Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Most Powerful Office

Many former Presidents have written in memoirs that, while many who have never held the office marvel at the power, that power is constrained by all sorts of forces. Yet, if there is an individual who is willing to assert that power, those constraints can melt away. Consider the following anecdote about Harry Truman. The same day FDR died, after having been quickly sworn in, he was in the Oval Office, and said he was about to do something. A Presidential aide (not someone who had served Truman) said, "But the President wouldn't do that." Truman turned and looked at the aide and said, "The President just did." It really can be that simple.

In that light, I think it is important to consider not just the previous post, but Paul Krugman's column in yesterday's New York Times.
[W]ill the election also mark a turning point in the actual substance of policy? Can Barack Obama really usher in a new era of progressive policies? Yes, he can.

Right now, many commentators are urging Mr. Obama to think small. Some make the case on political grounds: America, they say, is still a conservative country, and voters will punish Democrats if they move to the left. Others say that the financial and economic crisis leaves no room for action on, say, health care reform.

Let’s hope that Mr. Obama has the good sense to ignore this advice.

I thought, sixteen years ago, that Pres. Clinton would be the kind of person who would assert the authority of the Office in the way Krugman is recommending here, and as Truman did. I did not think, at the time, that Clinton would be far too cautious in the face of conservative hysteria, and trim his sails to the prevailing right-wing winds.

Those days are over. The Democrats have clear majorities in both houses of Congress, and clear progressive majorities as well. The commentariat, for all its self-importance, might just need to take a good dose of STFU and notice that the times are a-changing. If Obama manages to insist, as Truman did, that the President will do what the President will do, and the pundits all moan and complain that he can't or shouldn't do that, no one will be happier than I am. Since, it seems, Obama understands not only the nature and depth of the problems we face, but is surrounded by people who are not bound by conventional wisdom in their pursuit of a solution, I think we are already on the right track.

Let us hope that Obama manages to do what needs to be done, not only showing political courage, but displaying the power inherent in the Office he will hold as of noon on January 20, 2009.

Virtual Tin Cup

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