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tv   Discussion on the Role of the Presidency  CSPAN  November 5, 2021 7:11am-8:02am EDT

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>> at the don of the republic, federalists -- leaders reached a compromise. the debate over the scope and role of a changing presidency continues. you will hear heritage visiting
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-- here our heritage visiting scholar discussed the healthy debate of the role of the presidency. he is a senior research scholar on the council of humanity and in the james madison program at princeton university. he is one of our renowned visiting scholars here at the heritage foundation. as an acclaimed scholar of american history, his writing has been recognized as among the most important contributions to scholarly and public understanding of the 19th century -- of 19th century america. his book "abraham lincoln: redeemer president" received the 2000 lincoln prize. you can look more at his bio and see all of the incredible work
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he has contributed to our nation. joining us will be a former student body president at florida international university and former heritage academy fellow. dr. elizabeth spalding is a senior fellow at pepperdine's school of public policy. last but not least, my dear colleague dakota wood from the davis institute for national security and or and here at the heritage foundation. before you get to meet our incredible panelists, i want to turn it over. we want to make sure you remember to engage in the
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conversation by putting your questions in the question box. welcome. dr. guelzo: thank you. being a history person, i'm going to start by sketching some background for how we got particular office of government we call the president of the united states. as it is, the president of the united states is probably the single most familiar face in the world, and the irony of that dominance is that very few people at the nation's founding expected that would ever be the case. the american revolution was, after all, a revolution against the rule of a single executive at the head of government. the executive, in the case of the revolution, being the king of england.
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but americans have been having difficult times with governmental executives for a lot longer than just the years preceding 1776. governors of the english colonies, for instance, as far back as the 17th century, had a firm ruling in america that -- said firm ruling in america would be a difficult task. governors had to cope with colonial councils and legislatures, which paid their salaries and kept them in line. in 1765, after the passage of the stamp act, furious new yorkers attach the home of new york's acting governor, burned him in effigy, and earned his favorite coat -- burned his favorite coat. the massachusetts governor had
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his home invaded, by someone who smashed his doors, axed his furniture, and made off with money, plates, gold rings, etc. when americans finally rose in general of old against great britain in 1775, they did their best to wipe out any trace of executive governors. at the first continental congress, they designated -- but gave him no powers beyond keeping deliberations in order. john hancock might have signed the declaration of independence in the boldest hand of all as president of the congress in 1776, but signing documents was almost all he did.
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some states actually abolished the office of governor entirely and tried to rule through a council elected by the legislature. having thrown off the rule of a king, americans were not eager to substitute something similar in its place. but the experience of the postwar years demonstrated that too little executive power might be a recipe for anarchy rather than liberty. when the constitutional convention assembled in philadelphia in 1787, one of the leading members of the convention, james wilson of pennsylvania, moved in the opening days of the liberations to create a national executive who would possess executive powers of congress. this generated first shocked
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silence, and then equally shocked annunciation, as edmund randolph described such an executive as the fetus of monarchy. wilson had a hard experience of years of misrule under the articles of confederation to stand upon. the question quickly became not whether there should be such a national executive, but how he should be elected, how long his term should run, whether he should be equipped with a veto over congress and whether he could be recalled from office by impeachment. in the end, the convention agreed the executive power shall be vested in a president of united states of america, a president who shall hold his office during the term of four years and would serve as commander in chief of the armed
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forces, have the power of pardon and also the power of commission and appointment to office, and above all, take care that the laws be faithfully executed. but this executive, when they finally settled on calling a president, had no power to levy taxes nor to regulate congress nor even to raise the armed forces that he was otherwise supposed to command. almost from the first, presidency began to acquire power. the first congress under the constitution authorized the creation of a series of executive offices, what we today would call the cabinet. but it conceded to the first president, george washington, the power to appoint and dismiss
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them. the constitution stipulated the president was to seek the advice and consent of the senate on treaties, but congress, after much angry debate, allowed washington to issue a neutrality declaration in the ongoing war between france and england, was in effect to place the entire direction of foreign policy in the president's hands. when john jay completed a controversial treaty with great britain in 1785, congress demanded to see the documents behind the treaty, only to be refused by washington, citing for the first time executive river ridge. john adams and thomas jefferson, as washington's successors as president, expanded the executive reach further. jefferson, after some
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uncertainty, authorized the purchase of the louisiana territory from the polian bonaparte in 1803. and like washington, refused congressional demands for documents, pleading executive privilege. while adams and jefferson as president tried dangerously on civil liberties as they enforced the alien and sedition acts under adams and embargo acts under jefferson. so hesitant as the founders were about presidential power, the structure they created has turned out to be a durable one. the restraints posed on the office have insured the control of military affairs remains in civilian hands, the impeachment power has not led to any usurping of the executive branch by congress or the judiciary.
