Monday, March 24, 2008

A Clever Suggestion

Section One of the 25th amendment states that "[i]n case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President." The amendment resolved once and for all the ambiguities present in Article II regarding Presidential succession. The Vice President assumes the Presidency, with its attendant powers and responsibilities, in the event that the President becomes unwilling or unable to serve. Based on these words, constitutional scholar Akhil Reed Amar has recently put a new twist into our discussions of a co-Presidency. In The Resident Historian’s recent post on the topic, I pointed out that a co-Presidency would probably not be equitable just because two people can’t really occupy the position Constitutionally. Well, not exactly, if we listen to Amar’s logic. Two individuals could, in effect, “take turns” at being President. What does this mean. Well, let’s say hypothetically we end up with the team of Obama-Clinton. Halfway through the term, Barack Obama could cede the Presidency to Clinton, occupant of the vice-Presidency for the first half of the term. The two could then hypothetically perform the same game in 2012. There are still many practical roadblocks to such an arrangement and I’m not entirely sure how desirable it would be (that will largely depend on how bloody this contest ends up becoming, I think) but constitutionally, at least, a co-Presidency may be more feasible than at first glance.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Guest Editorial: Co-Presidency

I know, I know. I just said I would stop writing about the elections. But I got this submission from our occasional contributor, The Resident Historian, and it's really quite interesting.

It was hard to ignore the utterances of ‘co-presidency’ simmering below the surface when Bill Clinton began to supersede his wife’s role in her campaign during the week before the South Carolina primary. This term was indeed used pejoratively, but it seems surprising that it has even resurfaced into our political lexicon at all. The only other time in American history that the thought of a co-presidency held so prominent a role in the collective conscious was when Gerald Ford used it as a pre-condition for joining Reagan’s 1980 ticket. Ford’s assertive demand that he would only run as Vice President if the two could share executive power equally was swiftly brushed aside in a quasi-emasculating withdrawal of the invitation to the ticket. Reagan’s move was clearly justified, considering that the freshly-defeated Ford had no teeth at that point to back up his claim to half of the Oval Office.
But as the Democratic electorate continues to split relatively evenly in these primaries, as party leaders balk at the idea of having the unpopular superdelegates decide the contest, and as the delegate count reveals little hope of a clear resolution in the near future, the idea of a co-presidency may actually have some merit in this electoral season.
Let us indulge the speculation sweet-tooth for the moment and analyze the makeup of this year’s Democratic Party dynamic. Large turnout in early primaries, coupled with continuing disillusionment with the governing establishment, raises hopes for the Democrats’ chances of electoral success this year. Large upswings in minority, youth, and working class participation are good indicators that the party has on its hands a unique chance to redefine itself. And of course, there are the candidates, who together represent the most fundamental change to the actual identity of the Democratic Party. The last time there was this zenith of opportunity was 1932.
Approaches to practice and character being the only definitive differences between the Senators Obama and Clinton, it would seem that the two in joint rule might actually be able to most effectively implement their platforms. For evidence, consider John Tyler’s Administration, effectively supervised by the Secretaries of State, Treasury, and War. Not the most memorable administration, yes, but despite having a politically crippled executive, the collective body was able to just as easy administer the Whig platform.
If agreed upon now, the Democratic Party would have to overhaul any and all plans for the General Election to accommodate this radical change, but it would also mobilize the party, not only early enough to start seriously challenging the GOP, but also to an extent unparalleled in American history. The current satisfaction rates for the two candidates among the party electorate is exceedingly high (ranging between about 70-75%). A Double-Ticket might truly make use out of this energy. It would also catch the GOP completely off guard, as a joint ticket has never before been even tepidly considered.
Yet, there remains the question of executive deadlock, which would be all too easy a prey for the Republicans. What if the co-presidents disagree on, as is most likely, healthcare? The obvious solution would be to add a third candidate. Al Gore has expressed interest in mediating the two candidates before the convention. Perhaps he could mediate their policies as a tri-president. Or, considering Gore’s reluctance to lift a political finger, how about Howard Dean? Both men are top Democratic officials who are highly respected and represent the biggest challenge to traditional Democratic electoral politics. And that kind of change is exactly what is needed to capitalize upon this election.
Another obvious potential critique is that this kind of executive front-loading could result in some kind of Authoritarian Presidential Triumvirate. But again, history shows the rebuttal. As mentioned previous, this year has the potential to be a repeat of the fundamental change that redefined the Democratic Party, and realigned the nation. In 1932, similar charges were levied against FDR for the executive centralization implemented by the New Deal. But FDR’s programs have become the major staple to modern American infrastructure and the Democratic platform. This kind of popular executive action will be the key to Democratic success in November, as highlighted by the current policy disputes between Clinton and Obama.
The only other major argument against the idea is that a multi-body executive branch would decrease the uniform singularity with which that arm of the government works. This is true, but in such a case, the legislative branch, properly redefined, would easily take the governing lead. Parliamentary systems such as Italy or India, for example, may have counter-effective political cultures, but their actual system of legislative action and enforcement is not much less productive than our own. That is not to suggest that Steny Hoyer should become the first Prime Minister of America, but a greater capability to Congress would not be unwelcome by this author.
The idea of a co-presidency or tri-presidency is currently unimaginable, unlikely, and somewhat laughable, and I certainly hope that this nomination is resolved before such an idea becomes tangible. But in this election of boundary-breakers and record-thumpers, one cannot rule out even the most far-fetched of strategies. And in this crazy race, such strategies may even become necessary. Ford thought so.
-The Resident Historian

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

While I Wasn't Paying Attention...

