Last September, we published a post about how, under the Constitution, presidents don’t have individual control over the economy, and that economic improvement requires the assistance of Congress. We noted that many voters seem to be under the mistaken impression that presidents control America’s direction themselves, in part because of the cult of personality that the media have built up around the office of the president. Sure enough, at President Barack Obama‘s press conference on the sequester last Friday (see video above), two “reporters” furthered this erroneous cult of the presidency. Here, from the press conference transcript, are their exchanges with President Obama:
Jessica [Yellin, Chief White House Correspondent, CNN].
Question: Mr. President, to your question, what could you do – first of all, couldn’t you just have them down here and refuse to let them leave the room until you have a deal? (Laughter.)
Obama: I mean, Jessica, I am not a dictator. I’m the President. So, ultimately, if Mitch McConnell or John Boehner say, we need to go to catch a plane, I can’t have Secret Service block the doorway, right? So –
Question: But isn’t that part of leadership? I’m sorry to interrupt, but isn’t –
Obama: I understand. And I know that this has been some of the conventional wisdom that’s been floating around Washington that somehow, even though most people agree that I’m being reasonable, that most people agree I’m presenting a fair deal, the fact that they don’t take it means that I should somehow do a Jedi mind-meld with these folks and convince them to do what’s right. Well, they’re elected. We have a constitutional system of government. The Speaker of the House and the leader of the Senate and all those folks have responsibilities.
What I can do is I can make the best possible case for why we need to do the right thing. I can speak to the American people about the consequences of the decisions that Congress is making or the lack of decision-making by Congress. But, ultimately, it’s a choice they make.
[Christi Parsons, White House Correspondent, Tribune Company:]
Question: And given the fact that you do hold that position about gay marriage, I wonder if you thought about just – once you made the decision to weigh in, why not just argue that marriage is a right that should be available to all people of this country?
Obama: Well, that’s an argument that I’ve made personally. The Solicitor General in his institutional role going before the Supreme Court is obliged to answer the specific question before them. And the specific question presented before the Court right now is whether Prop 8 and the California law is unconstitutional…. Now, the Court may decide that if it doesn’t apply in this case, it probably can’t apply in any case. There’s no good reason for it. If I were on the Court, that would probably be the view that I’d put forward. But I’m not a judge, I’m the President.
Perhaps the cult of the presidency is partly a result of the president’s ability to command the world stage at any time, and the proliferation of charismatic presidential candidates who win elections in the television age. But perhaps this cult of presidency is also a product of laziness on the part of the mainstream media. After all, it’s much easier to cover one president than it is to cover each of the dreary 535 members of Congress (and don’t forget those nine Supreme Court justices) who, as we must be reminded once again, largely control our lives.