Constitutionality in the Presidency

The landscape of America has changed within the confines of the Constitution. Though this document has remained steady during its 225 year existence, the ideologies of each of the presidents have not. Apart from the inaugural process, it is a tacit agreement that they honor the Constitution during their stay in the White House. However, after learning about Teddy Roosevelt’s hidden unconstitutional agenda in Bradley’s The Imperial Cruise, I turned my attention to a related article in the Daily Beast. In this article, Yale professor Akhil Reed Amar draws on historic figures such as Washington, Lincoln, and FDR to answer the question of whether Romney or Obama better reflects the Constitutional values of America.

Amar builds his argument in a similar way to how our first paper should be written. He establishes the ideals of the founders, brings them forward in 75 year increments to coincide with Lincoln and FDR, and finally applies them to today’s candidates, ultimately arriving at the conclusion that Obama reflects constitutional values more so than Romney does.

While I do not have a strong opinion about Amar’s final conclusion, I have to say that I disagree with some of the reasons he uses to create his argument.

The basis of his argument revolves around the idea that Washington, Lincoln, and Franklin D. Roosevelt embody constitutional ideals. Amar begins by commending the “revolutionary” founding of the nation. He focuses on its novelty in the realm of America itself instead of emphasizing the fact that no other nation had created a constitution that gave governmental power to the people. In order to make the point that lately big money has been too influential in the making of policy, he points out that the beginning words of the Constitution are “We the People,” not “We the corporations.” Amar fails to mention the exclusivity of the word “people,” and though he acknowledges how the founding fathers were “the 1 percent of 1787,” he does not take it a step further and criticize how their creations of a “revolution” simply reinforced the social standings of white male power. In its early days, the Constitution did not take women into account nor the humanity of non-White people.

In an effort to demonstrate how the Republicans, and therefore Mitt Romney, are violating constitutional values, Amar references the Republicans’ agenda of restricting voting rights. He argues that Romney’s failure to condemn these restrictions go directly against the “we the people” that was mentioned in the Constitution. However, I beg to differ. Going by the definition the founders intended, a restriction of voter rights would narrow down the pool of citizens who could actually vote, similar to how “we the people” excluded everyone who was not white, upper class, and male. Of course, the Constitution of today is far different than the one originally created due to the twenty-six amendments.

Amar continues by mentioning George Washington’s “steadiness,” a quality that Amar does not associate with Romney. With this, I have to agree. The redeeming moments of the Republican campaign are often book-ended with slip-ups, whether it’s the uncovering of the 47% video or attacking Obama for apologizing for the anti-Islam trailer. Obama’s disposition and speech-delivery talents, the former of which is reminiscent of Washington’s steadiness, lend him more naturally to the role of presidency.

The Constitution that one of the two candidates will have to vow to defend is radically different from the one Washington, Lincoln, and FDR vowed to defend. The amended Constitution consists of suffrage for both genders and all races and a progressive income tax. These features, Amar argues, are two aspects that make a better case for Obama’s reflection of constitutional values. This argument is one that I support, especially as women and minorities are more likely, though not certainly likely, to vote for Obama.

Before reading about Teddy Roosevelt’s inclination to hide foreign policies from Congress, I had only thought of the constitutionality of a presidency in terms of passing bills that did not directly violate any laws in the Constitution. However, upholding the more intangible aspects of the Constitution such as its ideologies, values, and ultimate purpose is just as important, especially as it is more difficult to detect a violation of these principles than a violation of a written law.

-Kayla Adem

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About rowlanda12

This is a blog about the 2012 presidential election. Content is generated by students in Professor Heldman's Politics 101 class. She does not necessarily endorse the views expressed here.
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