American Elephants

The Office of the President of the United States of America. by The Elephant's Child

The office of the President of the United States has a long and complex history.  Over the past 220 years, it has been occupied by just 44 different men.  George Washington was the first and undoubtedly will remain the last to be elected unanimously.  He came to the office reluctantly.

He had been Commander-in-Chief long before he was elected President.  He was elected to that position by the Continental Congress in 1775 when he was forty-three years old.  There was not yet an army for him to command, only the militias surrounding Boston. And when he said he farewell to his troops in 1783, he was fifty-one. He had only a few years as a civilian before his country called upon him again.  His prudence and restraint set the country on a firm basis, and in his farewell address he said:

In the discharge of this trust, I will only say, that I have, with good intentions, contributed towards the organization and administration of the government the best exertions of which a very fallible judgment was capable. Not unconscious, in the outset, of the inferiority of my qualifications, experience in my own eyes, perhaps still more in the eyes of others, has strengthened the motives to diffidence of myself; and every day the increasing weight of years admonishes me more and more, that the shade of retirement is as necessary to me as it will be welcome. Satisfied that, if any circumstances have given peculiar value to my services, they were temporary, I have the consolation to believe, that while choice and prudence invite me to quit the political scene, patriotism does not forbid it.

The office of the presidency, with its obligations of duty and commitment, takes a toll on the men who temporarily occupy the position.  They owe a debt to those who have held the office before them, and to the history left to them by previous occupants. Treaties and alliances have been laboriously created, relations with other countries, whether in trade or good will, carefully nurtured.  A knowledge and awareness of that history is essential.

Thomas Jefferson said:

Most bad government has grown out of too much government.  [and]
Government big enough to supply everything you need is big enough to take everything you have…The course of history shows that as government grows, liberty decreases.

President James Polk remarked:

No President who performs his duties faithfully and conscientiously can have any leisure.

President Harry Truman:

I have tried my best to give the nation everything I had in me.  There are probably a million people who could have done the job better than I did, but I had the job, and I always quote an epitaph on a tombstone in a cemetery in Tombstone, Arizona.  “here lies Jack Williams, He done his damnest.”

Dwight Eisenhower said:

Throughout America’s adventure in free government, our basic purposes have been to keep the peace; to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty, dignity and integrity among people and among nations.  To strive for less would be unworthy of a free and religious people.  Any failure traceable to arrogance, or our lack of comprehension or readiness to sacrifice would inflict on us grievous hurt both at home and abroad.

Conservatives, independents, pundits and even many Democrats are trying to understand President Barack Obama.  There are so many questions.

He is clearly not the centrist that he portrayed during the campaign.  Is he a radical leftist? He has described himself as a communitarian, for whatever that is worth.

Barack Obama has never, we have been told, had much interest in history.  A knowledge of and respect for history are essential to the presidency. Without that you repeat the mistakes and failures of those who have gone before.  Depression, inflation, stagflation, debt, unpreparedness or trust in the wrong adversaries.  The demands of the office require humility, not hubris.

Nations have interests. Relations with other nations are not popularity contests.  Years of  carefully nurtured relationships based on fair dealing and fair trade are being discarded in the hope of deals with long-term antagonists who wish our destruction. Speeches, however charmingly delivered and meetings are unlikely to sway them from their purposes.

When a new president temporarily takes on the most important office in the world, he becomes the president of all Americans, not just the unions who supported his campaign.  He must suffer criticism and mockery in the understanding that it is the right of the American people and his role to bear it.

He takes on an obligation to preserve, protect and defend the nation.  The savings that represent the life’s work of its citizens cannot be spent wildly in some misguided attempt to achieve progressive goals that have been proven over and over not to work.  The American people, 38 percent, want the budget deficit cut in half in the next four years.  Only 23 percent think health care reform should be a top priority.

I just don’t think that Barack Obama understands the office of the presidency. Oh, he gets the prestige, and he clearly likes the perks and trappings, some of which he adopted before he was elected.  He keeps reminding us that “I won!” Yet he seems not to have understood the obligation, the duty, the sacrifice of the office and the weight of the burden that a president must bear. He and Michelle keep complaining about how hard he has to work.

There’s a lot more to it than being surrounded by admirers and sycophants attending to every need, than having AirForce One at one’s beck and call. I just don’t think he gets it.

(Reposted from 2009. Seemed appropriate in view of the debate tomorrow night)


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