In the last two days, Fidel Castro resigned, Kosovo declared its independence, and Musharraf's party got crushed at the polls. It occurs to me that it may be time for us to let sleeping dogs lie: the Barack Obama Hillary Clinton spat isn't going to be resolved for at least a month, and possibly much, much longer. In light of this, and of the fact that yes, things do happen in the world even during major US elections, I pledge not to write at all on the election until the convention opens in Denver. In fact, I will, as painful as this is to say, refrain from even reading anything about the election save actual results from the contests. I urge you all to join me in paying attention to the rest of the world for a while.

Friday, February 15, 2008


This article from Slate underscores an important point I should have addressed in my last post: the more we begin to think Obama is inevitable, the bigger the shock will be if and when Hillary Clinton has a strong showing. Since she has convinced everyone she is writing Wisconsin off, a victory there would do wonders for her campaign.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Steady Now

Barack Obama did very well last night. His gains among working class voters augur well for the contests to come. He now holds a solid if small lead in the delegate count. This is not inevitability. For the umpteenth time this primary season, we are rushing to judgment. The fundamentals of the campaign do not merit any irrational exuberance on the part of those of us who support Obama. The last seven contests were all uniquely suited to play to his strengths. We have had contests in Louisiana and Washington DC with very high African-American populations. We had Maryland and Virginia, which, in addition to having substantial black populations, also have a large proportion of upscale voters with the highest levels of education. We also had three caucus states, which almost always go for Obama. Not one of these states produced particularly surprising results Through a fluke in the primary calendar, they just happened in quick succession. Obama could defy demographics in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas, but it will be an uphill struggle. The contours of the race are roughly where they were on super Tuesday, the only difference being that Clinton will have to persuade a few more superdelegates to lean her way for victory. This isn’t anywhere close to being over.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Dynasticism, Experience, and the 2008 Election

The point has come in the Democratic contest where the only viable choice is the choice between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. In the hubbub over this historic election a rather profound and simple fact has been overlooked. Forget any preconceptions that exist about Hillary Clinton, ignore all the differences between the two leading candidates for the nomination and the fact remains that a Hillary Clinton nomination could mean three decades of dynasticism in the American Presidency. There has been no election since 1980 without either a Clinton or Bush on the ballot. And what of that fact? Why does this even matter? Consider this: Bush Jr. and Hillary started their respective presidential bids with incredible institutional backing, financial resources, and support in the polls. This alone should give us pause. George W and Hillary didn’t do anything extraordinary to merit this incredible institutional support. They were not incumbent Presidents or vice-presidents eager to take the mantle. Clinton and Bush are incumbents by virtue only of their last name. Neither would have had a particularly successful political career without this. And this - as the case of George W shows - is dangerous. George W. Bush was truly an untested leader. The word untested has gotten bandied about a lot in this campaign. Bush certainly had experience in the conventional sense, as does Clinton. But Bush was never tested with any real dilemmas or any tough moral decisions to make. As a consequence he came in unprepared to lead. Clinton may go down a similar path. At a recent debate, Clinton and Obama gave what I think were revealing answers about their skills to govern. Clinton framed the job of the President in a way eerily similar to Bush: as a kind of national chief executive perfectly organized and ready for business. Then Barack Obama spoke. He acknowledged that he was not the most organized person in the world. But being organized, he said, is not what the presidency is about. Constitutionally the presidency is not very powerful. The power of the President comes from his ability to inspire the American people. A President’s ability comes not from experience in Washington. Abraham Lincoln had virtually no political experience. What he did have was trial by fire time after time in life. Barack Obama has been tried in life. His experience is not beltway experience, but it is experience of a much more valuable kind. He is a man who, like Lincoln, has found himself. What is most remarkable about Obama is how little his judgment has wavered. He knew, in 2002, that he had to oppose the Iraq War. He has spoken of talking to world leaders the United States is on hostile terms with, without preconditions, in his first year in office. The move was widely regarded as a gaffe by pundits, as a sign of his “inexperience.” But rather than go back on what he said Obama has stuck with his conviction because he knows he is right.
That is the problem with dynasticism. It distorts our perspective. It makes us think of experience as years inside a political bunker rather than judgment forged through a lifetime. Electing Clinton may perpetuate a dangerous pattern at the highest level of our national life. Students of western history should know that dynasties make empires out of republics. Our politics and our government should not be determined by bloodlines in this day and age, particularly when there are individuals like Obama waiting in the wings.

Monday, November 26, 2007


The media has begun to pay more attention to the upcoming conference than I would have liked. There was an article dileneating Bush's optimism in the New York Times, several op-eds in publications across the country, and significant coverage on the radio. We'll see how this pans out within the next couple days.