The Various Roles of the US President

The US President is the head of state of the United States, the chief executive of the federal government, as well as the commander in chief of the US armed forces. As such he is probably the most powerful person in the world who wields considerable powers derived from the US constitution, the super-power status of the US, and the influence and prestige of his office. The office of the US Presidency has evolved over the years and is no more the same as envisaged by the country’s founding fathers; the powers of the President now depend as much on the constitutional provisions as on historical precedents, the nature of the times, and the qualities of the president himself. This essay briefly describes the various roles of the US President with specific reference to the presidency of George W. Bush.
1.Expanded Role of the Presidency: From the time of the first US President (George Washington) to the end of the 19th century, the presidency had a limited role restricted mainly to the execution of policies made by the Congress. As the US became a world and industrial power in the 20th century, a stronger presidency was required for managing the country’s foreign policy and its growing domestic economy. The Great Depression of the 1930s and the Second World War saw a further expansion of the President’s role-a role that persists to date. Apart from the force of circumstances-industrialization, war, depression, terrorist attacks etc., certain strong presidents, e.g., Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin Roosevelt helped to expand the powers of the office by the force of their personalities and decisive actions at appropriate times. (Greenberg and Page, 355-359)
2.Ceremonial Role: The President of the United States is the head of the government as well as the head of state, unlike in most other democracies in which the two duties are usually shared by a monarch and a prime minister or a president and a prime minister. Hence the US president also fulfills a ceremonial role such as attending funerals, celebrating anniversaries etc. otherwise reserved for the head of state. (Ibid. 360)

3.Executive Role As chief executive of the federal government, the US President is invested with broad executive powers to run the day-to-day affairs and working of the government. He does so mainly by issuing executive orders that carry the force of law, to the heads of federal agencies for directing their operations. Other types of executive orders may be national or homeland security directives issued by the President.
Under the executive powers, the President nominates, and the Senate confirms, the heads of all executive departments and agencies, together with hundreds of other high-ranking federal officials. For example, one of the first executive orders of President G.W. Bush was the nomination of John Ashcroft as the Attorney General in December 2000.1 Other types of executive orders issued by the US President include implementation of important policy matters, especially in times of national emergencies. For example, Franklin Roosevelt ordered the internment of japanese-Americans during WW2 through an executive order; Presidents Johnson and Nixon used executive orders to lauch the affirmative action programs, and President Bush established the Office of Homeland Security in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. (Ibid., 371)
4.Legislative Role: Although the US Constitution gives the powers of legislation exclusively to the Congress, the President has come to play an important role in this sphere too. Much of the legislation is drafted by the Congress at the initiative of the President who gives his proposals through his annual State of the Union Address, or through special messages to the Congress. The President’s powers of persuasion, plus his ability to influence public opinion are critical in getting his proposed legislation passed by the Congress. In addition, his veto powers-he can veto any act of the Congress that stands unless the two-thirds majority of both houses over-ride the veto- is also gives a substantial say in the making of laws. (“Powers of…”)
If the same Party as the President’s controls the Congress, as at present, the requirement of veto seldom arises as the Congress endorses most of his proposed legislations.2 For example, President Bush has been able to get the PATRIOTS Act passed comfortably despite its controversial curtailment of the American citizens’ civil liberties.
5.Foreign Policy Leader and Commander-in-Chief: Article II of the US Constitution grants a lead role to the President in the foreign policy domain and his position as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces further consolidates that role. US Presidents have complete powers to formulate the country’s foreign policy and do not require endorsement of the Congress in the area. For example, Roosevelt and Nixon did not need any permission, for recognizing the governments of communist Soviet Union and China respectively, even though their acts were reversal of long-standing US policies (Greenberg & Page, 364). Similarly, President Bush has introduced a policy of ‘pre-emption’ as opposed to the long-standing US foreign policy of containment without the need of endorsement from any other agency.
6.Economy One of the key responsibilities of the President in the domestic area is the management of the country’s economy. Such a role has become obligatory for the President since the Great Depression of the 1930s, when the government started to play a greater role in the regulation of the economy. President Bush’s policy of major tax cuts and increased defense expenditure has resulted in record budget deficits but inflation still remains low.
7.Judicial Role The US President has the constitutionsl powers of nominating federal judges including those of the Supreme Court, subject to confirmation by the Senate. He can also grant pardon to anyone breaking a federal law. Most Presidents have used these powers to appoint judges of like political thinking, e.g., conservative/ Republican Presidents appoint conservative judges to the Supreme Court while liberal/ Democrat Presidents do the opposite. For example, President George W. Bush has nominated John Roberts Jr. as Chief Justice to the Supreme Court and Samuel Alito as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. (“George W. Bush” Wikipedia)

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