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It’s Not the Knave; It’s the Expectations

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By Leslee Kulba- Drears. The airwaves are saturated with spin on the narcissists trying to be King of the United States. Brilliant talking heads speak of the immutable women’s vote. Men reason with their minds, but absent any brains, women feel with their uteruses, which are all magically synched in the voting booth. Who cares if Hillary is a pro-abortion tyrant running to the left of an avowed socialist on Mitt Romney’s platform of “I want to be president”? She’s a woman. At least Bernie isn’t mistaking himself for Deity.

Then, there’s Ben Carson. He’s up there so Republicans can convince themselves their absence of bigotry is as skin-deep as the Democrats’. Oh, he’s mild and gentle, but you have to go to his web site to find out what he intends to do about the $90 trillion debt (including unfunded liabilities). The skilled debate moderators have such a hard time getting around to him. But if the pundits wanted diversity, surely they would have fallen for that funny-looking Indian who converted to Catholicism. Bobby Jindahl got pushed off the scene early on.

Fox News likes the “establishment” guys. From the onset, they were praising the merits of Jeb Bush. They said he was the only candidate who could raise enough money to defeat Hillary. Who cares if he’s only known as the brother of the guy whom Democrats still blame for all Obama’s ills, the same guy liberty-loving Republicans say inspired them to leave the party because of increased entitlement spending, Homeland Security, and military adventurism? Unlike dropouts Scott Walker who was famous for standing up to powerful union bosses, or Rick Perry who tried to buck Obamacare – Bush is best known for supporting Common Core and un-Republican forms of immigration reform. He also comes from America’s favorite family, we are now learning, led by the beloved Silver Fox. Walker, by contrast, “wasn’t prepared;” Perry forgot the name of a department; and Rick Santorum, the only guy talking about the amoral hollowing out of the middle class, well, “It wasn’t his time.”

One guy who might give Bush a run for his money is John Kasich. He can not only reach across the aisle for bipartisan compromise – he can reach past the aisle to out-Progressive Hillary and Bernie. He speaks of a magical peace to be achieved through what Sean Hannity would call “compromising with evil.” It would be a call for more of that compassion where charity is not so much an out-of-pocket labor of love, but forced participation not only in charity, but in government overhead for programs that are charged with healing spiritual wounds with reams of paper, while not offending atheists with so much as an invocation the name of God.

Rubio’s making a comeback after ruining his chances by playing Robot Boy. But more importantly, there’s Donald Trump. Trump embodies everything there is to know about conservatives – a casino tycoon, no stranger to bankruptcy, famous for doing beautiful women. He stands on both sides of every issue, and anybody that doesn’t like it deserves a good dose of bullying. Like all good Americans, Trump can sue whatever stands in his way.

Then, there’s that secret somebody. His name is Ted Cruz. He is unelectable because he advocates for Constitutional law; that is the Supreme Law of the Land. That makes him a wack job, and to prove it, one need only look at the Iowa Caucus. Cruz collected 51,666 votes; Trump, 45,427; and Rubio, 43,165. Rubio was declared by Fox to be by far and away the winner, except that Bush, drawing 5,238 votes had a really strong showing indicating he’s positioned to come out well on top in the end. He’s consistently maintained a strong polling of around 2-3 percent throughout the campaign. There was another nobody, Rand Paul. He only got 8481 votes. He, too, engaged in crazy talk about presidents reverting to Constitutionally-proscribed limitations on their powers, and he has since dropped out.

So, now, even the respectable guys are airing dreadful campaign ads. Speech is little better than “See Spot run,” with a poke in somebody’s eye. Everybody’s vying to be King Narcissist, promising things they rightfully can’t. At least Hillary may have learned to shut her mouth. When she ran for president in 2008, she promised ending the country’s dependence on oil and generating wealth untold through job creation in green energy. Through her Save Our Homes Program, she would rescue families underwater for being extended high-risk mortgages while availing junk mortgages to more people with bad credit through her Realizing the Dream Program.

Gene Healy talks about the pathologies that inspire mere mortals to run for president in his book The Cult of the Presidency. The cover aptly shows a mighty, glowing Seal of the President of the United States above a murky mist where upward-stretched hands – witnessing, begging rescue or sustenance, or maybe collecting all the positive energy generated therewith – can hardly be seen. Healy asks who in their right mind would spend a year on the phone begging for money. “The modern campaign for the presidency has become a Darwinian contest rewarding bottomless ambition and moral flexibility – far more demanding than it used to be, and far more likely to deter well-adjusted, principled men and women from seeking office.” Gone are the days of George Washington, who reluctantly assumed the responsibility, or James K. Polk, who resolved, “The office of President of the United States should neither be sought nor declined.”

Healy tells of days gone by when presidents stuck to their simple, Constitutionally-limited powers. Well, actually, there are instances of all the great ones maybe bending the rules here and there – as when Thomas Jefferson was called upon to use his gift with the pen to draft legislation. At least Jefferson felt guilty about it and asked that the evidence be burnt. Even so, presidents used to refrain from making campaign speeches, relying wholly upon their reputations for high moral character among electors. They delivered the State of the Union to Congress, in writing, because it was considered unseemly for the president to try to shape public opinion.

Cooler heads like Calvin Coolidge or Grover Cleveland merely presided. They stuck to their Constitutional responsibilities of, “executing the laws, defending the Constitution, protecting the country from foreign attack and domestic insurrection – and little else.” Thomas Wolfe wrote an ode, “The Four Lost Men,” singing the nondescript-ness of Garfield, Arthur, Harrison, and Hayes. They held down the fort. Wrote Healy, “Since he did not start any major wars or offer any Deals, Square or New, Taft is now best known for being shaped like a zeppelin.”

