American Politics and Government

Part One: The Limits to Presidential Power and the Importance of the Presidency’s Informal Powers

The Limits to Presidential Power

Throughout history American politicians have engaged in endless debates regarding the scope of presidential power. President Bush’s administration, for instance, talked of the unilateral powers of the executive arms of the government including that of the president as extremely assertive. From Bush’s administration to President Obama’s government, it is now clear that the intellectual seeds of presidential power will continue to be an issue in America despite the continuous struggle by the government officials and high court judges to prevent the perennial challenges of these powers. The limits to the doctrine of presidential power in America revolve around Justice Jackson’s eminent view in “Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. V. Sawyer (Steel Seizure Case)”.

Justice Jackson is his judgment held the view that the Constitution should make it possible for the legislative and executive powers to be mixed and shared across all the governing councils. By mixing and sharing the legislative and executive powers, Jackson meant that presidential power should not remain fixed but fluctuate based on its incoherence or coherence with powers of the Congress. The type of association that exists between the three arms of the government and the limits to presidential power can only be explained using the famous Justice Jackson’s tripartite framework, which states that: “In situations where the presidential actions are explicitly authorized by the Congress, the president’s power is at its maximum;” “In situations where the Congress is silent, the president may depend on his or her own independent powers but only to a point where the power distribution is uncertain” and “In case the presidential actions are contrary to the implicit decisions or views of the Congress, the power of the president must be considered to be at its lowest ebb”. Based on the second category, one may argue that even though Americans still experience implied presidential authority following congressional indecision or inaction, the actions of the president must find support from a majority of the court. This according to political analysts means that the “Vesting Clause” can never be used as an autonomous source, especially when explaining presidential power and supremacies of other arms of the government. For the third category, political analysts believe on the robust presupposition of the Congress particularly when there is a conflict between the implementation of congressional and presidential powers.

From the information provided by Justice Jackson, we realize the power of American president is limited by systems of checks and balances spelt in the US Constitution. The addition of systems of checks and balances were added to the US Constitution after the Congress realized that the executive branch of the government was growing too powerful. The legislative and judicial divisions of the government are vested with specific powers to prevent the president from engaging in extra judicial decisions. The legislative branch of the government can, for example, supersede presidential supremacy with a “two-thirds vote”. In the US, the legislators are accountable for budgeting and this means that they can limit presidential actions by controlling the flow of funds and other resources. It is also possible that with a two-thirds vote, the legislative branch of the government can remove the president from power for wrongdoing. The Constitution demands that the president must seek for the approval of the Congress before endorsing treaties or deciding to declare war on foreign countries. Moreover, every decision made by the president during the appointment of new Supreme Court judges has to be approved by the Congress. Similarly, the US Constitution denies president the power to remove from office judges once they have been appointed and approved by the Congress. If the presidential action or decision is called into question by the Congress, the Supreme Court may decide to annul such action or decision.

The Importance of the Presidency’s Informal Powers

Alongside the formal powers given to the American president by the Constitution, the functions of the president also find support from non-constitutional informal powers. The informal powers of the president allow him or her to perform certain roles that include passing legislative agenda, giving and taking executive orders, sending out army officials to war without congressional declaration, engaging in overseas policy initiatives, among other roles (Metcalf 662). Even though the presidential powers are not spelt out in the US Constitution, they seem similar to the constitutional powers of the Congress since the president is allowed to apply these powers when the country is experiencing unique challenges or circumstances. Unlike the formal powers that are used more often by the president and other members of the executive, the informal powers are rarely used because they are inferred from the current constitution.

Since 1933 to the modern American presidency, presidential powers have increased considerably from the initial office functions to the expanding informal powers. During the Roosevelt’s Administration, for instance, informal powers were considered important because they marked a new era of the “New Deal Legislation”. With this legislation, the US experienced significant growth in its federal bureaucracies, and this made the president to be more active in all the legislative functions. Research conducted in the past had shown that before the introduction of the informal powers, the president played very little role and did not have influence over legislative processes. Although the informal power gives the president the authority to participate in legislative processes, it does not grant the president direct powers to participate in the creation of laws. However, the office of the president can have greater influence over the law making process. Another US president who benefited greatly from informal powers was Abraham Lincoln. During civil war, Abraham Lincoln indicated that his actions were fundamental to the preservation of the union. Just like the case of Roosevelt Administration, informal powers transformed the US presidency and made it possible to both the president and other members of the executive to remain active in legislative processes. The president can equally take part in domestic and foreign policy development, legislative processes, and get closer to the people of America through mass media, internet, radio, and television.

