Choosing a responsible president


Conducted by professors in politics at The King's College, Dr. David Corbin and Dr. Matthew Parks, The Federalist Today is a discussion of modern politics through the lens of the Federalist Papers. Each week, Corbin and Parks examine one of these historic papers, and contrast Federalist beliefs with those of modern Progressives in order to spark discussion on American politics and its current trajectory.

This article was originally published on an external website.

Note: This is part of a series of essays examining the prospects for electing a republicanpresident in 2016 and ultimately reining in the modern imperial presidency through the lens of Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist essays on the executive branch.

Despite the frantic, even comical, protestations of Democratic congressional candidates, President Obama is right: his “policies” are on the ballot tomorrow.

n that many people will be voting (or have already voted) as if the election were a referendum on the Obama presidency. But unfortunately this means less than it suggests. Ask yourself: How many of President Obama’s policies will change if Republicans win big? How many of his plans will be stymied?

We know he will make wholesale changes to the immigration system whatever the outcome. There are already reports of a deal with Iran designed to bypass the Senate’s treaty-making responsibilities. The trajectory of the war in Syria and Iraq seems to be completely independent of anything the Congress has said or will say–and it is hard to believe there is much that it will do. We can expect further executive action on climate change, Obamacare, and drug policy.

Of course, had President Obama maintained the strong Democratic House and Senate majorities of his first two years throughout his presidency or Mitt Romney won in 2012, things would certainly be different, but the apparent resilience of the president’s agenda in the face of what might be record midterm election losses should give us pause.

Why is this possible? Because in important ways, our system of government accountability has broken down.

The second volume of The Federalist (essays 37-85) is devoted to demonstrating the republicanism of the government framed by the Constitution. Since under our system, the people have no direct control over public policy (a great improvement over the distempered republics of the ancient world, Madison argues in essay 63), it is critical for its popular character (both real and perceived) that those who do shape policy are accountable for their stewardship of the people’s constitutional trust. Madison was confident that this was the case under the Constitution, but acknowledged in Federalist39 that “[i]f the plan of the convention. . . be found to depart from the republican character, its advocates must abandon it as no longer defensible.”

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