Candidates running for president in recent decades have sounded in their speeches more like they believe they are running for the position “God” rather than the position “President of the United States.” John Stossel pointed this out in his recent special on 20/20.
Politicians claim that they can solve economic crisis, prevent natural disasters, keep the enemy at bay, create millions of jobs, and so on. Gene Healy argues in his book The Cult of the American Presidency that the executive has incredible power outside its original constitutional limits in part because we have fallen for this idea that the president can save us. The candidate we like we think can cure all our ills, while the one we dislike will destroy the country over night. But, he argues, in fact both are probably about equally destructive because the power given to the position and the scope of the government’s role is the core problem, not who sits in the office.
It wasn’t always this way. Although government was a tiny fraction the size it is today, Calvin Coolidge was a proponent of privatizing those concerns where the state had taken control and failed. There are so many time when these words would have been appropriate these past decades, but so few times when this sentiment was aired, and fewer when the action was taken:
“If anything were needed to demonstrate the almost utter incapacity of the National Government to deal directly with an industrial and commercial problem, it has been provided by our experience with this property.”
In that speech Coolidge mentions the “enormous debt” of $30 per person or $150 per 5-person household. Adjusted for inflation, $30 would be about $352 dollars today. Our per capita national debt today is about $35,000. Yet, he saw the debt as a serious concern, and vowed to reduce it. Just a few years later he was able to make these remarks – just imagine we could say this today:
“We have substituted for the vicious circle of increasing expenditures, increasing tax rates, and diminishing profits the charmed circle of diminishing expenditures, diminishing tax rates, and increasing profits.
Four times we have made a drastic revision of our internal revenue system, abolishing many taxes and substantially reducing almost all others. Each time the resulting stimulation to business has so increased taxable incomes and profits that a surplus has been produced. One-third of the national debt has been paid, while much of the other two-thirds has been refunded at lower rates, and these savings of interest and constant economies have enabled us to repeat the satisfying process of more tax reductions. Under this sound and healthful encouragement the national income has increased nearly 50 per cent…”
Notice that he spoke of the “national debt” not the deficit being paid off. What America needs today is not a president who promises hope and dreams, and to cure our ills with more spending, but a president that sees how far outside constitutional bounds we have come, and vows to get us on the path of that charmed circle of reducing expenditures, cutting taxes and increasing our private prosperity.