Politics Is About Much More Than the Presidency

In the third Republican presidential debate of the election, viewers were treated to an array of mostly men, and one formidable woman, telling us how they could improve the lives of Americans. Mike Huckabee, quite modestly, declared that he wanted to pretty much end disease as we know it. Ted Cruz said he wanted to abolish the Federal Reserve and return us to the gold standard. Carly Fiorina said she wanted to do away with the 70,000 page tax code and replace it with just the three pages.

To be clear, none of these things is going to happen.

But it was an entertaining debate to watch! There were some interesting ideas, many bad ideas, and lots of characters. Even without the notably high-profile Trump and the moonshot candidacy of the improbable Dr. Ben Carson, the individuals on the debate stage are, with a few exceptions, compelling and impressive figures who are making bold claims and proposals; sometimes, they’re just outright lying.

The pomp, drama and celebrity make it all seem very important. And of course, the presidency is very important, and we should take the election seriously. But the attention that our presidential elections draw is to the detriment of the rest of our political process.

The presidency is the most powerful political office, and the person who holds it wields a great deal of influence. But the most powerful branch of government is the legislature, which has the power to make law. Congress may not always do its job very well, and it may be faced with such gridlock that the balance of power shifts to the executive branch and the judiciary. But the Court and the President are meant to interpret and carry out, respectively, the will of the elected senators and representatives.

And as it stands, a majority in the House of Representatives is completely out of reach for a while to come, in part due to the redistricting following the 2010 election, and in part due to the way Republican and Democratic voters are distributed geographically. While the Senate is more debatably up for grabs, the best Democrats can hope for is a split Congress.

Of course, the sunny side of this gloomy observation for Democrats is that even many conservative commentators are predicting that a Democrat will succeed President Obama in the White House. The reasons for this are relatively well-known: Democrats’ success with minorities, the growing youth cohort, and widespread suspicion of Republican ties with business interests. Nothing is foretold in the stars, but it’s easy to imagine a clear path for Hillary Clinton to take to the White House. She probably still has the keys.

But despite a laundry list of liberal dream policies extolled at the Democratic presidential debate, including free college, paid parental leave, higher taxes on the rich, tough regulation on the financial industry, fighting climate change, and protecting voting rights, it’s difficult to see how a President Hillary Clinton or even a President Sanders has much of a chance of passing legislation. A Democratic president taking the oath of office in 2017 will have much more opposition in the legislature than Obama did in his first two years, and even then passing significant reforms was a heavy lift.

On other hand, a President Rubio or Cruz would have impressive power to pass new legislation, as long as they keep their majorities in Congress. Unless Democrats win back control of the Senate in 2016, a Republican in the White House could potentially have carte blanche to operate a conservative federal government.

And as some pundits have warned, Democrats seem utterly unworried to address their systemic disadvantages in non-presidential races. In addition to their dominance in Congress, Republicans also hold strong majorities in governorships and in state-level legislatures.

These elections, in which liberals are chronically unsuccessful, have important consequences. Particularly important for many Democrats is the extent to which state-level initiatives have sought to drastically limit access to abortion. Though Republicans have not succeeded in their recent push to federally defund Planned Parenthood, the conservative strategy to chip away at access to abortion is working at a granular level to restrict women’s healthcare decisions.

The Democratic Party is partially to blame for failing to adopt a strategy to fight these electoral imbalances. But a large part of what makes it so difficult is that many people just do not pay much attention to state and local politics. The spectacle of presidential races drains most of the energy people have allocating for paying attention to politics.

Journalists and the media, myself included, bear some responsibility for this, as they too focus on presidential elections more than legislative elections. But journalists write what about the things their audience finds interesting, and they can’t force the population to care about other topics. And as long as presidential politics stay so interesting, it’s unlikely that these dynamics will change.

Photo Credit: Marc Nozell

159 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven3 years ago

thanks for the article.

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Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown3 years ago

Thus endeth the lesson.

I AM A PROFESSIONAL HISTORIAN, you nitwit and I am tired of talking with a FOOL.

Therefore I invoke the power of the great Goddess Ignora upon you and will look upon your foolishness no more.

Goodby, stupid little man, enjoy living your life in ignorance and stupidity!

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Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown3 years ago

". . . if any one chooses to build a doctrine on any law of that period, supposed to have been lost, it is incumbent on him to prove it to have existed, and what were its contents. These were so far alterations of the common law, and became themselves a part of it. But none of these adopt Christianity as a part of the common law. If, therefore, from the settlement of the Saxons to the introduction of Christianity among them, that system of religion could not be a part of the common law, because they were not yet Christians, and if, having their laws from that period to the close of the common law, we are all able to find among them no such act of adoption, we may safely affirm (though contradicted by all the judges and writers on earth) that Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law."

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Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown3 years ago

But one of our principle Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson, elaborated about the history of common law in his letter to Thomas Cooper on February 10, 1814:

"For we know that the common law is that system of law which was introduced by the Saxons on their settlement in England, and altered from time to time by proper legislative authority from that time to the date of Magna Charta, which terminates the period of the common law. . . This settlement took place about the middle of the fifth century. But Christianity was not introduced till the seventh century; the conversion of the first christian king of the Heptarchy having taken place about the year 598, and that of the last about 686. Here then, was a space of two hundred years, during which the common law was in existence, and Christianity no part of it."

Cont.

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Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown3 years ago

I am sorry to you are so stupid and a zealot who refuses to recognize clear historical facts when they are presented to you.

You can keep sticking your fingers in your ears and screaming "la, la, la, la, we are a christian nation because I really want us to be a christian nation" until the cows come home.

It does not change the fact that we are a secular nation, always have been, always will be.

The text of the Constitution makes no reference to God, Christ, Christianity or the Bible. It states no religious purposes or rationales. It is a God-less document, not in the sense that it is opposed to or inconsistent with religious principles, but in that it makes no appeals to religion-based doctrines or principles.

The only substantive mention of religion is Article 6 Clause 3, in which the Constitution prohibits any religious test for holding public office.

You are simply a zealot, who refuses to recognize the clear proof of history, so crawl back in your right wing bubble of lies. I have presented you with the historical truth, but like a true right wing demagogue, the truth is immaterial to you.

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Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown3 years ago

"The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature. . . . [In] the formation of the American governments . . . it will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of heaven. . . . These governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses."

John Adams, in "A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America" (1787-1788)

http://www.wallofseparation.us/christian-national-mythology/

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Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown3 years ago

"Strongly guarded...is the separation between religion and government in the Constitution of the United States." and "[T]he number, the industry and the morality of the priesthood, and the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the church and state."

James Madison, in an undated essay (probably early 1800s) and an 1819 letter.

http://www.wallofseparation.us/christian-national-mythology/

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Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown3 years ago

"Finally, the Constitution refers to the year that the Convention created the document as "the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven." Some have argued that the use of the term "Lord" in this way is indicative of something, but it is indicative of nothing more than a standard way of referring to years in that time period."

http://www.usconstitution.net/consttop_reli.html

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Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown3 years ago

Please David, stop trying to do history. You are not qualified!

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