[Viewpoint] Must a U.S. president be Superman?

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[Viewpoint] Must a U.S. president be Superman?

Reading the newspapers and watching the TV and Internet news lately (that is, the last decade or so), one cannot escape the sense that the press, the public and the president himself, at times, may have lost track of what the Framers had in mind as the president’s role and job.

In its elegant, simple and direct way, Article II of the Constitution makes it quite clear on a careful reading that, while a president has very wide and broad powers, that person is not charged with the responsibility, nor should be, for every activity that goes on in the country and world while in office. That person is charged with protecting the Constitution, being the military commander in chief, appointing ambassadors, judges and inferior officers, giving Congress information, recommending “measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient” and, lastly, to take care the laws be faithfully executed.

It is important that our presidents reasonably know about almost everything of consequence that happens in the country, and it also is a good idea that the president exhibits an empathetic interest, in particular when fellow citizens are struggling with adversity and hardship.

But there should be a limit on expectations of what that person can or should do:

* Concerning unemployment: The president seems to be expected to create jobs, though he is also expected to restrain public employment for budget reasons. So all he should be expected to do is help create “measures” that can reasonably be expected to stimulate private sector jobs.

* Concerning natural and man-made catastrophes: The president is expected to respond to every siren warning, when all he really can do is ensure that appropriate disaster relief was provided for and is made available.

* Concerning foreign and domestic threats: The president seems to be expected practically to man the immigration booths to keep bad people out, and to have boots on the ground the world over to stomp on people who appear to be possible threats from wherever they are. All he can really do is ensure that early warning systems are in place, adequate forces trained and deployed, and local foreign leaders are friendly and helpful enough to dampen threats in their countries. That short summary of just three areas that consume the President in today’s world only scratches the surface of the myriad of topics that bear down on him every day.

What the country needs is a leader who has (or makes) time to reflect and plan, to spend quiet time consulting with all stripes of citizens to better understand all the issues, to have more time to be involved in appointing inferior officers, judges etc.

Modern technology has helped and hindered the process of performing the presidential job. It has helped that presidents are “wired” and constantly updated. It is hindered in that the voracious daily news cycle demands to know where he is and what he is doing and thinking all the time.

It is helped by the use of Air Force One when he travels around the country and the world and he can do virtually everything he can do in his White House office wherever he is. It is hindered by the fact that he is on the move all the time, which inevitably must lead to travel fatigue despite the comfort and support of the Air Force.

It will be very difficult to roll back the gradual creep of extending presidential responsibility into a more realistic balance of quiet, contemplative, active, empathetic leadership.

At the end of the day, how a President conducts his responsibilities and performs his job is a very personal thing and may be one of the most important things voters should be judging in a candidate as they cast their ballots. But the problem today is that with all the best intentions of being the kind of president the Constitution contemplated, almost every person who has become president has been sucked into an irresistible vortex of conflicting public/press demands.

Perhaps the time has come to start a national conversation on a new set of expectations for the presidency, to better reflect the modern need that the president cannot be viewed as a Superman, because inevitably, reality will shrink that person to human scale and render him less useful in dealing with those things that he can realistically do something about.

*The writer is Chairman of Abacus and Associates, Inc. This piece originally app
eared in the Huffington Post.

by Frank A. Weil

U.S. President Barack Obama waves before giving his inaugural address at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 20, 2009. [AP]
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