By Rashad Mulla
Because of the increased responsibilities of recent presidents, the United States’ first leaders would not recognize today’s presidency, political scholar Joseph Pika said.
Pika, co-author of “Politics of the Presidency,” spoke live via video conference to students from Denver University, Pace University in Manhattan and George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. on Oct. 9. Pika said the president had little executive power when the position was first conceived in 1788. His remarks are part of the distance learning collaboration between C-SPAN, the Cable Center at the University of Denver, and the three universities.
“The expectations of the presidency have surpassed the realistic possibilities of the (job),” said Pika, a political science professor at the University of Delaware. “The president was really tailor-made for this media age.”
George Mason student Taft Nesbitt agreed with Pika and said his assertion was grounded in fact.
“The presidency has definitely evolved and become more powerful,” Nesbitt said. “The position has become much more encompassing than the Founding Fathers ever envisioned it being.”
Pika said the ascent of the president’s political power has been a gradual process, including President George W. Bush’s current term.
“A slow accretion of power keeps going in the president’s direction,” he said. “Now, the presidency requires a miracle worker to be successful.”
Pika said the presidency has gotten so powerful that presidents now can frequently over-promise and under-deliver, concepts Mason guest instructor Steve Farnsworth explained to his students on Oct. 2.
One example was President Bush’s handling of the Iraq War, Pika said. In his book, Pika wrote that Bush projected himself as an effective “wartime president” at the beginning of the war, then lost public support for the war. Now, Pika says wartime presidency has lost its luster.
“The appeal is still there,” Pika said. “But a lot of the shine has worn off.”
Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain both frequently over-promise in their campaigns, Farnsworth said on Oct. 2. This development is fully attributable to the added power of the presidency, added Nesbitt. The Founding Fathers did not have the power to make such promises, he said.
“(The presidency) wasn’t supposed to be the all-encompassing, pseudo-monarchy that it is today,” Nesbitt said.
According to Pika, when one of the candidates is elected president in three weeks, he will have one of the toughest jobs in U.S. history.