Evaluation of Presidents
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The principal role of all the American presidents was always the same in essence, as defined in the Constitution. Being the nation’s top executive, the president can exercise the major influence over the legislative, military, and diplomatic authorities. Regardless of the circumstances, the highest responsibility of the U.S. president is to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution. The president’s personality is very important in the course of his official activities. Apparently, the voters pay more attention to the personality features of the potential president than to his political agenda. Once elected, the president has to act consistently with his voters’ expectations. However, there are many other factors that determine the success or failure of any president.
Both the national and world conditions change constantly, presenting different challenges to the U.S. presidents. The military engagements dictate the necessity for quick and decisive actions with regard to the numerous possible consequences. Periodic financial crises require specific presidential preformance to uphold the nation’s interests. There are also the emergency situations, natural disasters, and social issues that keep the president busy even during the relatively calm times. Often, there is no clearly identifiable right or wrong decision, either due to the incomplete information or because of the issue’s nature. The president undertakes a risk in making a decision or refraining from one, which makes his position rather vulnerable on top of all the responsibilities he bears.
Other factors of the president’s success include the general public support as well as the support of his party in Congress, both of which depend on the president’s position with regard to the domestic issues and foreign affairs. The media attention and press coverage create an incorrect public perception of the president’s power. In reality, the separation of powers and numerous balances imposed by other governmental institutions make the president office much less powerful than the average voter believes. According to Patterson, “The president’s election by national vote and position as sole chief executive ensure that others will listen to the president’s ideas; but to lead effectively, the president must have the help of other officials” (420). The president can use the substantial support of his party if it has a majority in Congress. Some decisions related to the international affairs may get the Congressional support even from the opposite party, as the foreign policy is much more the presidential prerogative than the domestic issues. For example, President George W. Bush had cooperated successfully with Congress for a long time, getting all the necessary support for his policies. Generally, the presidents succeed or fail in the course of complex interactions with powerful interest groups that are not visible to the public. The voters expect too much from presidents, blaming them for the faults of all other government institutions.
There were four different president election systems during the U.S. history. At first, the independent members of the Electoral College voted for the candidates chosen in congressional caucuses. This practice was used until the party convention system had been introduced in 1832. The national party conventions gathered delegates from the regional party organizations who selected the party nominees. During the same period, the Whig theory had dominated among the political views on the presidential leadership. According to this theory, the office of the U.S. president should be completely subordinated to the Congress. Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln were the only presidents who did not bend to the Whig theory during the nineteenth century, carrying out their duties to the full extent of presidential power. Theodore Roosevelt has refused to follow this theory completely when he started his term as the American president in 1901. According to Roosevelt, who took the activist position, the president’s role was the one of a people’s steward. Starting from 1904, the president election system was slightly modified in favor of the primary elections, which were held to choose the minority of national convention delegates. This period is also known as the Progressive Era in American presidential elections. Finally, the party primary/caucus system was adopted in 1972. Since then, the national convention delegates were chosen during the primary/caucus elections.
All four presidential selection systems limit the direct public influence on the voting outcome. People delegate the actual president choosing to the parties’ representatives of each state. The presidential campaign is very complex and prolonged, more often resembling a show rather than the serious political event. It is highly unlikely that the really good candidate would volunteer to undergo all those artificial stages of the presidential elections. An apt candidate for the job would be a decisive, self-made person who has the firmly defined set of views and abilities to transform these views into the governmental policies. There is no chance such a person could enter the presidential office under the present rules. In the current system, the candidate must appear flexible and ready to adjust to whatever point is more profitable in terms of the votes he (or, in the future, she) can get. After getting into the Office, the newly elected president either has to drop the part of his promises or continue to carry on along the lines he does not believe in. This situation does not benefit the national interests, as the system prevents capable candidates from getting the top job. The presidential election system should be simplified in a way that will make them more straightforward. The direct public voting for the president is quite real given the advances of modern technologies.
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