The US President as a Leader

The president of the United States  is the head of state and head of government of the United States of America. The president directs the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces.

A Party Leader:-

The President combines in his person the two offices of King and Prime Minister, or as Theodore Roosevelt said,

A President has a great chance; his position is almost that of a King and Prime Minister rolled into one.

On the one hand he is a party leader, the spokesman and representative of popular majority more or less organized in the party that he heads. Originally, the Chief Executive was not a party man and Washington thought himself identified with no party. But when political parties had become definitely established, we have it from Jefferson’s time that Presidents began to be elected as party men and party leadership became as truly a function of the President as of the British Prime Minister.

And today his position as a political leader of the party is as much a source of his power as the authority which the Constitution confers upon him. Chosen as a party man to head a government operated under a party system, the President surrounds himself with advisers of his own faith, consults usually with men belonging to his party in Congress for appointments, confers with his own men in the party in framing policy, and he uses his power as chief legislator to push through the party’s programme to a crowning victory.

Sometimes it troubles good Americans to watch their dignified chief of the State deeply submerged in party politics, which torment Washington’s spirit. Yet if he is to persuade Congress, if he is to achieve a loyal and cohesive administration, if he is to be elected in the first place (and re-elected in the second) he must put his hand firmly to the ploy (plough) of politics.

John F. Kennedy, commenting upon President Eisenhower’s preference to stay above politics, maintained that no President can escape politics. He has not only been chosen by the nation he has been chosen by his party. And if he insists that he is President of all the people and should, therefore, offend none of them if he blurs the issues and differences between the parties if he neglects the party machinery and avoids his party’s leadership then he has not only weakened the political party as an instrument of the democratic process he has dealt a blow to the democratic process itself. I prefer the example of Abe Lincoln, who loved politics with the passion of a born practitioner.

Voice of the People:-

At the same time, the President is the, voice of the people; the leading formulator and expounder of public opinion in the United States. While he acts as a political leader of some, he serves as spokesman for all. Woodrow Wilson, well before he could become the President, explained the essence of this role.

He (President) is the only national voice in affairs. Let him once win the administration and confidence of the country, and no other single force can withstand him, no combination of forces will easily overpower him. His position takes the imagination of the country. He is the representative of no constituency, but of the whole people.

When he speaks in his true character, he speaks for no special interest. If he rightly interprets the national thought and boldly insists upon it, he is irresistible; and the country never feels the zest for action so much as when its President is of such insight and caliber. Its instinct is for unified action and it craves for a single fencer.

The President is the head of the State and the personal spokesman of the people, even of those who voted against him and who still oppose him, Former President Truman in a TV-radio interview with Edward R. Munrow in 1958, graphically described the President as lobbyist for all the people.

In his address to Democratic National Convention; which nominated him to be the Party’s presidential candidate for the second term, Jimmy Carter described the President as the steward of the nation’s destiny. He must protect our children and the children they will have and the children of generations to follow. He must speak and act for them. This is his burden and his glory.

As an administrator the President must faithfully administer the laws, no matter whether these laws were passed by Democratic or Republican majorities in Congress. As Commander-in Chef he represents the whole nation. He does not direct war for the benefit of any single party or class of people.

The rank and file of the people identify the President with the federal government, and even with the American way of life. The White House is one of the few national sacred buildings. The President embodies the nation and as well leads it, The people naturally look to him for guidance in all sort of matters. It is he who labors to make the United States a better and prosperous place to live in, Even in democracy the people need a leader.

They need Some One, who will personalize government and authority, who will simplify politics of the State, who will symbol the protective role of the state, who will seem to be concerned with them. The eyes of the while nation are, in fact, riveted towards its first citizen. There is a corps of astute journalists in Washington who President whatever he goes.

They are always after to catch even the most trivial phrase that falls from his lips at press Conferences, at fireside chats, or off-hand and spread it broadcast throughput the length and breadth of the country. His message to Congress (State, of the Union) stirs the, country and. it is the one great public document which is most,widely read and discussed, The President, wrote Woodrow Wilson just before his first inauguration, is expected by the Nation to be leader of his party as well as the Chief Executive Officer of the Government, and the country will take no excuses from him.