The changes in presidential powers and roles act as clear evidences that the American nature of presidency has advanced throughout history from excessive power to limited roles. Although the limitations to presidential power are meant to ensure that the president is not too powerful or able to misuse some of his/her powers, there are those people who argue that it is always more beneficial for the president to be strong than weak. While reducing the powers of the president and members of the executive branch, the framers of the Constitution did not have the goals of weakening the presidency but rather aimed at creating a government where the three branches or the government can share power and roles. The few details about the president and his powers were only meant to make the executive stronger so that the country could deal very easily with emergencies such as those involving the development and execution of foreign policies.

Do the limits to power make the presidency weak or strong? The first opinion held by American leaders and members of the public is that the powers given to the president by the Constitution are few and limited. According to these groups of individuals, the president should be allowed to do more than only follow the rules of the Congress or words of the Constitution. This does not, however, mean that these individuals believe that the US president is weak but rather that the actions of the president are under strict restriction of the Constitution. There are those individuals who hold the belief that the US Constitution has given the president adequate powers to be strong leader. The fact that the Constitution explains the exact powers and roles of the president does not mean that the president is denied the opportunity to acts in ways not mentioned in the Constitution. As a matter of fact, the president has both the formal and informal powers to make decisions or implement policies that contribute to national development. It is true that the Constitution has given president enormous powers than the framers ever thought. It is also true that scholars who voted in favor of a strong presidency now think that the Constitution should be amended so that the president and the executive can have more or less equal roles and power.

Part Two: Opinions of Americans about Politics and Public Affairs

The Two Basic Types of Opinions

Public opinion is defined as the view of a citizen regarding politics and actions or roles of the government. Public opinion is fundamental in all political forums because it helps identify actions that drive political decisions, helps members of the public in explaining the behaviors of politicians, and helps citizens to understand the reasons for engaging is specific policies. Even though the majority of Americans hold minor interests in politics and public affairs, the important assumption of democracy is that members of the public have fundamental ideas regarding the exact things they want from the government. The opinions of American citizens, however, appear to have greater political consequences on government operations. For instance, when only a few Americans stood in support of war on Iraq, the US government experienced significant decline in the number of politicians who remained in support of the war in Iraq. It is a common knowledge that the opinions of members of the public shape the voting decisions as most Americans were seen to vote for those candidates who did not support war in Iraq.

The opinions of Americans about politics and public affairs can be categorized into two: “power-based” and “value-based”. Although these opinions are not mutually exclusive, they have unique characteristics of their own that define the nature of politics as well, as tone definition in writing. In the context of “power-based”, Americans have the belief that politics is all about showing the intrinsic force of one party on other parties. This opinion reveals the inexistence of ethical profession associated with politics and the kind of power struggle that may arise in the wake of political party attack. One example of power-based opinion include the view of the public concerning the September 11th 2001 terror attack that caused fear and panic in the minds of most Americans. Political analysts believe that the September attacks were very much reactionary and not discriminatory in nature. This could be due to the fact that the terrorists chose to use violence to fulfil their goals instead of following democratic processes including diplomacy. “Value-based” opinion appears different in the sense that it demonstrates personal adherence to key ethical values and political standards. For most Americans, value-based opinions have close connections with mainstream public relation since it seeks proper engagement of all political parties and members of the public. After the September 2001 terror attack, the US government did not engage in illegal retaliatory attacks but rather took several days following the attack to identify the real perpetrators.

Apart from the two types of public opinions, other theorists argue that “liberal-conservative ideology” and “latent opinion” are the two common types of public opinions that define the decisions made by citizens. Individuals with liberal conservative ideologies believe that political positions run from liberal to conservative and that all the citizens exist within this ideological range. Latent opinions, however, are spontaneous and often formed on the spot. Those individuals who form their opinions on the spot believe on personal considerations and other relevant pieces of information, especially the views presented by politicians.

