Everyone thinks that the President of the United States can, by himself, solve the problems of this country. If gas prices go up, people blame the President. If the economy is bad, people blame the President.
In fact, the President can do very little by himself. The President has no control over other powerful government institutions such as Congress, the Supreme Court and the Federal Reserve Board. To solve the big problems facing the US, the President must get both houses of the Congress and the Supreme Court to support his plans.
Limiting the power of the President was the goal of the men who wrote the Constitution. The writers did not want the President to be king. Since almost all of the writers were British, they knew that a powerful king could create big problems and the people of the country could not stop him. Some of the writers worried that George Washington was so popular that people might want to make him king. This is why the writers limited the power of the President.
The President has more power in the area of foreign affairs. He is the Commander in Chief of the armed forces. But in this area, the President does not have complete control. Only Congress has the power to declare war and Congress must agree to provide the money to support a war.
In an election, candidates for the Presidency must promise things that are beyond his power to deliver. No candidate could expect to be elected by talking about how little power the office actually has. So candidates promise great things but the winner does not actually have the power to keep those promises.
The goal of the Presidential campaigns is to embarrass the other candidate and win votes. This forces us to look for actions and hints to determine their actual positions. It is important to remember that candidates will say what they need to say to be elected, but even when they say what they mean, they will not always be able to meet their goals. The choice to do so simply isn’t up to them.
People — including leaders — all over the world still take the President’s power very seriously. They want to believe that someone is in control of what is happening. The thought that no one can control something as big and complex as the US is a frightening thought. The reality is, that while no one actually is in charge, the world is still predictable as long as you understand the forces guiding it. This is an uncomfortable and unacceptable idea to those who want to change the world.
In the end, the U.S. presidency was designed to limit the president’s power to rule. He can at most guide, and often he cannot even do that. Understanding the limits of the President allows us to keep our expectations more realistic.