November 23, 2010

PERFECTING THE REPUBLIUC:

God Save the Colonies: Why America should adopt the British monarchy as its own. (ALEX MASSIE, NOVEMBER 19, 2010, Foreign Policy)

The monarchy lurks in the background, a rarely considered ever-present that still, perhaps remarkably, retains a hold on the people's affection. This confounds rationalists and strict-constructionist democrats alike for one simple reason: Royalty is an anachronism that works. Tradition has an intrinsic value, and anyway, there's no evidence that selecting a head of state by ballot rather than birth produces any better results.

In fact, the power of monarchy is demonstrated by republics around the world. The French president, for instance, wields powers comparable to those enjoyed by monarchs before parliaments challenged royal authority. The difference is that an elected head of state becomes a polarizing rather than unifying figure. Similarly, it's evident that the president of the United States is expected to be both the embodiment of the republic and some kind of priest-king: Father of the Nation and Chief Executive. This has a number of regrettable consequences.

Last year, Peggy Noonan, the American conservative commentator and former presidential speechwriter, complained that President Barack Obama lacked some of the presence that a good head of state requires. She imagines "a good president as sitting at the big desk and reaching out with his long arms and holding on to the left, and holding on to the right, and trying mightily to hold it together, letting neither spin out of control, holding on for dear life. I wish we were seeing that. I don't think we are."

Americans tempted to scoff at the gushing nonsense produced by the British press this week should attend to Noonan's words. It is one thing to be dazzled by quasi-mystical notions of the thread of royalty stretching back through the centuries; quite another to wrap a mere politician -- all too human flesh and all -- in such purpled prose. A politician is merely a politician, here today and tossed out tomorrow. The monarch, however, is a reassuring and enduring symbol whose presence is inoffensive at worst and more often comforting. The American system simply isn't set up to produce the kind of figure that Noonan longs for.

If the president must be comforter-in-chief and chief executive, is it any wonder that the office is bedeviled by a kind of institutional schizophrenia? The president must, simultaneously, be the leader of his party and a kindly, bipartisan father figure whose stately presence in the White House reassures and embodies the great republic. With all that, the wonder of the American presidency is not that it is done well but that it is done at all.


the Founders did their best to make the executive kingly, but the entire structure would be improved by a monarch completely outside electoral reach.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 23, 2010 4:06 PM
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