Gene Healy: ‘Early American Political Culture Held that Anyone who Seemed to Relish the Idea of Wielding Power Couldn’t Be Trusted with it. No Longer’Posted: November 3, 2015
It Doesn’t Matter If Campaigning For President Is Fun
Gene Healy writes:
….There was a time, however, when we approached presidential selection with the sobriety a serious choice demands. In a penetrating 2003 article, “The Joy of Power: Changing Conceptions of the Presidential Office,” political scientist Richard J. Ellis explains that Americans used to look for a very different demeanor when assessing potential presidents.
“You’d never catch that guy grinning, nor, prior to the twentieth century, any of the others.”
‘My God: what is there in this office that any man should want to get into it?’
“In the beginning,” Ellis writes, “the presidency was envisioned not as an office to be enjoyed, but as a place of stern duty.” In fact, “one would be hard-pressed to find a single president between George Washington and Grover Cleveland of whom it could be said that he appeared to have fun in the exercise of presidential power.”
Early American political culture took it as self-evident that anyone who seemed to relish the idea of wielding power over others couldn’t be trusted with it. Our first president set the standard for presidential bearing: “dutiful and reluctant.”
“Over the course of the twentieth century, thanks in part to the two Roosevelts, cultural norms shifted, even as the executive branch grew radically in size and power.”
As Washington put it: “I can truly say I had rather be at Mount Vernon with a friend or two about me than to be attended at the Seat of Government by the Officers of State and the Representatives of every Power in Europe.” Or, as Cleveland once moaned, “My God: what is there in this office that any man should want to get into it?”
“Presidents today are supposed to take pleasure in the job. Those who dislike or at least complain about it are assumed to be psychologically suspect.”
— political scientist Richard J. Ellis
Throughout the nineteenth century, the public norms surrounding political power mandated a “low-energy” campaign, in which the candidates “stayed home in dignified silence, ready to serve if called by the people.” Even Andrew Jackson, the first candidate to style himself the champion of the popular will, refused to hit the hustings: “I meddle not with elections; I leave the people to make their own president,” he said.
[Order Gene Healy’s book “The Cult of the Presidency: America’s Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power” from Amazon.com]
You’d never catch that guy grinning, nor, prior to the twentieth century, any of the others. In the popular images of nineteenth-century presidents, Ellis writes, “it is difficult if not impossible to find an exuberant or smiling president.”
Enter the Self-Styled Larger than Life
Over the course of the twentieth century, thanks in part to the two Roosevelts, cultural norms shifted, even as the executive branch grew radically in size and power. “Presidents today are supposed to take pleasure in the job,” Ellis writes, and be happy warriors on the campaign trail. “Those who dislike or at least complain about it are assumed to be psychologically suspect.”
Dave Boyer reports: When President Obama signs into law the new two-year budget deal Monday, his action will bring into sharper focus a part of his legacy that he doesn’t like to talk about: He is the $20 trillion man.
“The Boehner-Obama spending agreement would allow for unlimited borrowing by the Treasury until March 2017. This deal piles on billions of dollars to the national debt by increasing spending over the next three years and then not paying for it for a decade — with half of the offsets not occurring until 2025.”
— Paul Winfree, director of economic policy studies at The Heritage Foundation
Mr. Obama’s spending agreement with Congress will suspend the nation’s debt limit and allow the Treasury to borrow another $1.5 trillion or so by the end of his presidency in 2017. Added to the current total national debt of more than $18.15 trillion, the red ink will likely be crowding the $20 trillion mark right around the time Mr. Obama leaves the White House.
“Of this $154 billion, about $78 billion is paid for honestly. The remaining $56 billion of the legislation — mostly the war spending increase and interest costs — is not paid for at all.”
When Mr. Obama took over in January 2009, the total national debt stood at $10.6 trillion. That means the debt will have very nearly doubled during his eight years in office, and there is much more debt ahead with the abandonment of “sequestration” spending caps enacted in 2011.
“When Mr. Obama took over in January 2009, the total national debt stood at $10.6 trillion. That means the debt will have very nearly doubled during his eight years in office, and there is much more debt ahead with the abandonment of “sequestration” spending caps enacted in 2011.”
“Congress and the president have just agreed to undo one of the only successful fiscal restraint mechanisms in a generation,” said Pete Sepp, president of the National Taxpayers Union. “The progress on reducing spending and the deficit has just become much more problematic.”
“We will be raising the debt ceiling in an unlimited fashion. We will be giving President Obama a free pass to borrow as much money as he can borrow in the last year of his office. No limit, no dollar limit. Here you go, President Obama. Spend what you want.”
— Sen. Rand Paul
Some budget analysts scoff at the claim made by the administration and by House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, that the budget agreement’s $112 billion in spending increases is fully funded by cuts elsewhere. Mr. Boehner left Congress last week.
