I probably should have written this post awhile ago, but it might still be useful in the general election.
The coverage I’ve seen so far in the presidential race has been exactly backward.
This first struck me the other day during the Democratic debate in California. From scanning the CNN transcript, the topics covered were in the following order (roughly): mortgage crisis, health care, immigration, whether they’d run the country like a ceo, endorsements, political dynasties, Iraq, TV content, Bill Clinton, the composition of the Democratic ticket.
I also spotted this AP story on the elections in my local paper, the “Peoria Journal Star”, though I couldn’t find it on its web site. Alongside the story was a graphic on “Where they stand”. That listed the issues in this order: education, global warming, gun control, health insurance, Iraq, abortion rights, same-sex marriage, stem cell research.
These issue lists are okay, as far as they go.
But notice that the president can do virtually nothing about most of these issues without the Congress or the courts weighing in.
Why not focus on what the president can change on day one, by himself or herself, unilaterally?
Let’s remember what some of those issues are:
- The Iraq War
- The “War on Terrorism”
- Iran’s nuclear program
- Torture and extraordinary rendition
- Domestic spying
- Views on executive power and authority
- Restoring civil liberties like habeas corpus
- Contacting other nations about global environmental issues
- Supreme Court nominations
Pretty important stuff, wouldn’t you say? And again, this is something that a new president can do something about on day one!
I’m not saying the other issues aren’t important. They are, and I want to know what the candidates think. But anything they suggest will have many modifications before it becomes the law of the land.
I hope going forward that the current campaign coverage gets up-ended, so that we have more time spent on what a president could and would do all by himself or herself. There would still be plenty of time left over for other critical issues like universal health care.
By the way, I think Charlie Savage’s reporting on presidential signing statements has been great. As part of that work, he surveyed the candidates’ views on executive authority, here.