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but in every significant point of dispute over the president's powers, the resolution has almost invariably gone in the executive's favor. nor is that a new development. as we have seen, it began with the very first president. let me stop there, and having set the table, let me invite the members of our panel to join me, and they will come on screen, there we have dr. spalding and there we have sabrina and there we have dakota. i would like to be able to pose some questions to them that will further open up and enlighten this whole question, why do we have a president? how did we get the kind of president we have today? i wonder if i can begin with dr. spalding and let me put this question to you.
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elizabeth, you have written a number of articles on the nature of the presidency, you have talked about the subject of the presidency at pepperdine university and hillsdale college. can you give us some idea, some insight into the relationship between a president's -- and their political decision-making. from time to time, you see this in dramatic ways, i think of abraham when compared -- this way. why should americans pay attention to the dynamic, faith and politics in the lives of the presidents? dr. spalding: thank you, it is a pleasure to be here and thank you to the heritage foundation. that particular question, we could spend hours and hours on, but i would say one thing we
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want to focus on is where we see the presence of faith as well as the absence of faith. often in the academy and in our culture at large, people only see an absence of faith because that might be where they are coming from. but the presence of faith has been almost universal, whatever the faith is, and ongoing in our presidents overtime. all of them have said variations of there are no atheists in foxholes or the oval office. more recently, some presidents would not think of, like lyndon johnson, he is one of the ones that said that. it is very important to note, and something that hasn't always been given enough attention. a few examples that might help
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beyond lincoln -- of course lincoln gives us many examples -- but if you think about in other times of crisis, because that's where you see these presidents really believe, what they think and will decide. during world war ii, franklin roosevelt drew on his faith. he drew on his episcopal faith that he had gotten not only from his parents but also headmaster of the boarding school he went to. he drew on this to not only frame the stakes of world war ii, but to walk with and motivate and keep the war effort going. if you haven't read it ever or if it has been a while, his d-day prayer, which he wrote with his daughter, is well worth looking at. it is short, you can look into an audio clip of it, and it
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makes this point about the intersection of faith and politics and where it works well. and the cold war is full of examples of faith and politics. it is fascinating to think the book in presidents of that conflict in many ways, harry truman and ronald reagan, they were both men of faith, different denominations, but that was their understanding of the major, -- major conflict of the 20th century and sought as a battle between good and evil between communism and democracy and theism and atheism, the atheism on the part of communism. that is an example that you cannot get away from it, even to this day. obviously we still have communist countries finally, an example -- countries. finally, as an example, you think of george w. bush, you
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never would've had compassionate conservatism pursued if it had not have the input of his own faith, which he was very vocal about. he is one of the presidents in modern times that has been most vocal about his faith. but all of it shows the intersection. dr. guelzo: are there any moment you can point to in which a particularly important presidential decision was really a product of the environment of a president's faith? i am thinking in this case, and this is a lincoln example, that won't surprise you, when he resolves to issue the emancipation proclamation in september of 1862, he calls his cabinet together and tells them, i have resolved, i will issue this emancipation proclamation, we will free the confederacy slaves, it is a dramatic moment
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and probably the most important single decision a president has to make in terms of domestic policy in the 19th century. he explains it to his cabinet in terms of what he called a covenant, a vow he had with god that if the union army was successful in driving the confederate army of robert e. lee back across the potomac river, which they did at the battle of antietam just a week before this cabinet meeting, lincoln said he had made this vow that is going to send the proclamation after him and for phil that val -- fulfill that val. -- vow. one of them said would you mind repeating yourself? did i hear you correctly? lincoln said yeah, i made a vow to my maker that i would issue this proclamation and now i am