“The Boehner-Obama spending agreement would allow for unlimited borrowing by the Treasury until March 2017,” said Paul Winfree, director of economic policy studies at The Heritage Foundation. “This deal piles on billions of dollars to the national debt by increasing spending over the next three years and then not paying for it for a decade — with half of the offsets not occurring until 2025.” Read the rest of this entry »
Sending U.S. troops to intervene in Syria is a poorly thought out strategy that is likely to backfire.
In Senate testimony on October 27th, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter indicated that the U.S. might be taking on a more direct combat role in Syria’s civil war. Later today, President Obama is expected to announce the deployment of U.S. troops to northern Syria.
“It is time for the president to forcefully state what everyone knows to be true: the United States has no magic formula for solving the Syrian conflict…Outside involvement has fueled the multisided civil war, but failed to deliver a decisive victory for any one faction.”
— Christopher Preble, Cato’s Vice President for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies
According to Cato Institute experts, this is a terrible idea.
“Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s statement…that the U.S. military ‘won’t hold back’ from engaging in ‘direct action on the ground’ in Syria is a troubling development,“ says Benjamin Friedman, Research Fellow in Defense and Homeland Security Studies at the Cato Institute. “It does not so much indicate mission creep as continuity of flawed policy. Competing objectives burden U.S. policy: helping weak rebels overthrow Assad, which prolongs the war and aids ISIS, and defeating ISIS, which aids Assad. Until we resolve that contradiction, the value of tactical gains against either foe will be limited. We should cease helping rebels and attack ISIS alone.”
“Unfortunately, there is probably little constructive the United States can do at this point to resolve the conflict in Syria and establish a stable new government. The Obama administration, therefore, should take care not to make a bad situation worse.”
— Visiting Research Fellow Brad Stapleton
Even without U.S. ground troops, the Obama administration’s policy of continuing to fund and arm Syrian rebel groups is problematic enough, especially now that Russia is more deeply involved in backing the Assad regime militarily. According to Visiting Research Fellow Brad Stapleton, this risks getting into a messy proxy war that won’t end well for Washington. “Unfortunately, there is probably little constructive the United States can do at this point to resolve the conflict in Syria and establish a stable new government,” Stapleton writes. “The Obama administration, therefore, should take care not to make a bad situation worse.”
Many commentators have proposed imposing no-fly zones or safe zones in Syria to ease the humanitarian crisis. But, as Emma Ashford, Visiting Research Fellow, explains, this is likely to backfire. “U.S. involvement in Syria displays no strategy, no boundaries and no clear goals,” Ashford writes. “The only viable long-term solution to Syria’s problems is diplomacy. But that has been pushed to the side in favor of airstrikes and limited, ad hoc rebel training programs.” Read the rest of this entry »
“Since the 1990s, federal workers have enjoyed faster compensation growth than private-sector workers…The federal government has become an elite island of secure and high-paid employment, separated from the ocean of average Americans competing in the economy.”
Federal workers’ pay and benefits were 78 percent higher than private employees, who earned an average of $52,688 less than public sector workers last year.
The study found that federal government workers earned an average of $84,153 in 2014, compared to the private sector’s average of $56,350. Cato based its findings on figures from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA).
But when adding in benefits pay for federal workers, the difference becomes more dramatic. Federal employees made $119,934 in total compensation last year, while private sector workers earned $67,246, a difference of over $52,000, or 78 percent.
“Since the 1990s, federal workers have enjoyed faster compensation growth than private-sector workers,” according to the study, written by Chris Edwards, the director of tax policy studies at Cato. “In 2014 federal workers earned 78 percent more, on average, than private-sector workers. Federal workers earned 43 percent more, on average, than state and local government workers. Read the rest of this entry »
WASHINGTON (AP) — The federal government ran a bigger deficit in January, pushing the imbalance so far this budget year up 6.2 percent from the same period a year ago.
The Treasury Department said Wednesday the deficit for January stood at $17.5 billion compared to $10.3 billion a year ago. For the first four months of the budget year that began in October, the deficit widened to $194.2 billion from $182.8 billion during the same period last year.
“President Barack Obama unveiled last week his new budget proposal, which projects the 2015 deficit to rise to $583 billion, sharply higher than the CBO’s latest estimate.”
The budget deficit has gradually narrowed since 2012, which was the fourth straight year in which it topped the $1 trillion mark. The improvement reflects the country’s economic recovery from recession. The government is seeing higher tax revenues as people go back to work and smaller payments for safety-net programs such as unemployment assistance. It also represents efforts by Congress to control deficits through higher taxes and across-the-board spending cuts.
Last year’s deficit benefited from a $24 billion special payment Freddie Mac made for the support it received during the financial crisis. The Congressional Budget Office forecasts a deficit of $468 billion for the full 2015 budget year, 3.1 percent lower than in 2014.
“Obama’s new budget is asking Congress for authorization to spend $4 trillion next year and projects a 2016 deficit of $474 billion. The president’s budget proposal will set off months of wrangling in Congress.”
For the current budget year, government revenues total $1.05 trillion, an increase of 8.7 percent from the same period a year ago. Government spending totals $1.24 trillion, up 8.3 percent over last year. Read the rest of this entry »