The modern presidency is characterized by incessant talk and promiscuous promises.
All modern presidents of both parties have been too much with us. Talking incessantly, they have put politics unhealthily at the center of America’s consciousness. Promising promiscuously, they have exaggerated government’s proper scope and actual competence, making the public perpetually disappointed and surly. Inflating executive power, they have severed it from constitutional constraints. So, sensible voters might embrace someone who announced his 2016 candidacy this way:
“I am ambling — running suggests unseemly ardor — for president. It is axiomatic that anyone who nowadays will do what is necessary in order to become president thereby reveals character traits, including delusions of adequacy and obsessive-compulsive disorder, that should disqualify him or her from proximity to powers concentrated in the executive branch. Therefore, my campaign will initially consist of driving around the Obnoxiously Entitled Four — Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada — trying to interest their 3.8 percent of America’s population in a minimalist president.
“Candidates are constantly asked, ‘Where will you take the country?’ My answer is: ‘Nowhere.’ The country is not a parcel to be ‘taken’ anywhere. It is the spontaneous order of 316 million people making billions of daily decisions, cooperatively contracting together, moving the country in gloriously unplanned directions.
“To another inane question, ‘How will you create jobs?’ my answer will be: ‘I won’t,’ other than by doing whatever the chief executive can to reduce the regulatory state’s impediments to industriousness. I will administer no major economic regulations — those with $100 million economic impacts — that Congress has not voted on. Legislators should be explicitly complicit in burdens they mandate.
“Congress, defined by the Constitution’s Article I, is properly the first, the initiating branch of government. So, I will veto no bill merely because I disagree with the policy it implements. I will wield the veto power only on constitutional grounds — when Congress legislates beyond its constitutionally enumerated powers, correctly construed, as they have not been since the New Deal. So I expect to cast more vetoes than the 2,564 cast by all previous presidents.
“My judicial nominees will seek to narrow Congress’s use of its power to regulate commerce as an excuse for minutely regulating Americans’ lives. My nominees will broaden the judicial recognition of Americans’ ‘privileges or immunities,’ the rights of national citizenship mentioned in the 14th Amendment, and the unenumerated rights referred to by the Ninth.
“In a radio address to the nation, President Franklin Roosevelt urged Americans to tell him their troubles. Please do not tell me yours. Tell them to your spouse, friends, clergy — not to a politician who is far away, who doesn’t know you, and whose job description does not include Empathizer in Chief. ‘I feel your pain,’ Bill Clinton vowed. I won’t insult your intelligence by similarly pretending to feel yours.
“A congenial society is one in which most people most of the time, and all politicians almost all of the time, say, when asked about almost everything: ‘This is none of my business.’ If as president I am asked what I think about the death of a rock star, or the imbecilic opinions of rich blowhards who own professional sports teams, I will say: ‘Americans should have no interest in my thoughts about such things, if I had any.’ I will try not to come to the attention of any television camera more than once a week, and only that often if I am convinced that I can speak without violating what will be my administration’s motto: ‘Don’t speak unless you can improve the silence.’
“I will not ruin any more American evenings with televised State of the Union addresses. I will mail my thoughts on that subject to Congress ‘from time to time,’ as the Constitution directs. This was good enough for Jefferson and every subsequent president until Woodrow Wilson, the first president who believed, as progressives do, that the nation cannot function without constant presidential tutoring and hectoring.
“This country has waged many wars since it last actually declared war, on June 5, 1942, against Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary. If it is necessary to use military force, I shall, if exigencies permit, give Congress the pleasure of collaboration.
“Finally, there have been 44 presidencies before the one I moderately aspire to administer, and there will be many more than 44 after it. Mine will be a success if, a century hence, Americans remember me as dimly as they remember Grover Cleveland, the last Democratic president with proper understanding of this office’s place in our constitutional order.”
— George F. Will is a Pulitzer Prize–winning syndicated columnist. © 2014 The Washington Post