Factors Influencing the Formation of Power-Based and Value-Based Opinions

Researchers hold the common view that every view is influenced by one or all of the following factors: socializing with families and communities public events group identities and politicians and other players in the political forums. From the concept of political socialization, theorists hold the view that the opinions of citizens are affected by the things they learn from their parents and surrounding communities. For instance, there are higher chances that party identification in the US is influenced by “liberal-conservative ideology” that is presented to individuals by either their parents or other members of the community. Regarding political events, it is now a common knowledge that members of the public will always revise their opinions depending on their political experiences. Political realignment, for instance, is a perfect example for this factor. Out of frustration, members of the public may decide to shift from one party to another or may dissociate themselves from the practices of their original political parties.

Another factor that may affect public opinion is group identity or different social categories including gender, level of education, ethnicity, race, and social class. We should understand that most people learn politics from their friends or individuals around them. Moreover, most individuals rely on the information presented by other like-minded individuals when making political decisions. It, therefore, follows that by influencing the source of information, there may be significant changes on the opinions and decisions made by citizens. It is also arguable that politicians and political consultants who formulate and make group decisions stand a between chance of influencing the political views of members of the public than those politicians who believe on individual decisions. Apart from group identities, political agents such as political parties, party leaders, political brokers, and political strategies play bigger roles in shaping the opinions of citizens. The main objective of these political actors is to gain support for their proposals and also to ensure that their preferred candidates carry the day.

In order to understand the factors influencing public opinion, it is necessary to determine the characteristics of public opinions of Americans and what the government does to meet the expectations of citizens. The first characteristic that makes public opinion dependent on the actions of politicians and views of other citizens is that of ideological polarization. Based on this effect, it appears that members of the public are always triggered to move from moderate positions to strong political ends with the aims of identifying their political positions as either liberal or conservative. Despite the strong ideological polarization existing in public opinions, most Americans take the position of moderate political players. Another characteristic revolves around the evaluation of the roles of politicians and other officeholder. In this regard, it becomes necessary to consider the views of people towards the government based on the actuals performances of office bearers. Researchers argue that citizen’s evaluation of the government policies influence his or her enthusiasm to vote for an incumbent politician. Current political trends in the US show significant reductions in levels of trust since 1960s and this prevents incumbent candidates from enacting new policies particular those that require huge capital investment.

Public Opinion versus Healthy Democracy in America

Public opinion is relevant to a healthy democracy in American. In the modern societies, the “voice of the people” is the foundation of all legislations and policies. Although this assumption is true and prevalent in most societies including those governed by authoritative leaders, public opinion seems to score highly in democratic nations. In American society, for instance, one role of public opinion is to aid in public policymaking. Current pieces of evidences consider public opinion as one of the democratic processes that can be followed when presenting views the needs of citizens to political leaders who make policies and decisions that affect all members of the society. It is equally important for all political leaders to monitor the response of members of the public response when formulating policies or when making decisions that are likely to affect the lives of citizens.

Discussions about the connections between public opinion and policymaking vary greatly. For some scholars and political analysts, the making of a public policy needs to be guided by public opinions as a means of respecting the will of citizens. There scholars and political analysts believe that public opinion polls can be used as the best procedure of making sure that politicians are able to respond to the democratic needs of members of the public. However, there are those individuals who believe that the government should not seek the opinion of members of the public when making decisions. For this group of thinkers, members of the public have little knowledge concerning political issues and most of the opinions collected through polls may not be well-researched or reasoned. The individuals opposing public opinion believe that it is better for politicians to seek the views and remain guided by the sound arguments presented by policy experts than to seek for the views of members of the public. In other words, the decision making process should not entirely depend on the outcomes of a popular will, but should focus on the real issues affecting all members of the society equally.

When it comes to public judgment, public views as presented by polls are the only quickest way to measuring individual satisfaction with government functions. Contrary to the second argument about the necessity of public opinion, our thoughts must remain guided by the fact that citizens have their democratic rights to engage decision making processes through the popular votes. This, however, does not mean that citizens must have good knowledge about a politician or the government. Opinions given by citizens deal with challenges and abstract ideas that the majority of people have never thought much about.

Overall, public opinion is a fundamental concept in democratic nations because it guides the process of policy development and decision-making. Although there are disagreements regarding the degree to which politicians should accept the views of members of the public, the majority of researchers and political experts believe that members of the public play significant roles in determining the success of political leaders. Therefore, through deliberate polling, citizens find opportunity to get more informed about political issues, suggest policy directions, and propose ways that can be followed to improve policy outcomes. Instead of criticizing the roles of citizens when it comes to political governance, leaders should promote the democratic rights of members of the public so that they can participate in policy creation and decision-making processes.