Who is president, or rather who really makes the decisions?

Published 2:11 pm Thursday, May 31, 2007

George Washington was our first president, and by all accounts that I have read, he really was the one making the decisions in his administration though he had a bevy of advisors on whom he relied for advice.

In fact, all of the presidents who grew out of the American Revolution apparently were the decision makers in their administrations. Since that time, a close reading of history makes determining who is making the decisions in some administrations a little problematical.

What has brought this to mind is the hint today that actor and former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson may soon throw his hat into the ring, apparently being lured there by the extreme fringe of the Republican Party because of his political stances on issues close to the hearts of the ultra-conservatives.

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Actually, the whole field of candidates in both parties, with a few rare exceptions, has to have one wondering who would really be making the decisions — and not just signing off on decisions made by others — if any one of them were elected.

Notably on the Democratic side are John Edwards and Bill Richardson who appear as people who are more likely to make their own decisions, with advice, of course. On the Republican side, there is Rudy Giuliani. Beyond those three, I don’t see any really potentially strong decision makers, and only Giuliani appears to be in the top tier of candidates at the present time.

The current president appears to be one who notably either allows others to make decisions on which he signs off or is very, very heavily influenced by advisers. As an example, look at how long he allowed Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney and cadre to run the war in Iraq. Cheney probably still has more influence there than the president himself.

George W. Bush is far from the only president whose major decisions appear to be more the decisions of so-called advisers. Ronald Reagan, the hero of the Republican right, is another recent example where most decisions appeared to be made by others.

Love him or hate him, Bill Clinton obviously was in charge of his presidency, as was the first President George Bush and most especially Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson. Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford and John Kennedy also appear to have made at least most of the presidential decisions, both good and bad, in their administrations.

Without Watergate, Richard Nixon probably would rank as one of our better presidents with the opening of China and the ending of the Vietnam War. Our other worst presidents, though, appear to have been either inept or lazy or incurious.

Warren G. Harding, probably the most famous failed president prior to Nixon, obviously left decisions, very critical ones, to others whose greed destroyed his presidency.

What will we get next? Will we get a president who knows his or her own mind on things other than simple-minded single issues that have become lightning rods, issues such as gun control, stem cell research and abortion? Or will we get a president who understands the substantive issues related to running the country and the survival of this nation and the overall well-being of its people?

Given how special interests and lobbyists have so taken over our political process, I am not optimistic. Thompson’s great draw for the Republicans is where he takes his stand on the lightning rod issues, a stand in lockstep with the extreme religious right. Mitt Romney and John McCain have sanctimoniously asserted that they are born-again conservatives whose stances now support the extreme right on the lightning-rod issues in an effort to convince those power brokers that they will let the extremes make the decision on those issues.

The great draw for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama is that they espouse stances on the lightning rod issues in lockstep with the ultra-liberals in the Democratic Party

I think that the stances of all of these so-called top-tier candidates on the extreme fringes of their political parties show who will be making the decisions should one of them be elected president, and it’s not the people who are seeking to be president.

With the extremes apparently in control of both parties, there doesn’t seem to be much room left for the rest of us who simply want government to be effective and well-run on the important issues of nationhood.

The record of the current president, though, shows how important it is that we elect someone who will handle the everyday issues of running and preserving a nation with greater care than the current one. A few sops thrown to the extremes is something we will always have to put up with, and which we have always had to put up with.

The extremes shouldn’t be the focus of a president, or of Congress or of the judiciary or of any other aspect of government. The problem is how do we extricate these parties from the messes into which they have allowed themselves to be led, where the extremes are making the real decisions of government and not the president and the other elected representatives.