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going to do it. are there other moments like that in american history that show a direct influence of a president's faith on decision-making? dr. spalding: i think there are multiple examples. one that comes to mind from more recent years for us that do history as well as politics is president reagan, and after he survived the assassination attempt, he said he believed god had spared him to do something more than he had been done thus far as president. if you think about the relationship he had already started but then he really went on to forge with various readers, including pope john paul ii, to wage what ended up being a winning act in the cold war, and reagan could not have known that going in. he said he had faith in god and then policy, but it was
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dramatic, he talked about it the divine plan. he would talk about the dp with various advisors. he got it from one of them but then he liked it so much he used it. he definitely comes to mind. if you think about somebody like woodrow wilson, going back further to world war i, he was really convinced not only because of politics but out of his presbyterian faith that it was destined that we should have a league of nations. you can go through his statements private and public and trace that out. there were many examples like that. dr. guelzo: interesting. sabrina, you actually served in an executive capacity. you have been a student body president at florida international university. i never came close -- the closest i came is i was elected
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president of my junior class in high school. that pretty mellow -- pretty well exhausts my executive attractiveness. i was not a good vote-getter, but you have been, and you also served as university trustee for two consecutive years. in this capacity, you had to do and be responsible for lots of things. a $20 million budget for enhancing the collegiate experience. you had many experiences hands on, what executive decision-making was like. tell us, as you have worked your own way through this, both living it and also studying it now as a graduate student, what does the media do in terms of setting the stage for president's actions? how does the media's interpretation of what the president does and says, how does that alter their image, and
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especially how does social media today influence the image of the president for people of your generation? sabrina: thank you for the brief introduction, it is exciting to be here today. to your point about the media, and i will even hint at this in my experience at the local level, student government, i think click bait has unfortunately become everything. we have a 24 hour news cycle that is become very dominant. we have the proliferation of social media. all of these platforms have caused a massive influx of information that i think confuses people more than provides clarity as to what is going on, what is the president working on, is he doing a good job? i think every day we can turn on the news and there is a different type of opinion and that also depends on what platform are you watching,
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listening to, where are you getting this information from? you have this influx of information trying to tell you what to think, how to think, and really kind of translates into action sometimes. we are bombarded causally with social issues, it almost feels like every week we are focusing on one issue and the next week, that issue will die down. we saw that play out with cuba. i am from miami and cuba is a big part of our culture. i am also cuban-american. this really dominated our local media and media in general and now here we are about three weeks removed and it is no longer the central theme on the media, now we are talking about international affairs constantly of offing and changing. without getting into too much detail, you need to provide that example of how we are bombarded with information and unable to make up our own minds because by the time we have made up our
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minds on a particular issue, there is another issue being presented. i think it is simple to say we are excepting some of these things as facts because it almost requires no effort to be in the know, you turn on the tv, you go on twitter, you go on your local media outlets and there is this information being thrown at you. i think more specific to my generation, it is almost reading pseudo-experts, they feel a sense of confidence to comment on these issues and this ability to articulate their beliefs across these platforms like social media and sometimes that takes the form of what we call virtue signaling, instead of taking a critical look at policy, you are taking what you find most attractive on social media, you're dictating that information, making up your mind, and i think that has contributed to a sense of divisiveness. i can even go on social media and not see something political
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being discussed. these platforms that were once intended to bring people together and to unite people and promote small businesses and different, more family and friend focused messages are now becoming platforms to express political concerns. that's where they are painting their image. you can go on your social media accounts and you will know who is a biden supporter or a trump supporter. it really points back to the proliferation of social media platforms and the use of it across multi-generations that has really contributed to this perception and narrative of the presidency. dr. guelzo: i don't know if this gives any consolation at all given these radically polarized images you find in media and social media today, but even in george washington's day as president, the press savaged him. george washington.
