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Monday, February 15, 2010


"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

These words have been spoken by the forty-three men who have been elected to the office of the President of the United States of America as required by Article II Section 1 of the United States Constitution.  Article II goes on to enumerate the powers vested in the President and the Executive Branch, from Commander in Chief to making treaties with consent from the Senate.  Article II is very brief in its verbage, allowing for great interpretation through the centuries of Presidential power and authority.

When establishing a new form of governance for a new nation the members of the Constitutional Convention recognized the need for an Executive to manage the government.  This executive however was not to be given supreme powers over the rest of the government.  Article I establishes the Legislative Branch and bi-cameral  bodies, the House and the Senate.  Article I enumerates the many powers of Congress, as it also enumerates many limits on Congress, such as not granting titles of nobility.  To create the final piece of the checks and balances of our nation's governance the Constitution establishes the Judiciary in Article III.

America has elected Presidents in four centuries.  Forty-three men (there have been forty-four terms Grover Cleveland having served two terms separated by Benjamin Harrison) have entered the office of President and each has changed the office and its powers, either for better or worse depending on history.  Fights with Congress, fights with States, certainly fights with the media of the day, are routine for any President, though each generation seems to think their political environment unique to American history.

Presidents have been fathers or sons of other Presidents, the Adams and Bushes come to mind, or grandfather and grandson as were the Harrisons, Roosevelts were cousins, though the exact blood lineage always escapes me, and two Kennedys were unsuccessful in following big brother Jack into the White House.  Through the forty-three men's history four were assassinated (Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, Kennedy) and several others survived attempts, from pistols that misfired sparing Jackson in the first assassination attempt on a sitting U.S. President, through shots fired at Ford, Reagan being shot and a live grenade thrown at George W. Bush that did not go off due to a bandana wrapped around the grenade not allowing the firing pin to fully release.  Actual assassinations have only taken four Presidents, political assassination--either self-inflicted or not--has claimed some piece of every President. 

While equal in powers to the Legislative and Judicial Branches of government per the Constitution, the President is seen as more powerful to most Americans, often getting disproportionate credit or blame than deserved.  Any person who does not recognize this should be immediately disqualified for the office.  No other individual in our nation is as recognized as "the government" than the President.  Sadly most Americans would not recognized the Vice-President, Speaker of the House or Chief Justice of the Supreme Court if introduced at a cocktail party, few however are those who do not recognize the President.

POTUS, President Of The United States is the acronym for the person and the office.  While many feel the POTUS moniker was started by the Secret Service it came into popular usage in times of the telegraph as an abbreviation.  Later when telephones become predominate, especially direct lines to the President in Eisenhower's term, POTUS was used to mark such phones.  Today nicknames are given to the President and every member of the First Family for the Secret Service to use in order to facilitate communication in referring to which person under Secret Service protection is being discussed.  Every nickname for the family starts with the same letter, for the Obama's it is "R" (Renegade for the President, Renaissance for Michelle and Radiance and Rosebud for their daughters Malia and Sasha). 

Far less flattering than nicknames used by the Secret Service have been the politics of the office.  Every President has endured members of opposition political parties attacking the President.  Throughout history, once entering the White House everything about the President has been fair game for attack and criticism, from policies on tariffs to illegitimate babies to taking naps.  A free press as guaranteed in the First Amendment of the same Constitution which each President has sworn to preserve, protect and defend has used that right to lampoon, lance and lambaste every President from Washington through Obama.

While the politics of today are decried as especially acrimonious and divisive, they are in truth no different than at any other time in our history.  Historically a nation of two major political parties, it is the nature of politics that acrimony and debate forge and define the relationships of opposition and policy making.  As the leader of one party and the most visible political leader in the nation, it is the assumed role of the members of the opposing party to be that, opposition.  It was true for Adams, both Harrisons, Eisenhower, Ford, both Bushes and now Obama.  Any person seeking office who thinks there will not be such opposition is naive and undeserving.

The American President is bigger than life, in South Dakota litterally for those four whose visages have been carved in stone.  World wide recognized as the leader of the freest nation on earth.  A nation dedicated to the principles of liberty, equality and justice has chosen forty-three men to hold the office of President.  Throughout time history has judged some more harshly than others, forgotten the errors of some and magnified the accomplishments of others.  Of the forty-three many are forgotten to only be remembers in the pages of our history books, Tyler, Harding, Fillmore. 

Others have been elevated to as close to nobility as our culture will allow.  They are the ones most commonly celebrated on President's Day.  Two in particular have been so elevated, our first President who established the office as one of the people and pushed for the new republic into history, and the sixteenth who fought to keep that republic together.  Washington and Lincoln had their detractors in their times as even there politics were personal and about opposition.  Setting the path for all future Presidents, some who would heed his lessons and others who would not, Washington was a man of principles and values dedicated to the new nation. 

Were that Washington's words to James Madison following his inauguration were heeded by all who followed where would our nation and world be today?

"As the first of everything, in our situation will serve to establish a Precedent, it is devoutly wished on my part, that these precedents may be fixed on true principles."

It is my contention that President's Day should be more than a matteress sale and a day off work.  It should be a celebration of our democracy.  A celebration of the non-violent transition of power and continuation of governance and principles through the centuries.  A celebration of that which is uniquely American, our office of the President as the office of the people, for the people and by the people.

The White House website page on the Presidents.


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