Abolish the Presidency!
by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior EditorNow that president Clinton has been impeached and faces a trial in the U.S. Senate, the focus is on whether the Senate should convict the president and thereby remove him from the presidency. But there is a larger issue not being discussed, and that is the presidency itself. We are so used to there being a "president of the United States of America" that few question the institution. But a major part of the mess is the very nature of the presidency.
The whole concept of an elected "head of state" goes back to the king or queen as the sovereign. Americans in the latter 1700s realized the very concept of a hereditary monarch was unnecessary and did not serve their interest. But they did not think deeply enough about the concept of having a "head of state," so they just replaced the hereditary king with an elected king, later limiting the elected king to two four-year terms.
Concentrating so much power into one human being invites the kind of trouble we have seen with the current president. Presidents are subject to human weakness, craziness, and temptations. When this human being does something wrong or foolish, the whole country becomes alarmed, and it can become a national crisis. The very human predilection to loyalty can lead to lemming-like behavior, the president leading the whole country into an abyss of destruction.
Once upon a time, humanity lived in small bands and villages. There, a chief or head of council makes senses. Folks know him personally, and if he gets goofy, he is easily replaced. When that structure gets extended to an empire, then the whole concept of having a lord over the whole nation becomes dysfunctional.
It is far worse when they are dictators, but quite bad enough when they are elected. Indeed, the whole concept of millions of voters electing one man is absurd; we don't realize this only because it is so familiar, and folks tend to be conservative, emotionally attached to the institutions they have grown up in.
We do need one person at the top, but he need not be elected by all the people and needs to represent only the top council. In a parliamentary system, the prime minister is elected by parliament, and can be removed by parliament. The president could be elected by Congress and removed by Congress whenever the majority feels the president is no longer effective.
But this should not be the type of parliamentary system that many countries have today, where political parties often form unstable coalitions. The congress or parliament would itself not be directly elected by the people, but by lower level councils, which in turn are elected by councils, on down to small neighborhood councils representing about 500 people.
The president would then just be the head of the top council rather than claiming to directly represent all the people. The voters would be able to effectively contact their local representative, and those who wish to enter politics would find it easy to run for the local council.
The House of Representatives was right to impeach president Clinton, but not because of the charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, however serious these acts be. In my view what justifies the impeachment is the attack on Iraq, which was shamelessly exploited by those opposing impeachment. These Congressional members exclaimed that we should not impeach the president while our troops are fighting against the regime in Iraq. But American troops are in continuous danger also in Bosnia and Korea, and president Nixon resigned during the war in Vietnam. The very timing of the latest war in Iraq is suspicious, especially when that war was used as a call to delay impeachment.
In my view, the Senate should not convict the president. The charges on which the impeachment was based should be used to prosecute the president when he leaves office. There is just not enough public support for removing him from office, and if the president is removed, it should be for state-related crimes such as policy disasters, bribery, or gross violations of human rights.
But such decisions are outcomes of there being such a powerful position as an elected head of state. If the president were elected by Congress, Congress would be able to remove a bad leader as easily as a board of directors of a corporation can remove its chief executive officer. This removal should not be done lightly, but it need not be a divisive national trauma. We don't need this trouble, and we don't need a national president. We need instead a radical decentralization of power. We need a democracy on a human scale, not a regal scale.
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Copyright 1998 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.