the question of: Do you want the husband of a whore or a pimp in office?

2. 1796/1800: Adams/Jefferson

Ignoring Washington’s advice to not have political parties, America quickly divided itself into two camps with the Federalists and Democratic-Republicans as the standard bearers.

The elections of 1796 and 1800 pitted two friends against one another. While not the coffin in their friendship, the election would sour it. [The election of 1801 destroyed their friendship, and it wouldn’t be rekindled until 1811 and they would remain friends until their deaths on 4 July 1826… within hours of each other]

These elections began the sectional issues that wouldn’t be resolved until 1865. At play were pro-British/pro-French feelings, Agrarian vs. industrial societal issues, and the power of the Federal Government.

Via pamphlet written by James T. Callender (secretly paid for by Jefferson), Adams was accused of building an army during the Quasi-War with France that would become a tool to oppress the nation. Also in question were the new taxes that Adams had put in place to fund the new army and navy, and deficit spending to fund federal projects.

The biggest complaint against Adams were his Alien and Sedition Acts. The last act, titled “An Act in Addition to the Act Entitled “An Act for the Punishment of Certain Crimes against the United States” made it illegal to publish anything false or scandalous about Congress or the President. Nothing like a handy tool to suppress political campaigning. John Callender was prosecuted under this act and spent the remainder of Adams’ presidency in jail.

Jefferson was labeled a deist with pro-French Revolution sympathies who would undermine everything American. Ironically, after Jefferson assumed the Presidency, Callender felt slighted by Jefferson and published information about Jefferson’s illegitimate children with his slave Sally Hemings.

1. 1860: Lincoln/Breckenridge

Civil War. Not much else needs to be said.

There are plenty of other times when America was pulled asunder by politics (1980, 1968, 1936, 1912), but these five elections stand out to me as not only showing how this election is but a blip on the radar of divisiveness, but also how the issues at hand today had been fought over since our nation’s inception.

When the television talking heads try to work you up into a lather over some little issue, try to read beyond this and realize that despite out current political chasm, we’ve weathered worse.

I can’t wait for November 6th

Not because there won’t be anymore political ads. No, I enjoy watching those. Really. I do! The are always good for a laugh after a hard day’s work.

And not because the election is over. Really, right now it just feels like the two major parties have laid a rotten goose egg. Tweedle Dee or Tweedle Dumb. The lesser of two equal evils.

I really can’t wait to hear about all the people who complain about having to stand in line to vote. I love watching the news. There stands the intrepid reporter outside a precinct. A line of forty or so people waiting to enter. Microphone in hand; asking people, “How long have you waited to vote?” and “Are you frustrated that you’ve had to wait in line?”

What would make this even better is if there is a cold, near icy, rain pelting the people as they stand, shivering, waiting to cast a vote.

Then the complaints. Whoa is me, I had to wait thirty minutes to vote. It is too cold, why don’t we have elections in the summer?

I also hope that a major telecommunications company plans a release day for their latest tablet or phone around the election. Ooh. Maybe a blockbuster movie in time for Thanksgiving.

Iraqis wait in line to vote

Iraqis wait in line to vote (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

People will wait in lines for a Starbucks or a McGriddle, a new iPhone or movie tickets; often camping out over night for the later two. More people have participated in voting for the next American Idol winner than recent elections (worse if you look at state and local elections). There are people in other nations who dodge bullets just to vote.

I suppose we should reconsider what the founding fathers intended with voting: A privilege rather than a right. If you were educated you could rationally, and for yourself, look at the issues/people and make decisions and if you were “land-owning” you were invested in government. Sure, the founding fathers excluded women, but, at the time, they weren’t “educated,” through no fault of their own. Today, they are, and surely could be included in the privilege of voting.

If you aren’t invested enough to give up an hour of your time researching for yourself the candidates, the information, and, most of all, an hour out of your life to vote, maybe you don’t deserve the privilege. For so many, there are other privileges out there that are more important.

So, go have your coffee while you wait for your next iPhone so you can pick the next American Idol, I’ll be reading up on the candidates foreign policy agendas.