The events during the six weeks after November's presidential election were a valuable civics lesson for Americans. Since President's Day is today - what better time to further reflect on the presidency and the future of our constitutional republic?
The history of our presidents is a story of ups and downs - always dependent, of course, on the personalities involved. Historians agree, though, that it was under President Franklin D. Roosevelt when the power of the executive branch grew stronger. This expansion has continued since 1945, spawning the addition of Cabinet departments and other agencies answerable to the chief executive.
The president prepares a budget and legislative agenda. The main role of Congress has been to debate, modify or reject presidential initiatives.
But it is interesting that Congress has been flexing its investigative muscles, and since the late 1980s the Senate has often become combative in its "advise and consent" role regarding some presidential appointees. Like it or not, these may be the best defenses that the Constitution provides for Congress to keep in check the power of a president.
The United States has before it the examples of Rome and Britain as great powers that imposed civilization and law on a widespread scale. But those two empires didn't have the capacity for internal reform. Ours does - if the process is allowed to work.
One example is that, since the presidency of Ronald Reagan, there is a slow trend of power shifting back to the states. This may accelerate under the Bush presidency.
Perhaps the best reform would be for the citizen at the local level - and especially entrepreneurs - to be freed from onerous government controls. In this context, welfare reform at both the federal and state level - which radically reduced the number of people dependent on government - has been extremely effective.
Historian Arnold Toynbee wrote that the average age of the world's great governments is 200 years. The U.S., we can proudly note, has been going strong since President George Washington - and seems more prosperous than ever.
Another historian, Edward Gibbon, gave several basic reasons for the fall of the world's civilizations: the undermining of the sanctity of the family, high taxation, and the decay of religion and with it individual morality and responsibility. Bearing this in mind, it is incumbent upon any American president in the 21st century to ensure that our liberties, national defenses, free enterprise system and spiritual values remain intact and strong for American generations yet unborn.
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