Head Of State

The American Presidency is a two-headed beast: part constitutional monarch and part prime minister. The last two Democratic Presidents have been slow to embrace the head of state part of the office, which has always mystified me since the ultimate Democratic President, FDR, was the ultimate head of state. That was the real secret to Ronald Reagan’s popularity: he was an outstanding elected constitutional monarch. The wingers will tell you that it was all about his policies when it was really all about the symbols and rhetoric. It was no accident: Reagan abandoned his New Deal beliefs and the Democratic Party but never stopped admiring and emulating FDR.

Much of the first two years of the Obama administration has been an eerie rerun of the same period of the Clinton presidency. Both Democratic Presidents got so bogged down in the details of legislation that they forgot that, however much we may like sausage, nobody cheers the sausage maker, which is why Congressional leaders are rarely popular figures. The chef (head of state in my somewhat lugubrious analogy) gets all the credit for the boudin or ________ being yummy. Jimmy Carter was, as always, sui generis: he alienated the congressional leadership of his own party so he couldn’t play PM and his attempts to play head of state made him sound like the national scold.

Barack Obama had a hanging curveball of a chief of state moment in Tucson tonight and he knocked it out of the park. I hadn’t planned to watch the whole memorial service but I found it very moving and-using a word I rarely deploy-uplifting. Appealing to the country’s better nature is not only the right thing to do, it’s good politics. Playing a unifying figure is part of the job description and it’s what helped Bill Clinton right the leaky ship of his administration and win re-election. I hope, however, that the analogy ends there since Clinton’s second term was messier than a group of toddlers finger painting. Hmm, that pretty much sums up the whole idiotic impeachment era.

Okay, that’s my take. I hope it was coherent since I’ve had a uniquely vile cold/flu thing this week that rendered me non compos mentis for days. Of course, some people think I’m *always* out of it but what the hell to do they know?