This is the most exciting US primary season I can remember. One reason for that, of course, is the closeness of the races—it’s only in the last week or so that John McCain has emerged as the Republican frontrunner, and the Democratic race still remains too close to call. But just as important has been the message of “change” that has resounded from all the leading campaigns. Barack Obama, of course, has led this charge, but the rhetoric of change from the Republicans has been almost as strong, as the candidates look to distance themselves from an increasingly unpopular president.
As Stephen Boyle explains in a web exclusive for Prospect, underlying this rhetoric is a myth of omnipotence—the idea that the president alone can effect great changes in the governing of the United States, that he or she can pursue a policy agenda unfettered by political circumstances. But this is untrue. The separation of powers built into the American system over two centuries ago means that a president can do very little alone; up against a hostile congress he or she will find it very difficult to get anything done at all. Unlike the British prime minister, he even needs to get approval for his cabinet. That is why the most important power of the presidency is the power to persuade; to bargain, negotiate and compromise with a congress that may or may not have a similar agenda.
This is not news, of course; presumably every American high school student has it drummed into them at an early age. But amid the hype of an exciting primary campaign, it’s easy to forget that no president ever has things entirely his own way.
Also this week: in the year that marks the 60th anniversary both of Gandhi’s assassination and of the founding of Israel, Salil Tripathi looks at Gandhi’s controversial suggestion that the Jews should have willingly submitted themselves to their ill treatment at the hands of their Nazi oppressors and asks if the philosophy of non-violence makes sense in the context of murderous dictatorship.