FRED WOLFERMAN: Replace Bush? Sure, But With Whom?
The latest polls show that something like 58 percent of Americans, to say nothing of the French and Iranians, wish that George Bush's term were over.
I have no problem with that. Contrary to the interpretation of some previously loyal readers last week, I am not a big fan of the president. Thorough scrutiny of your carefully filed copies of my previous writings will show that I have always considered him the lesser of two evils, and at least a nominal Republican.
However much people may wish to end the president's term, there are a couple of problems with doing so. First, that pesky Constitution. It says he gets to serve until 2009, and it probably isn't worth a revolution to change it, Jane Fonda notwithstanding. Second, who's going to take over?
Exactly what would these 58 percent of Americans like to have happen? The polls would have you believe it is something like this:
President Clinton II will ascend to the White House, wave a wand across the globe bringing peace everywhere, return the troops home, balance the budget, make us all healthy, cool the planet, and still have time to bake cookies for Bill every afternoon.
All this could happen tomorrow -- no, this afternoon -- if only George Bush were out of the way.
I'm trying to be as sarcastic as I can, and I'm still afraid somebody won't get it. That is how far wishing has drifted from reality.
It is hard to pinpoint exactly which American president first became responsible for Everything that Happens in the World. It certainly wasn't George Washington; he had all he could do to cobble together 13 fussy little states. Even Lincoln was only held liable for every event of the Civil War. Woodrow Wilson tried hard to manage the planet, but it didn't take. Global responsibility probably began with FDR, and has expanded ever since. Most people alive today can't remember when it was otherwise.
The president has this responsibility because it is ceded to him by governments and societies too lazy or incompetent to assume it for themselves, and because it is easy to pass the buck uphill to the leader of the most powerful nation on earth.
Unfortunately, all this attributed responsibility comes without any corresponding authority. The president can cajole and threaten, but unless he is willing to use military force, there is no direct action he can take to effect change, and, as we are seeing now, that can be very problematical.
Whomever these 58 percent of Americans would thrust into the presidency -- and there seems to be some dispute about who that would be -- she (he) is not going to be able to wave her (his) wand and solve all the ills before her (him).
I wish we had a president with a more coherent philosophy. I wish he were a better leader, a better speaker. I wish he would make the case for sound, traditional Republican economics. I wish he had taken a hard line in Iraq from the beginning. I wish I could appoint a replacement right now, but that's not the way things work.
We live in a constitutional federal republic. It is unusual in uniting the head of government and the head of state in a single person for a fixed term. Most other democracies are parliamentary systems, in which the head of government may be removed by his own party or by a vote of no confidence in the parliament. There is a lot to be said for such parliamentary systems, but those fellows who wrote the Constitution, having just had a spat with a country that had one, chose not to replicate it.
So here we are: unhappy with our president, unable to replace him, other than by impeachment (Dick Cheney is next in line), unwilling to give him the benefit of the doubt on issues foreign or domestic, with a Congress hell-bent to dispute every word out of his mouth. This is not good. What to do?
Well, here's a thought: Learn something. What if, instead of electing the next president based on polls, autographs and sound bites, we take the iPods and cell phones out of our ears and read a little history and civics? What if we learn what the president actually can do, and consider who may be able to do it best? And how about applying an equal amount of thought to every office we vote for? Granted, our chaotic system, essentially that of election by auction, makes this difficult, but it is up to us nonetheless.
The woes of the nation and the world cannot be laid exclusively at George Bush's, or any president's, feet; he is both president and scapegoat. It is Bush's personal burden that he is a poor president and a good scapegoat, but he is still ours. As long as we are wishing for things, we ought to wish him well.
Fred Wolferman lives in Southern Pines. Contact him by e-mail at email@example.com
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