The Cult of the Presidency: America's Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power

The Cult of the Presidency: America's Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power

The Cult of the Presidency: America's Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power

The Cult of the Presidency: America's Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power

Synopsis

Examines how Americans have expanded presidential power over recent decades by expecting solutions for all national problems, and concludes by calling for the president's role to return to its properly defined constitutional limits.

Excerpt

On the morning of January 28, 2007, Mike Huckabee went on NBC's Meet the Press to announce that he was running for president of the United States. It was a bold move for an undistinguished former governor of Arkansas, best known for losing 110 pounds in office and writing about it in a book called Quit Digging Your Grave with a Knife and Fork. Bolder still was Huckabee's rationale for seeking the nation's highest office. He had decided to run, he told host Tim Russert, because “America needs positive, optimistic leadership to kind of turn this country around, to see a revival of our national soul.”

Russert didn't make the most of his opportunity for follow-up questions, but the candidate's remark might have suggested several. First, was the “national soul” really in such a desperate state that its last, best hope was … Mike Huckabee? Second, and more importantly, what sort of office did Huckabee imagine he was running for? Is reviving the national soul in the job description? And if reviving the national soul is part of the president's job, what isn't?

The Bipartisan Romance with the Imperial Presidency

Huckabee wasn't the only candidate to wax messianic about the president's role. His fellow contestantsincampaign 2008 also seemed to think they were applying for the job of national savior. Senator John McCain invoked Teddy Roosevelt as a role model, noting that TR “liberally interpreted the constitutional authority of the office,” and “nourished the soul of a great nation.” Senator Barack Obama ran on “the audacity of hope,” a phrase connoting the eternal promise of redemption through presidential politics (is “audacity” the right word for that kind of hope?). For her part, Hillary Clinton seemed to see the president as the lone figure who could restore a sense of purpose to American life: as she put it in May 2007, “When I ask people, 'What do you think the goals of America are today?' people don't have any idea. We don't know what we're trying to achieve.

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