He must play the part and play if success fully or lose the country’s confidence. He must be Prime Minister, as much concerned with the guidance of Legislation as with the just and orderly execution of law, and he is the spokesman of the Nation in everything, even in the most momentous and most delicate dealings of the Government with foreign nations.

John F, Kennedy said, that the White House is not the center of political leadership. It must be the center of moral leadership a bully pulpit, as Theodore Roosevelt described it. For only the President represents the national interest. And upon him alone converge all the needs and aspirations of all parts of the country all departments of the government, all nations of the world.

In his farewell address to the nation on January 14, 1981, President. Jimmy Carter observed, The President is the only elected official charged with representing all the people. In the moments of decision, after the different and conflicting views have been aired, it is the President who then must speak to the nation and for the nation.

Head of the State:-

In an essay on British Government Ernest Barker described the monarch as a symbol of unity, a magnet of loyalty, and a center of ceremony. The President as head of the State serves the American people in the same capacity. Apart from the Chief Executive, the Constitution makers had expected him to perform, like the Monarch, what Bagchot called, the dignified functions. Today, the dignified functions of the President surpass the expectations of the Founding Fathers.

Throwing out the ball at the first base ball game, lighting the White House Christmas tree, sponsoring Easter egg rolling on the White House lawns, receiving monarchs and delegations of almost reverential school children, the President is a dignified embodiment of the nation in a nation where official dignity is scarce and the supply normally exceeds the demand.

The American people need such a symbol and it has been useful as a cement of national feeling. This symbolic character of the office of the President has strengthened its practical powers. Speaking of the President’s powers in general, Justice William O.Douglas of the Supreme Court said in a recent opinion, the great office of President is not a weak and powerless one, The President represents the people and is their spokesman in domestic and foreign affairs.

The office is respected more than any other in the land. It gives a position of leadership that is unique. The power to formulate policies and mould opinion inheres in the Presidency and Conditions our national life. Harold Lask: simply epitomizes the whole truth when he said, The President of the United States is both more Or less than a King; he is also both more or less than a Prime Minister.

The more carefully his Office is studied, the more does its unique character appear. His military role, his ceremonial functions, and his national responsibilities continue to make him a powerful chief of the State representing the whole nation.

Presidential Power: Peril or Promise:-

The issue of the powers of the President has echoed and re-echoed through the history of American nation. Writing about President An drew Jackson, Henry Clay said, we are in the midst of a revolution, hitherto bloodless, but rapidly leading towards a change of the pure republican character of the government and to the concentration of all power in the hands of one man. The problem has become more critical in the present century.

Amaury de Riencourt, writing under the caption. The Coming Caesars, says, In truth, no mental effort is required to understand that the President of the United States is the most powerful single human being-in the World today. Further crisis will inevitably trans form him into a full fledged Caesar, if we do not beware.

Today, he wears ten hats as Head of State, Chief Executive, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chief Legislator, Head of Party, Tribune of the people, Ultimate arbitrator of Social Justice, Guardian of Economic Prosperity, and World Leader of Western Civilization. Slowly and unobtrusively, these hats are becoming crowns and this pyramid of hats is slowly metamorphosing itself into a tiara the tiara of one man’s imperium.

John F. Kennedy, in his address, A Candidate’s View of Presidency, said, what ever the political affiliation of our next President, whatever his views may be on all the issues and problems that rush is upon us, he must above all be the Chief Executive in every sense of the word, He must be prepared to exercise the fullest powers of the office all that are specified and some that are not. He must master complex problems as well as receive one-page memorandum. He rust originate action as well as study groups. He must re-open the channels of communication between the world of thoughtful and the seal of power.

Kennedy’s comments on the Presidential office were a kind of counter-attack against the reaction President Eisenhower had represented against the Roosevelt-Truman era. Roosevelt fulfilled, he said, the role of moral leadership.

So-did Wilson and Lincoln, Truman and Jackson and Teddy Roosevelt. They led the people as well as-the Government they fought for great ideals as well as bills. And the time has come to demand that kind of leadership again. And so, as this vital campaign begins, let us , discuss the issues the next President will face but let us also discuss the powers and tools with which he must face them. For he must endow the office with extraordinary strength and vision.

Wars and emergencies, political and economic, are the main harbingers of Caesarism. In grave emergencies, leadership can never be collective and the people of United States are now living in an age of permanent emergency. The Government has to fight hot wars and wage cold wars, solve critical and explosive issues involving abuse of diplomatic communities as in the case of American hostages in Iran, prevent periodic trade and financial crises and create conditions of security in all avenues of the nation’s life.

