Over this weekend, I had a brief, but heated argument with a Ron Paul supporter who expressed his intent to vote for Gary Johnson, the libertarian party candidate. As I've written previously, I feel that any Paul supporters that sit on their hands or vote for Gary Johnson is not only a wasted vote, but it's essentially a vote for Obama. Yeah, there might be some siphoning of Democratic votes, but the fact that libertarian policies align for more closely with Republican ideology means that overall, the Republican candidate will lose the most votes.
Hearing his support for Johnson, I asked him: "Do you not recognize the threat that four more years of Barack Obama represents?" His first response was the same old, tired, uninformed "if you look at both of them, they're pretty much the same" which is so hilariously far from the truth that I incredulously retort that their ideologies, and their moral compass, are miles apart. In counter, his response was even more incredulous: "Who's president won't matter because a growing libertarian congress will keep him in check" which was followed up with a "it's not the president's job to set policy". It was at that point that I inadvertently, and definitely not smartly, mocked him by telling him he needs come back to reality. At that point, the argument was over and I've had a couple days to mull this over.
I hadn't expected the "who's president won't matter much" argument mainly because it's utterly ridiculous. But then again, I should have seen it coming given the huge amount of ridiculousness being parroted by the left in the particular. Libertarians, and Republicans, are definitely not immune to that either. Either way, I've come up with reasons why who's president does matter...
Reason 1: President shapes policy
Yes, the initial role of the president wasn't to set policy for the country. That's the job of Congress. In fact, the biggest role the president has is commanding our armies and coordinating our national defense. That was the intent. But what's happened over the past century has shown that not only do people look to the president to solve the country's current problems, but the president is probably the biggest single source of influence on policy. Presidents, when running for election, have to have a plan. They have goals that help guide the direction they think the country should head. No, they can't make everything they want happen, but to believe just because it wasn't in their initial job description that they don't or won't do this is ridiculous. Any candidate that ran for president that said "nope, that's not my job" won't ever get elected. And any president that does get elected is typically held accountable for what they said they'd achieve. That's the reality of the situation. Presidents have been shaping national policy for at least the past century, if not longer. You can argue that's too much power in the executive branch, but that isn't going to change the fact that it happens.
Thus, ignoring the president's heavy influence on policy as a means to justify a "who's president doesn't matter much" is just plain wrong.
Reason 2: The power of Veto
This should be part of shaping policy, but deserves its own reason. The president has the power to veto any legislation that passes congress. Thus, even if there's a congress controlled by conservatives and libertarians, a leftist president can essentially punt anything he doesn't like back their way. But no problem, just override the veto, right? Ok, that's cool, except to override a veto you need a 2/3 rd majority vote. Essentially if a bill doesn't have overwhelming support, the veto either kills it or forces enough alterations so that it becomes palatable to the president. And if the president is your ideological opponent, the changes could end up being radical enough such that the bill that originally passed is no longer recognizable.
This is one of the president's biggest influences: the looming veto. If congress knows that a president will just veto the bill, then they're forced to shape the bill to the president's ideological standards or somehow manage to get overwhelming support, which can be nigh impossible for big, nation shaping legislation.
Reason 3: Judicial appointments
This one is probably the longest lasting, though tends to go unnoticed. Presidents have the power to nominate Supreme Court of the United States justices. The Supreme Court is yet another buffer to keeping a congress in check. They're the backstop to letting laws stand as constitutional or not. And while it's very noble to believe the justices will remain impartial and objective, the reality again is that there's enough wiggle room in interpretation to allow one's ideological leaning to play a part. And pretty much all of the more high profile controversial cases they tackle are all about interpretation since if it was an objective slam dunk, it'd have never reached the high court in the first place.
Also, it's noble, and naive, to believe a president will choose the most qualified, fair, objective person for the job. As with Obama, his nomination of Elena Kagan underscores the partisanship that's involved in the nomination process. For those that don't remember, Kagan was a lawyer with zero judicial experience who at one point, was part of pushing Obamacare (nepotism, much?) whom didn't even bother to recuse herself in the landmark Obamacare case because she knew it'd be a split vote. The point is that whichever ideology has majority on the bench can have an impact that spans decades, again showing why who's president matters.
Reason 4: Agency appointments
This one could have been lumped with judicial appoints into one single appointments, but I wanted judicial to have its own section because that effect is enduringly lasting. Agency appointments, however, have a tremendous influence and probably go the most unnoticed. The president can appoint people to be the particular head of various government agencies. And while congress is supposed to act as a check against appointees by confirming them, history has shown that appointees are very rarely refused. The appointee has to have done something really wrong to be refused. Ideology on its own is rarely enough. So all a president has to do is find someone that's competent and clean enough to get confirmation.
Why this matters is that agencies have a form of control via regulation that can completely bypass congress. For example, Obama, in his war against coal and oil, has used the EPA to impose business hurting regulations on the supposed "environmentally unfriendly" energy sectors while at the same time making it easier for the green energy companies they're trying to push. Regulations such as this have a direct impact on the economy and how people do business. Thus, even if a president's economic plan never makes it out of the House, they still can somewhat legislate via agency regulations.
Reason 5: Foreign Policy
And lastly, let's not forget foreign policy. How a president represents our country and presents himself on the world stage is highly important. This is a stage of worldwide national leaders which are on relatively equal footing. The President of the United States is typically seen as the "leader of the free world" and also seen as the most powerful position in the world. Does this mean that other nations will kowtow to him just because he's president? Of course not. In fact, many will take any opportunity they can to dig at the president's world stage prominence.
If you can consider he's the leader of the United States and therefore he's everyone's "boss" (I use the term loosely because I'm sure some people might nitpick it), consider the world stage is where the president has to go out and show to his peers what he, and our country, is made of. How he acts will influence our relationships with potential allies and enemies alike. That influence will create ripples across the globe which eventually reverberate back to us.
A weak or appeasing president will just get exploited by both foes and allies (who want more influence of their own). And if you think that doesn't affect us back at home, just consider that if a country believes they can walk all over the President of the United States will probably push for trade agreements that might heavily favor them and put the US at a disadvantage. This isn't to mention our foes will feel emboldened to do whatever they like because they know the president is too weak to take bold action.
Our nations's standing in the world has an impact on every citizen. It's not immediately apparent, but it's there. And the president is THE person responsible for projecting our standing in the world.
Like it or not, the president is the most influential person in the country, and probably the world. And while there are checks in certain places to keep them from running a country like an absolute monarch, to believe that such checks completely, or even significantly, neutralize the president's immense influence is just folly. Yeah, that's not how the president was intended to be when the job was created, but that's how it is now and no amount of covering one's ears and going "LALALALA" is going to change it over night. Limiting presidential influence is possible, but it's decades worth of legislation that will make it happen.
So yes, libertarians, feel free to "make your statement". You have that choice and can justify it with the "whoever's president doesn't matter" pablum. And when the reality of four more years of an Anti-Colonial Marxist unconstrained by re-election hits you in the face and things get worse, you at least have your principles, right?