Article II (section 1) of the United States’ Constitution entrusts the executive power to the President (Jordan 1999, p.38); he is both the head of the state and the head of the government; moreover, he is the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces. Elected once every four years, the President responds for the well-being of American people and acts in the best interest of the United States of America. The president of the United States also plays an influential role in “promoting democratic principles” (Bunch et al., 2000, p.76). As such, the United States’ President suppresses conflicts and tensions, solves problems, ensures enforcement of laws, and improves the living conditions of all American citizens. But is the United States’ President really powerful as portrayed in the media? This essay attempts to shed light on the ‘real’ power of the United States’ President, supporting an argument that the United States’ President possesses constitutional power but not always political power.
As Genovese (2001, p.ix) points out, “‘Presidential power’ is a bit of a misnomer”. Power of the United States’ President is not only limited by the United States’ Constitution but also confined by different factors. Many decisions made by the United States’ President should be approved by the Congress; for instance, if the President wants to make a treaty or, otherwise, launch a war against an enemy, he should receive the consent of two-thirds of the Senate members, according to Article II (section 2) of the US Constitution (Jordan 1999, p.40). The same regards the appointments of officials (e.g. United States’ Supreme Court judges, consuls, or ministers); although the President is authorised to choose the members of his Cabinet, they are not appointed without the Senate’s consent. In the 19th century, the United States’ President had more political power and could appoint his friends, relatives and people who supported him to top governmental positions. Despite the fact that the United States’ President has an impact on different social, legal, and economic issues, “there are very real institutional limitations on the President, things he may do and things he may not, as well as things he cannot escape doing” (Vile 1999, p.129). These limitations are successfully used by policy makers to put pressure on the President or oppose his decisions. If, for instance, he
-the President- interposes a veto on the bill, Congress may easily nullify this veto in accordance with Article I (section 7) of the US Constitution (Jordan 1999, p.35). These limitations are introduced to restrict the President’s abuse of power. Although many people and organisations make attempts to receive support from the President, his intervention may not guarantee success of an affair. The United States’ President has to come to an agreement with individual politicians and political groups, constantly compromise, and engage in an intricate political game.
Seen from this viewpoint, the United States’ President cannot be regarded as a ‘national leader’ (Healy 2008, p.18) who rules the country, making independent decisions and taking independent actions. On the other hand, some US Presidents find the ways to disregard the decisions of the Congress and take an independent action, appealing to the American public. In 1951, 33rd president of the United States Harry S. Truman abused the emergency power, ordering to invade South Korea and seize steel mills. Likewise, in 2001 George W. Bush used the emergency power to initiate military tribunals against the terrorists who were accused of masterminding the attacks on the world trade centre on September 11, 2001. Some presidents’ abuses of the United States’ Constitution were of great benefit to American society, as was just the case with Executive Order 11246 made by President Lyndon B. Johnson; due to this order, minorities acquired good-paying jobs. But such a decisive (and unconstitutional) action is a rather rare phenomenon; throughout American history, “chief executives were chief of very little and executive of even less” (Lowi 1985, p.40). Today, it is crucial to differentiate between power of the United States’ Presidency and power of the United States’ President. According to Neustadt (1991, p.3), the United States’ Presidency possesses much more political power than the United States’ President, as the President is one person, while the Presidency counts for about two thousand people. In a democratic society, one person cannot exercise unlimited power and take full control of the country. Despite the fact that Article II (section 2) of the United States’ Constitution specifies that the President is the “Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States” (Jordan 1999, p.39), he has no power to initiate a war; it can be declared only by the Congress (Ohaegbulam, 2007, p.1). But some US Presidents (e.g. Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, Thomas Jefferson, and George W. Bush) violated the Constitution of the United States and made individual decisions in regard to war and wartime issues. As for the discharge of office-holders, the United States’ President has a constitutional authority but not always political power to do it. If the President wants to discharge an office-holder, he/she should necessarily specify the reason and explain his decision before the Congress.
As such, political power of the US President is significantly exaggerated; according to Dean (2004, p.7), “with today’s presidents, what you see is not what you actually have”. While the United States’ President is always presented as a person who passes legislation, it is the Congress that bears the major responsibility for this action; the United States’ President can either veto legislation or sign it. As the US President does not have the power to pass economic legislation (or any other legislation), he is not able to improve the economy of the United States. The Supreme Court also has the power to limit some actions of the US President. For instance, the Supreme Court may speak against the President’s decision to arrest individuals who are accused of crimes against the United States of America and keep them in prison without a trial, as was just the case with the ‘illegal enemy combatant’ Yaser Esam Hamdi. The Supreme Court has the right to oppose the US President and to start a trial or release a prisoner. In addition to the limitations imposed by the Congress and the Supreme Court, the US President lacks the power to extend the term of the presidency, to eliminate the existing bureaucracy, and to avert domestic or foreign crises. Moreover, the United States’ President is too dependent on public support, and in many cases cannot survive without it. Especially in the first period after the election and before re-election, all his actions are judged by the public and the Congress; hence, it is very important for the US President to weigh all aspects before making a decision and develop the ability to engage in a close co-operation with all political figures. If the US President is accused of bribery, treason and other serious crimes, he will be impeached. To enhance his political power, he makes constant attempts to create strong public images, as was just the case with George W. Bush (Dean 2004, p.7).
As the essay suggests, the United States President has “very little independent authority” (Genovese 2001, p.x). He has a significant impact on a great variety of external and internal affairs of the country, but at first he has to come to an agreement with the Congress. He may introduce crucial economic reforms; resolve a serious conflict with another country, but “all the time he is subject to very real constitutional and political limitations” (Vile 1999, p.129). In the modern world, the division of political power in the United States of America is not determined only by the Constitution; this division is determined by the interplay among the US President, the Congress, the Supreme Court, and the public. The lack of ‘real’ political power of the US President results in a constant struggle between him and policy makers. But the extent of political power varies from one president to another; American history shows examples of excessive concentration of political power in the hands of some US Presidents and examples of low concentration of political power in the hands of US Presidents. Unquestionably, any extreme is detrimental; limitations of political power of the President deprive him of an opportunity to effectively deal with all domestic and foreign affairs and thus ensure the well-being of American people. In view of these limitations, the decisions made by the US President are often controversial. On the other hand, the lack of limitations provides the US President with absolute power that may be used unwisely.
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