During election campaigns, candidates will often use phrases or arguments that are vague or undefined, but are designed to stir up emotions. Since, I would like to humbly suggest, we should use reason and not emotion in making these decisions, I’m going to offer some explanations the candidates have probably just been too busy to get to.
You could not have listened to network or cable news the last few months without hearing about executive orders, Wall Street and corporate greed, federal debt and deficits, natural born citizens, and a brokered convention.
On the one hand we have Republicans saying that President Obama is trying to be a dictator, ruling through executive orders. The Democrats counter with “But, George Bush issued hundreds more executive orders than Obama.”
The issue is neither in the use or the number of executive orders, but in how they are used.
The Constitution says that the president “…shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed…” (Article 2, Sec. 3). For sake of example, let’s say that Congress passed a law mandating that a Clown College be established in each of the fifty states within two years. The President could issue an executive order directing that states with the lowest percentage of clown population be given priority in establishing the new colleges. He could determine which states get clown colleges the first year and which the second year.
An executive order he could not legally issue, however, would be that groups of states, for instance New England or the Dakotas be served by one centrally located clown college, because this contradicts what Congress specified in the law. If he determines that insufficient funds or other extenuating circumstances exist preventing establishing a clown college in every state, he would be obligated to return to Congress and ask for additional funding or a change in the law.
In summary, executive orders are tools that the President uses to carry out the laws created by Congress, not a tool to create new laws or change laws passed by Congress.
Wall Street and Greed
Republicans and Democrats bash fellow party members and members of the opposing party for being “tools of Wall Street greed”. There are two aspects to this: crony capitalism and fiduciary responsibility.
Crony capitalism is the use of political influence to undercut the free market. Let’s say you own a fishing business in San Francisco and you have a competitor in Seattle who catches and sells the same kind of fish. Instead of trying to be competitive by being more efficient, adding value, or creating more effective marketing, you call your Senator. You make donations to his campaign. He then sponsors and gets a bill passed requiring the EPA to inspect and regulate the fish caught in Seattle because of suspected over-fishing of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. This causes the costs of operation of your competitor to go up, reduces the amount of product he can get to market, and causes the price people pay for fish to increase. Your costs are not affected and your profits are increased because of the law.
This was not the intent of the founding fathers, not what built the vibrant American economy, and both political parties are guilty of it.
Accusations of “greed” as in “greedy banks” or “greedy corporations” are deliberately misleading. Corporations are legal entities in which people invest their money through the purchase of shares or stocks. Corporate boards of directors have a fiduciary responsibility, a legal requirement, to act on behalf of the shareholders to increase the profits of the corporation so that the shareholders’ investments grow. This is not greed, it’s the law.
Federal Debt and Deficits
You may hear claims that “President Clinton balanced the budget” or “Republicans under Newt Gingrich balanced the budget” or “President Obama reduced the deficit”. Why does this matter?
Deficits refer to the amount of spending over a set budget. The national debt is money owed to a bank or a foreign government. Games can be played such as borrowing money to reduce the deficit. Reducing the deficit creates the impression of efficiency, but if this is done by increasing the debt, the results are still bad.
Some people argue, ‘Debt and deficit don’t matter, because we owe the money to ourselves.” This misses the effect of debts and deficits. Both increase the money supply and this is bad for residents of the country.
If we represent all the goods and services in the country by six apples, and the money supply as six dollars, then each apple would cost one dollar. If the government, through deficits and debt, increases the money supply to twelve dollars, then each apple would cost two dollars. The government has more money to spend and everyone in the country has been taxed invisibly, because their money is worth less.
Natural Born Citizens
The constitution requires that the president be a “natural born citizen”. The founding fathers were concerned about a person with foreign sympathies being elected president and betraying the new nation and wanted to prevent this.
Where did the phrase “natural born citizen” come from and why isn’t it defined? It was adapted from the phrase, common at the time, “natural born subject”. This was part of British law which directed that any child born to a British subject, no matter where they were in the world, was a subject of the crown and given the rights and obligations of a person born in England. There was no need to define it further, because everyone at the time understood.
This usually comes up when a politician wants to discourage a particular course of action or support for an opponent. You will hear: “Why, that could result in [ominous pause] a brokered convention.” The implication is that the desires of the voters will be overridden by back room deals.
Political parties are not part of the government and how they choose their delegates to conventions and ultimately their candidates for office is a private matter. How this is done differs from state to state because there are really 50+ Democrat and Republican parties who come together every four years and feign unity. The national organization of the party can change convention rules and have done so in the past to favor one candidate.
In addition, in recent years parties have added “superdelegates”, appointed by party officials. These delegates may or may not be committed to a certain candidate. The Republicans have three per state and the Democrats have a much more complicated system with potentially hundreds of non-elected delegates.
Bottom line, the results of all political conventions are determined by a long series of elections, caucuses, deals, compromises, committee fights and rules changes. They are all brokered.
More to Come
I’ll be following up this article with an examination of bogus issues both parties have been raising. What do you think are the phoniest arguments being used in the presidential campaign? Let me know in the comments below.