Barbara L. Minton
March 30, 2008
There is no other office on earth that can captivate us like the presidency of the United States. The 2008 candidates have given us an entire season of debates so we know the fine points of the differences between them. While the average civics teacher will tell you that Americans do not appreciate their national political heritage nearly enough, it is all too clear that the typical American is not only captivated with the presidency during election season, but has lifted the president to the stature of mythical hero.
It is this awe for the presidency that has allowed presidents from Washington to Bush to exercise powers never allowed to them under the Constitution. Many of the abuses of the power of the presidency are derived from the president’s role as commander-in-chief, a position that was designed to accommodate Washington, a military general. It is the combination of president and commander- chief that, in the minds of many Americans, lifts the holder of the office to archetypal or mythical status.
The president of the United States has far more power than any office in the history of humanity, powers reminiscent of those of the Greek superhero Hercules or the Sumerian king Gilgamesh. The current president claims the right to detain, torture and kill anyone on earth and to initiate wars and occupations in any nation of his choice without approval from any people or country. The president claims the right to levy taxes at will, seize anything, prohibit anything, mandate anything, spy on anyone, and require all jurisdictions to bend to his will. Although his power to alter reality is limited by the economic realities of the country, the holocaustic power of the modern presidency extends to the nuclear weapons within his reach.
It doesn’t matter who the president is. The end result of the presidency is almost always the loss of many lives through war. Even the best presidents violated the Bill of Rights, instituted regressive taxation, engaged in detrimental foreign diplomacy, and increased intrusive police powers. The worst presidents rank among the greatest political criminals in the annals of history.
Yet most Americans hold fast to their heroic image. It’s just a matter of which would-be tyrant in swashbuckler’s clothing should get the job.
Could the power of the president be retrenched? Ron Paul’s failed presidential bid showed us that a politician can facilitate big steps toward liberty only to the extent that he is supported by public opinion. As he has acknowledged, it is only a classical liberal culture, not great individuals standing alone, that makes a society free. This classical liberal culture would be one composed of grown up individuals who have achieved freedom in the classical existential manner, by accepting total responsibility for themselves. This kind of individual is his own superhero.
So, ironically, even the president does not have the power to bring down the modern presidency, whose powers are of epic proportion and greater than any single human who might occupy that office. Presidential power is a reflection of the collective national political climate, as well as the collective national consciousness that worships presidential supremacy. Even now, in a time when presidential approval ratings are close to all time lows, no one wants to give it up.
Consider the current lot of candidates, McCain, Obama, and Clinton. All say they stand for change, yet all three want to uphold the infrastructure of the imperial presidency. Each is tied to the Council on Foreign Relations, committed to the North American Union and the New World Order. These are modern day epic characters whose agenda’s are no different in proportion than the great Herculean feats.
Each candidate wants to greatly expand the presidency in one way or another. Each represents an archetype. All are master politicians adept at telling us what we want to hear. And their campaigns give us what we long for most in a president – someone to make us feel warm and fuzzy about being Americans.
Modern politicians get votes not so much based on their political stances, but on how they make people feel about America. When Americans like the president, they also tend to think more highly of the presidency. They want more from their government, and are less bothered when it commits great wrongs. But this all encompassing pride in the presidency is what has allowed it to become the nations’ master and a giant menace to the rest of the world.
It is unfortunate that Americans project onto the presidency the responsibility for providing them with cultural identity, patriotism, and self-respect. These are characteristics the truly free individual is able to provide for himself. In his article Our Enemy, The Presidency, Anthony Gregory views the presidency as too powerful, inherently corrupting, and inhumanely destructive. In his view, "The presidency as it supposedly should be, under the Constitution, is a relatively humble office overseeing the executive branch, one of the three composing a radically restrained government with very limited enumerated powers. Today, the presidency overshadows the other branches, the states, and all Constitutional and statutory limits on its power."
How did it get to the point that 300 million people, and to a great extent the rest of the world, have to live under the rule of one all-powerful official? Is it our wish to remain in a childlike state relying on a figure endowed with epic powers to take care of us? Is it for this that we are willing to sacrifice our freedom as individuals?
Ron Paul’s campaign was the closest in modern electoral history to being a campaign against the omnipotent presidency itself. His message to us was to grow up and take responsibility for our own lives and freedom, healing ourselves of the need for the mighty superhero to take care of us. But we have chosen instead, as Gregory puts it "to love and celebrate the presidency, looking to it as savior, moral guardian for the nation, stabilizer of the economy, provider of goods and necessities, protector against evil and liberator of the world." We have chosen to remain in the state of childhood, reveling in the adventures of our superheros.
Lew Rockwell.com Our Enemy: The Presidency by Anthony Gregory
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