Now, a modality with the initials B.S. is required of candidates as they harangue for popular votes. After calling a few historical candidates out on promising impossibilities or contradictory objectives, Healy states bluntly, “Anyone who feels uneasy about making promises he or she couldn’t possibly deliver – anyone who prefers to have his or her statements correspond to objective reality – is preselected out of the race for the presidency. The contest the modern candidate enters into is characterized by a ‘lack of connection to a concern with the truth.’”

Essayist William Hazlitt observed primitive man fashioned “gods of wood and stone and brass, [but now] we make kings of common men and are proud of our handiwork.” He explained the confusing complicity of mass media in deifying the president as “a craven desire to dominate others, even if only vicariously.” People say all kinds of crazy things, but a number of high-profile journalists have aired gobsmacked religious experiences while covering presidential events. Perhaps most notable was Chris Matthews’ thrill up his leg.

Healy’s thesis statement could be, “The modern conception of the president as the ‘man in charge’ of finding solutions to all major problems in American life demands the impossible and, in the demanding, encourages concentration of power and erosion of civil liberties. The impossibility of the job, combined with Americans’ enduring conviction that the ‘great’ presidents are those who meet emergencies – real or manufactured – by expanding their powers and revolutionizing the American Constitutional order – calls forth men and women who believe themselves fit for the task.”

Obama is not the only president loose with his pen and phone. In the nation’s first 100 years, only 300 executive orders were written; but FDR issued 3723. Healy blames John Yoo, Deputy Assistant US Attorney General in the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice during the Bush administration, for the expansion of executive powers that didn’t let the 9/11 crisis go to waste. By contrast, half a century earlier, presidential hopeful Robert A. Taft argued war should be a last resort, for it would, “make the American president a virtual dictator, diminish the Constitutional powers of Congress, contract civil liberties, injure the habitual self-reliance and self-government of the American people, distort the economy, sink the federal government in debt, [and] break in upon private and public morality.”

Today, presidents promise, “to protect Americans from economic dislocation, to shield them from natural disasters and all manner of hazards, and, increasingly, even to provide the moral leadership that could deliver them from spiritual malaise. By midcentury, thanks in part to soaring presidential oratory, public visions of presidential responsibility had become too great for a constitutionally-constrained office to meet. And so constraints fell, to make way for the presidency unbound.” Healy finds comfort in that the POTUS is not yet as Russian candidate Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who promised “free vodka, cheap underwear, and a husband for every lonely Russian woman.”

Presidents have overstepped their powers to almost routinely unilaterally declare war. Hillary is on record for telling ABC, “I urged him to bomb [Serbia]. . . . I’m a strong believer in executive authority. . . . I wish that, when my husband was president, the people in Congress had been more willing to recognize presidential authority.” Throughout the book, Healy woefully repeats variations on the quote, “War is the health of the presidency.”

The sentence following Lord Acton’s oft-quoted, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” begins, “Great men are almost always bad men.” Healy tells a number of dreadful stories of executive abuse of power, so horrific they would make the reviewer look like a crank. Woodrow Wilson wrote, “The best rulers are always those to whom great power is entrusted. . . . It is, therefore, manifestly a radical defect in our federal system that it parcels out power and confuses responsibility as it does.” Other shocking commentary from Wilson indicates he may have had a messiah complex. Teddy Roosevelt knew, “If there is not the war, you don’t get the great genera; if there is not the great occasion, you don’t get the great statesman; if Lincoln had lived in times of peace, no one would know his name now.”

Far be it for a mere mortal to judge who’s telling the truth in top-secret affairs where politicians are all about making each other out to be the bigger liar. But author David Frum scholarly skimmed the scummy surface, “Of the three presidents after 1960, the first stood exposed as a womanizing rogue who abused the FBI and IRS, who was implicated in assassinations and attempted assassinations, and who wiretapped Martin Luther King, Jr. The second owed his political career to stuffed ballot boxes, had corruptly enriched himself, had lied the country into Vietnam, and had also wiretapped King. The third had orchestrated a campaign of lies to cover up multiple crimes, had chisled on his income tax, had chosen a corrupt governor as his vice president, and had bankrolled his campaigns with illegal corporate gifts. “I am not a crook”? It was looking like a good working assumption that everybody was a crook.”

A body of literature has been developed to explain presidential pathology. The problem has even been given a name: acquired institutional narcissism. Wrote Healy, “We’ve come to select the president via a competition that favors boundless ambition and power lust. [Then,] the winner of that competition lives in a social environment that would corrupt a saint.” Once elected, the president is, “cut off from unscripted interaction with normal Americans. He travels in a bubble of supplicants and sycophants jockeying for his attention.”

Grandiose presidential decisions at critical moments are so common they have been given a name, too. “The ‘diversionary war’ hypothesis – the scholarly moniker for ‘Wag the Dog’ – predicts that a weak economy, eroding popularity, and impending elections will all increase the chances that the president will send Americans into battle.”

But then, Healy doesn’t blame the president for these problems. The press? Well, they get good money covering the scandalous psychoses of celebrities. Has Congress been run over roughshod? No. They’ve gotten into the practice of not knowing what they pass. Bills change form and get riders between house approvals, and many are presented with insufficient time to read. After the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law passed, both parties hired high-powered lawyers and consultants to hold seminars to teach the Congressmen what was in the bill. It was but another example of having to pass a bill to find out what was in it. Last but not least, what are We the People doing to protect government of the people, by the people, for the people?

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