Sept. 24, 2010
Law professor suggests two-person presidency to quell voter anger
The rancorous Tea Party movement now shaking up politics is just the latest form of Americans’ recent frustration with their government. For years, voters have come to believe nobody in Washington is listening to them and their concerns are no longer their government’s concerns.
University of Iowa law professor David Orentlicher said those frustrations are justified and he offers a unique way to address them—adopt a two-person, multi-party presidency.
“Substantial numbers of voters feel that that their interests and concerns are not represented in a politically dominant White House,” said Orentlicher, who also teaches at the Indiana University-Indianapolis law school. “With a two-person presidency, a much higher percentage of voters will have their preferred candidate serving and will be much more comfortable with the initiatives that emerge from the executive branch.”
Orentlicher said the idea of a single executive was intended by the framers of the Constitution to be a check against Congress, which they believed would be the dominant branch of government. Time, however, has proven the framers’ concerns were misplaced.
“It has become clear that the founding fathers misjudged the consequences of a single president,” Orentlicher said. “They did not anticipate the extent to which executive power would expand and give us an “imperial presidency.” They did not predict the role that political parties would come to play and how battles to capture the White House would greatly aggravate partisan conflict. They did not recognize that single presidents would represent party ideology much more than the overall public good.”
Because the president has become so powerful, he said parties are now in permanent campaign mode to win the next election, and members of Congress are expected to line up behind the party’s initiatives designed to appeal mostly to their voting base. This divide only leads to political tone-deafness and angers voters, who believe they have been abandoned when the opposite party has control of the presidency.
But he said a two-person presidency with co-presidents coming from opposite parties would allay many of those fears because Americans would know their concerns are at least getting a hearing in the White House.
“A dual executive, with the two presidents coming from different political parties, would promote the kind of political harmony that the framers thought desirable,” he said. “Instead of one major party being out of power and working to brake—and break—the president’s administration, both major parties would have a stake in the success of the executive branch.”
Orentlicher said a hyphenated presidency would offer numerous other advantages to the government and the country, too. The job, he said, has become simply too big for any one person to handle, and the sharing of duties between two people with different life experiences and political ideas would allow for a more thoughtful, moderate approach to issues. Orentlicher said research indicates that two people working together make better decisions than one person deciding alone--two heads really are better than one.
Orentlicher acknowledges a co-presidency would be a radical change in the government, and that it would deviate significantly enough from the governmental structure the framers put forth that it would require a constitutional amendment. However, given that the framers’ primary concern was vesting too much power in the hands of a single person, he said a presidential duopoly would be truer to their intent than the current single-person model.
“Just as the framers protected against the accumulation of power and factional conflict by dividing power and requiring it to be shared, so would a two-person presidency work by dividing the executive power and requiring it to be shared,” Orentlicher said. “Had the framers anticipated the extent to which presidential power would expand, they would not have chosen to rest it in just one person.”
Orentlicher outlined his idea of a two-person presidency in his paper, “The Broken Presidency: How it has Failed Us and how We Can Fix It.” It was presented recently at the American Political Science Association annual meeting.
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