Is the Presidency Overrated?

One of the best things about this semester is that I am no longer taking “General Ed” classes. Finally I am immersed in classes at the Cox School of Business and Meadows for Communications. Sure, there were benefits that came from taking that mandatory philosophy and psychology course- they made me a more multi-faceted thinker. However, now I am looking forward to my classes because I finally get to do what I want to do!

In the wake of the jubilation I felt in realizing that Calculus and Science were behind me, I was bummed to find that I might actually miss some of my classes. For example: History is not part of my major, and I’ll definitely be missing out on that.  That’s the problem with specialization and narrowing down, it can be a sacrifice.

I felt this strongly when Michael Beschloss and Douglas Brinkley came to speak at a Tuesday Night Tate. These gentlemen were award-winning historians, best-selling authors, and some of the most knowledgeable men about the past Presidents of the United States. They took the stage of McFarlin Auditorium and sat in red velvet, regal-looking chairs. They tried to warm up the crowd with a few jokes. They initially interrupted each other, struggling with the overall flow of the lecture. But I soon realized that these men were vaults of valuable information.

I imagine that if the world were to explode tomorrow, we as a human race would have to decide which people we’d launch into space in attempts to preserve our future. There’d be a limited number of people who’d fit on that space shuttle. To carry on our legacy, we’d pick the ‘best of the best’ so people who had extensive knowledge (or super good genes) would be the ones who we’d save. Beschloss and Brinkley would definitely have my vote to get on that shuttle because they have knowledge of American history that is beyond any book. Not only did they evaluate the various presidents’ administrations, but they also critically analyzed the long-term effect different presidencies had on our country and on the world.

During their Tate Lecture, the moderator asked a question that I found to be rather intriguing. The gist of the question asked the historians if they thought that Americans hungered for presidential leadership and perhaps over-estimated the position itself. I do not recall the answer, although I am fairly sure they somewhat skated around it.

My thoughts? The idea of being the leader of the free world, tickles the American fantasy. In theory, anyone can be president. Abraham Lincoln, who lived in a log cabin and Barack Obama who grew up in a one-parent household are both great examples. Because of this, it’s almost magical how an ordinary American can rise through the ranks and become extraordinary.

Dial-Testing with CNN for the second Presidential Debate 2012.

Dial-Testing with CNN for the second Presidential Debate 2012.

On the other hand, there exists the system of checks and balances where no one branch of the government can become too powerful. Additionally within this system exists the different parties that equalize each other (more or less). In recent years I would make the argument that this bipartisan split is particularly detrimental to American progress because ‘compromise’ has turned into a dirty word. In any case, it is important to know that a man running for president is not just a man. He has an entire party behind him and these parties have become institutionalized in these past presidential elections. Mitt Romney and Barack Obama had campaigns where their face was the icon for the party. Perhaps that is how it has always been, but that leads me to believe that maybe presidential elections are ‘slightly’ overrated.

Perhaps this is just a disappointed Romney supporter talking right now, but I’m going to continue my train of thought anyway. I think that a presidential administration very much sets the tone of the country and shows the American people which direction they are heading. The president is the face, the icon, and the logo that brands movements in health care, immigration, foreign affairs, etc. But as the American leader, the President’s word is not law. He can say whatever he wants but Congress can stop him. Sure he still has considerable influence as the ‘top guy’ but  I think this leadership we are yearning for from our presidents exhibit that we have expectations and as a result, we may inflate the presidency in our head.

So although I am so glad to finally be taking classes in my major, I find that my interest for other topics like history and politics has not evaporated overnight. It took a moment at the Tate lecture to realize that I miss them, and it’s a shame that I will not be taking those classes again any time soon. I’m very happy with my Business and Communications Majors, but my interests don’t stop there. Hopefully I will get more chances to attend lectures and touch upon my other passions during my time at SMU.

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