Thursday, September 10, 2009

Obama for King!

The recent unfortunate outburst by the Congressman Wilson has brought renewed attention to the things that divide us as Americans, but it least highlights one issue on which we should all, as Americans, agree: the United States must become a monarchy.

Allow me to explain. United States differs from the great majority of democracies in having a presidential system. The President is both the head of state and a partisan politician. This creates an inevitable tension.

The head of state represents all Americans. He stands for all of us when he greets foreign leaders, presides over national ceremonies, issues proclamations of national thanksgiving and mourning, and lights the national Christmas tree. As he is the representative of all Americans, he should be revered by all Americans.

But he is also a practicing politician. He must take a side on the most contentious political and moral issues of the day. As they are contentious, in taking a position he must represent only some Americas. In saying that some Americans are right he must say that some are wrong. To do his job he must tell a great many, perhaps even a majority of Americans, that what they deeply believe is wrong. Indeed, he must often tell them that their interests are opposed to that of all Americans. He must tell them that the people they are following are misleading them, that they are liars.

And when he is in his role of practicing politician, telling a good portion of his fellow Americans that their most deeply held convictions are false and injurious, it is only natural that those Americans should not revere him. It is only reasonable to expect them to dislike him, be angry, to want to tell him that he is wrong, and that he is the liar.

A head of state is rightly revered; a head of government is rightly reviled. Combining the two roles in one person leads to problems.

Separating the jobs of head of state and partisan political leader would solve this problem. There would be a unifying figurehead leader to whom all showed deference and in return said nothing very important, and a scrappy partisan arguer who could call his opponents fools and worse and could be answered in kind.

Many people have commented on the trend toward incivility in our politics that has culminated in Mr. Wilson's rude outburst. But there has been a trend even more deadly to democratic politics, something I call hyper-civility. Standing in the well of Congress the president's role as head of state is the most salient. As our head of state we have to applaud for him. This dreary necessity of applauding for everything the head of state says has gotten more and more onerous over the last few decades. Listen to FDR's address on the bombing of Pearl Harbor or Winston Churchill's speech to Congress. The applause spontaneously breaks out at a couple points in the speeches but is mainly held till the end.

Today we politicians seem to be obliged to applaud every other sentence. The more vacuous the platitude the greater the obligation to stand and clap or risk being called unpatriotic. If the President mouths some inanity about “the future of America’s children,” everyone must stand and applaud, since who could be against the future of America’s children. The applause signifies nothing but compliance with the ritual.

And the ritual is boring. In Great Britain the shouts of approval are just as ritualized and meaningless. But in Great Britain the Prime Minister is merely another politician, so the ritualized shouts of support can be, without loss of decorum, answered with hoots of derision. No one is accused of being disloyal or petty for standing up for his beliefs, let alone for refusing to stand up for one’s opponents. They are professional politicians who have devoted their lives to fighting for something. They suffer no criticism for acting like it.

A return to monarchy would solve all of these problems and confer many new benefits. The elected president would be free to be a practicing politician. He could come out and say his opponents are lying without having to go through all of the "let us work together as Americans" wind up in his opponents could answer in kind. It is likely to be more informative and certain to be more entertaining.

As for the monarch, the benefits of having a queen or king are myriad. Tourists love royalty. So do magazines and journalists. We could all enjoy the next good sex scandal without having to worry about interrupting the operation of government as it did during the Clinton years. And it would be a great tourist attraction.

Obama would be perfect. True he would have to give up some power, but he's shown precious little interest in the actual details of legislation or in serious policy debate. Whenever he has gone off teleprompter in the health care debate he has resembled nothing so much as an undergrad called on in a class discussion for which he has neglected to do the readings. They have ranged from dubious and out of date—doctors skipping preventive care because amputations and tonsillectomies pay better—to just plain weird—red pill/blue pill? Even with the teleprompter there have been a few slip ups. The uninsured seem to have gone from 47 million to 30 million over night and without explanation—One might almost wonder if the previous figure weren’t, well, a lie.

On the other hand his talent for giving speeches is universally acknowledged.

Reading speeches from a teleprompter full of platitudes that delight foreigners—now there's a job for which we can all agree Obama is perfect.


Molly K said...

Loving it. I was on this mental track back in Comparative Politics! Never did understand why we have the Presidential System...

Anonymous said...

Good point, though sometimes it's hard to arrive to definite conclusions

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