The Government must also mitigate labor-management conflict, check monopolistic trends, vitalize the economy by removing roadblocks that slowed the economy and reduced productivity, provide decent housing, educational and health facilities and secure civil rights. President Carter maintained,

Today, we are asking our political system to do things of which the founding fathers never dreamed. The government they designed fora few hundred people now serves a nation of almost 230 million people. Their small coastal republic now spans beyond a continent, and we now have the responsibility to help lead much of the world through difficult times to a secure and prosperous future.

Such an immense increase in the efforts of the Government to achieve desirable results has literally forced a modern President to be what Woodrow Wilson called a big man. Amaury Reincourt succinctly said, Presidential power in America has grown as American power and expansion has grown, one developing within the other.

The big man as a symbol of power for good and evils has evoked varying responses. There are those who share the view that the Presidential power has increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished. They warmly supported the Twenty-Second Amendment to the Constitution which limited the President’s tenure to two terms in office.

this limitation they hoped that the vast expansion of executive power will not lead to dictatorship and the destruction of representative democracy. Corwin, on the other end, suggests that such fears of Presidential dictatorship or domination are exaggerated.

He notes the restraints on Presidential power that still exist. He reminds us that public opinion in the United States has strongly demanded vigor, Presidential leadership. Corwin, however, emphatically urges improved relationship between the President and Congress as a possible solution of the still inadequate status of the Presidency today.

Laski finds many hindrances to the exercise of effective Presidential leadership. Instead of fearing power, he maintains, that power, equal to the function the President has to perform, and suitably criticized and controlled, should be given to the Chief Executive.

Laski endorsed the views of the President’s (1937) Committee on Administrative Management which were, in general, shared by the Hoover Commission, supporting administrative reorganization in the interest of a strong, energetic, unified, efficient and responsible executive. Both the President’s Committee and the Hoover Commission agreed that the President must be given administrative authority commensurate with his constitutional responsibility.

The Presidency of the United States is, indeed, an office of great power. A number of factors, some historical and some institutional, have converged in modern times and have changed radically the character of the offices it was conceived by the framers of the Constitution. At the same time, the limits upon the Presidency are many and they have a way of exerting themselves even in the midst of grave crisis.

No Significant policy can be made effective without the approval of Congress, the law making and money appropriating body, and always jealous to assert its authority and independence. Congress also investigates, through its committees, the activities of the Executive Departments and their agencies. No unconstitutional action can escape the probity of the Supreme Court.

The opposing party, the free and active press, the permanent civil service, the governments of the fifty States and the giant corporations and labor unions, and universities, all these independent centers of power can frustrate any President who attempts to overstep the boundaries of his rightful authority.

Jimmy Carter maintained in his farewell address to the nation (January 14, 1981) This  is at once the most powerful office in the world and among the most severely constrained by law and custom. The President is given a broad responsibility to lead but cannot do so without the support and consent of the people, expressed formally through the Congress and informally through a whole range of public and private institutions.

Every President’s conscience, training and sense of history, remarks Clinton Rossiter have joined to halt him short of the kind of deed that would destroy his fame and his standing with the people.If he becomes so desperate to cross the boundary, he may meet the fate of Richard Nixon and make himself liable for impeachment, thought Nixon was saved by President Ford by giving him general pardon against all offenses during his tenure of office.

American Presidency, therefore has a promise that it is an instrument of constitutional government. And it is one of the two prides of the American people that no one of their Presidents has been a scoundrel or a tyrant. The second is the tradition of American democracy, personal liberty and moral behavior.

This is the real strength cf Presidency. Ronald Reagan had not met the fate of Richard Nixon, but the Iran gate scandal (arms for hastages deal) had a much more serious impact on America’s status as a major economic and political power than Water Gate did.

And what shocked most the Americans was that their President (Reagan) lied to the American public, that he played foul with some of its premier institutions, (for example Congrcss,) that he failed to meet those uniquely American standards of decency, morality and democracy. In short, Regan betrayed that mythic self-image of American exceptionalism.

