I had a conversation with a good friend of mine the other day regarding the effectiveness of various presidents in American history. As the conversation progressed we both concluded that history judges presidents unfairly both in praise and in failure. The reason is simple, we judge these men by what happened during their time in office – not necessarily because of anything they did or didn’t do.
Clinton is often looked at in a lime light because the economy was floating on a giant bubble when he was in office. Reagan was at the helm when the economy pulled out of the recession of the 70’s and he watched the Soviet Union fall. Still, those men had relatively little to do with those events if we’re honest. That is because the nature of the executive office disallows such sweeping feats. That fact, however, doesn’t keep them from boasting in their claims.
Presidents have a long history of taking credit for good fortune and proclaiming impotence in the bad. If the market skyrockets it was because of their tax cuts or stimulus package. If the market plummets then it was either the fault of the previous administration or outside of their control. We, the public, both gobble up the rhetoric and pass it on or we grumble about the lying coward in office. Either way, the fault lies in the politicians, not in us.
I disagree. It is in my nature to strip power from office holders and in this reflection I will stay true to that nature. No man made it to the White House without the support of the public. They didn’t inherit their office; we put them there and then demand them to play the part of king rather than executive. The entire campaign season is centered on impossible scenarios that begin with “What would you do to improve…”, when in fact there is little if anything that office can do alone.
When Israel came out of Egypt and became a nation, they were unlike all other nations – they had no king. Eventually the Israelites began to loathe their difference and demanded that Samuel set up a king so that they could be like everyone else. God told Samuel to let them have their king and added this:
“This will be the behavior of the king who will reign over you: He will take your sons and appoint them for his own chariots and to be his horsemen, and some will run before his chariots. He will appoint captains over his thousands and captains over his fifties, he will set some to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and some to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks, and bakers. And he will take the best of your fields, your vineyards, and your olive groves, and give them to his servants. He will take a tenth of your grain and your vintage, and give it to his officers and servants. And he will take your male servants, your female servants, your finest young men, and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take a tenth of your sheep. And you will be his servants. And you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the LORD will not hear you in that day.”
We are not unlike the Israelites today. We desire, for some reason, to have a king to rule over us. We continue to give our leader power, trust, revenue, and responsibility over us – to reign over us. When they come up for election we ask them what they will do for us, how they will solve complex problems beyond their control, how they will resolve issues that are outside of their handling. If they fail to answer these questions with some sense of adequacy, then they will fail to get our votes. Of course, they cannot do all that we ask of them, so the only people we are willing to elect are those who are willing to lie to us.
What if someone ran for President and said they would attempt to limit their influence in our lives, withdrawal their administration from economic affairs, and stay out of social problems and leave them to the people? They wouldn’t be given a chance. I liken it to a speed dating man sitting across from an overly romanticized woman and confessing that she will not be swept her off of her feet, her leg won’t lift when he kisses her, and fireworks will not go off when they touch. She will escape the realm of the realistic man and move down to the man who whispers sweet empty promises into her ear.
We have set ourselves up to be disenchanted by putting an impossible standard on a man and then bemoan our circumstance when he falls short. Instead of revising our standard, we replace him with someone who will offer loftier empty promises. They haven’t failed us, we have failed ourselves and created a system in which only the charade can reign.
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