The recent inaugural festivities would have seemed more than a little strange to the Framers of the Constitution, had they been on hand to see the show. After all, here was their “republic” unified in celebration of vast executive powers being vested in a single human being. Did they not wage a bloody war to overcome such 17th-century notions?
And yet, the republic bequeathed by the likes of Madison and Jefferson prizes the inaugural ceremony. It is the most important rite in what Gene Healy of the Cato Institute calls “the cult of the presidency,” which is a decidedly bipartisan affair. Liberals celebrated Obama’s power, conservatives bemoaned it, but all acknowledged it.
What then is this power, exactly? The answer is scarcely to be found in the Constitution itself. Article II is shorter than your average newspaper column and spends most of its time reviewing the complicated procedures by which the chief executive is to be selected.
The presidency has come to mean much more than the measly powers granted its occupant by the Constitution; the job of the modern president is to fill the spaces left between the various articles and sections and clauses of the founding document. What our system disperses among branches, states, localities, parties, and interest groups, the president brings together, coordinating their efforts for the national good.