Concluding his discussion on The Coming Caesars, Amaury de Riencourt says that the rise of Caesarism in America is considerably eased by a number of American features. The first is democratic equality, with its concomitant conformism and psychological socialization, which is more fully developed in the United States than it has ever been anywhere, at any time. The second important feature is that Caesarism can come to America constitutionally, without having to alter or break down any existing institution.

The White House is already the seat of the most powerful tribunician authority ever known to history. All it needs is amplification and extension. Caesarism in America does not have to challenge the Constitution as in Rome or engage in civil warfare and cross any fateful Rubicon. It can slip in quite naturally, discreetly, through constitutional channels.

Carl J. Friedrich says, indeed, two modem developments have brought with them a curb to presidential power as contrasted with Jackson’s days : one is the professional expert and administrator, and the other is the techniques of mass communication and of polls which has brought the citizen’s view into limelight.

The Water-gate revelations blurred President Nixon’s public image. There had also been revelations of wholesale falsehoods in regard to the bombing of Cambodia. By a vote of 71 to 18, the Senate approved a Bill on July 20, 1973 limiting the power of the President to commit the United States armed forces to future hostilities without firm Congressional approval.

Speaking on the Bill, Senator Jacob Javits, a Republican, angrily asked, What gives him the President the per-eminence and patriotism that is denied to us ? I do not understand it. He is human and mortal, as we are. If you had any doubt about it yesterday, you should not have it today.

What is the basis for the assumption that he is infallible and cannot make a mistake and that only we are capable of mistakes ? Nixon was on record saying that the American people were dike children and his opinion of their elected representative was not mere flattering. It had also been reported that Nixon based his actions on the theory that the President knew all the facts and he had the right to order burglary of the files of Dr. Daniel Ellsbergs, the psychiatrist. But what ultimately was Nixon’s fate?

A self-condemned person who brought Presidency to shame. No less was the contribution of his Vice-President, Spiro Agnew, to loss of faith by the people in the institution of the President. Agnew resigned in 1973, because of the kick charges. At that time he did not contest charges of evading $29,000 in income taxes, m April 1981 he was fined $250,000 to pay Maryland for accepting kickbacks while Governor of the State from 1967 to 1969.

The country’s reaction against Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan demonstrates that Americans do not want a President to become too powerful, to take too much authority to himself, to cut too many corners, to abuse the office, to ride roughshod over Congress. Yet the country certainly wants him to have ample power to cope with all emergencies, to be firmly in command of the sprawling bureaucracy really to run things.

In fact, Congress and the public push at the President new authority to handle new problems. Election results and opinion polls indicate that the voters also respond to a just, humane, decent person but one who can also be tough and ruthless when necessary. Time and again, an Alladi Stevenson (1952 Democratic candidate) or a George McGovern (1972 Democratic candidate) or even Jimmy Carter for the second term in 1980, is dismissed as too ace or too decent for the White House. The public seems to want a soft-heated but hard-nosed President, and that is a hard role to cast.

They want someone they can look up to and respect. Despite Ronald Reagan’s landslide victory in the 1980 Presidential election and even the Democrats voting with his economic policies especially to cut government spending, the publication poll (published by the New York Times in March 1982) showed the steady erosion of popular support for his domestic and foreign policy. It was found that only 45 percent Of those asked approved Reagan’s handling the job a President. The Hollywood style of conducting the state affairs the nation did not accept from the occupant of the White House and that too at the age of 70.

The John-Tower Edmund, Muskie Bent Scowropt review Board exonerated Reagan of any personal wrong-doing in the so-called Iran-gate scandal, in which arms were sought to be sold to Tehran in exchange for American hostages held in Iran and the funds from the arms sale got diverted to Contra rebels in Nicaragua, In a broadcast speech to the nation, President Ronald Reagan acknowledged that his once-secret Iranian initiative deteriorated, into an arms for hostages deal and said, it was a mistake and as President, I cannot escape responsibility.

The Iran-Contra affair has been the biggest crisis of the Reagan Presidency. But the political damage done to the Presidency cannot be repaired at any cost, though he had owned full responsibility for his own actions and for those of his administration and acknowledged

I’ve paid a price for my silence in terms of your (nation’s) trust and confidence.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations as well as a Master's degree in international security studies, alongside a passion for web development. During my studies, I gained a strong understanding of key political concepts, theories in international relations, security and strategic studies, as well as the tools and research methods used in these fields.

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