The Quadrennial Political Circus

Article excerpt

The circus that is the U.S. presidential election campaign never ceases to amaze me. With every new presidential election cycle, the campaigns become even more extended, hyperbolic, and theatrical. There once was a time when U.S. presidents were not expected to do very much, particularly when the nation was not at war. During my schoolboy days, I remember reading that President Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877) spent many a day in the White House smoking cigars, drinking whiskey, and playing cards with his cronies. Over the years U.S. presidents have assumed a great many extraconstitutional powers and now spend a lot of time fundraising and electioneering virtually from the day they take office.

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When one takes a look at the U.S. Constitution, one discovers that Article I concerns itself with the legislative branch of the federal government. Section 1 states, "All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives." Sections 2 through 10 go into detail as to the composition of the House of Representatives and Senate, how they are to function, and what powers they shall have and not have. Presumably, those who wrote the Constitution believed that the legislative branch was the most important of the three branches of the federal government, which is why it is addressed before the executive and judicial branches.

Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution begins with this sentence: "The executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America." Article II is less than half the length of Article I, describing how the president is to be elected, what powers and duties he has, and under what circumstances he can be removed from office. The executive branch was initially so small that President George Washington's Cabinet consisted of just four officials: Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of War, and Attorney General. Since that time, the executive branch has grown like a cancer, to the point where there are now 23 officers of Cabinet rank. On top of that, President Obama has appointed a plethora of administrative "czars" to oversee the implementation of various policies.

For most of our nation's history, the president was expected to quietly do his job. But with the advent of the radio, the president could come right into our homes. President Franklin Roosevelt aired his fireside chats to the nation and urged listeners to "tell me your troubles. …