The Presider vs The Decider

By Ben Cohen

Andrew Sullivan contrasts Bush and Obama’s presidential style:

At times, Bush’s indifference to the system around him bordered on a

kind of political autism. And so one of the oddest aspects of Bush’s

presidency was his tendency to declare things as if merely saying them

as president could make them so. The model was clear and dramatically

intensified by wartime: the president pronounced; Congress anemically

responded; the base rallied. At the start, it felt like magic, but as

reality slipped through the fast-eroding firewall of reckless spending

and military misadventure, Bush’s authority disappeared all the more

quickly – because his so-certain predictions were so obviously wrong.

The Decider had no response to this. He just had to keep deciding and

asserting, to less and less effect, that he was right all along. Hence

the excruciating final months. Within a democratic system, we had

replicated all the comedy and tragedy of cocooned authoritarianism.

Now look at Obama. What the critics misread in his Inaugural was its

classical structure. He was not running any more. He was presiding. His

job was not to rally vast crowds, but to set the scene for the broader

constitutional tableau to come to life. Hence the obvious shock of some

Republican Congressman at debating with a president who seemed

interested in actual conversation, aas opposed to pure politics. Last

Tuesday, there were none of the bold declarative predictions of the

Second Bush Inaugural – and none of the slightly creepy Decider

idolatry. Yes, Obama set some very clear directional goals, but the key

difference is what came next: a window of invitation. The invitation is

to the other co-equal branches of government to play their part; and

for the citizenry to play its. This is an understanding of the

president as one node in a constitutional order – not a near-dictator

outside and superior to other branches of government. It is a return to

traditional constitutional order. And it is rooted in a traditional,

small-c conservative understanding of the presidency.

Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.