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in what was then the capital, philadelphia. newspapers depicted fort washington as a sellout to the british, as an agent of the british monarchy. you are thinking wait a minute, this is george washington we are talking about. in a sense, people were doing this, the media trying to create images even in the 1790's, even under the first president. it is some consolation in knowing this is not a new thing, but it has taken them new forms in the way you described. really extraordinary. let me turn to the coda wood. -- dakota wood. you are the editor for the index of u.s. military strength, which -- am i right -- the only one available to the public on the u.s. military? dakota: it is a globally unique
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products, there is nothing else literally on the planet where a country will talk about the status of its military power. our index tries to convey that about the u.s. military to the taxpayers who pay for it. really proud of it, fully accessible on the website. it is fully referenced. almost 2000 footnotes, if you are a real academic geek, you can see where we derive our information from here dr. guelzo: footnotes are -- information from. dr. guelzo: footnotes are a work of art. that is an extremely valuable tool. will you tell us again the url? dakota: will take you to a website where all of the material -- we are just wrapping up the eighth edition, which will be released october 20. the current candidate -- current
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edition and six previous editions are on there. we try to make it as accessible as possible to somebody who might be interested in the world as an operating space, how our allies are doing, competitors, potential enemies like china and russia, what are they doing and what other capabilities? and finally, the u.s. military, doesn't have the ability to do the things we expect our military to do? talking about why a president, commander-in-chief, he has to make the case for why we have a military, what might it be used for and make the case to congress. congress provides the resources and they have to be convinced and are acting on behalf of the people who pay those tax dollars, and the president is obligated to use that in a responsible way and provide a report on the results. a lot of that is opaque and hidden from the american public,
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and we try to convey this and away, again, very accessible, data driven, and makes a compelling case for the current status and way we think it is currently underfunded. dr. guelzo: the situation we are looking at, literally looking at on television screens and computer screens today concerning afghanistan, that raises a lot of questions and people's minds about the responsibility and role of the president of the united states, especially with that constitutional designation of in commander-in-chief. how has that role changed in recent times? you almost want to say in the last week. and how has the afghan withdrawal affected how we look at, see and understand the president's role as commander in chief? dakota: world events reveal the actual status, the true status
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of things that were easy to talk about. a candidate for office can say he or she will do certain things. when they are actually put into that moment, their actions will reveals a truth of that, the reality of that. the afghan situation reveals the reality of the nature of the world as opposed to just diplomatic rhetoric or wishful thinking, and it shows with the military can actually do. the military is an instrument of national power, like trade agreements and economic initiatives and trade exchanges and all of the things you think about countries, and what the white house might talk about your -- talk about. the military is an instrument. so long periods of relative peace and prosperity, you can say you have lots of capabilities or say the world is
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a certain way or the taliban or the communist party in beijing or whomever would respond or react in a certain way to some kind of a diplomatic to marsh -- dimarche, but when the country of afghanistan is taken over, you are like a deer in the headlights. whether you are a senior in congress or the president, what do you do with the reality of that situation? periods of peace and prosperity, which we have had since the end of the cold war, a 30 year story, the warsaw pact resolved, nato, we could say iran or north korea were bad guys but nobody believed we would go to war. spending on defense, you shrink the size, equipment gets older. and then you have a situation.
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it is a long-winded way of saying there are promises and there are hidden realities, but when it comes down to it, the tool you have is going to have a certain goodness to it, capable or not capable, but then it is the political policy decision on whether to use that tool and how to use that tool. for an administration like george w. bush or barack obama or donald trump or now joe biden to decide the political decision to get involved in afghanistan or to stay there a while or withdraw, these were policy decisions. what underlies that policy decision is an assumption of conditions in the world and whether the tools you have, u.n. dispatches and security council, stamens from the white house, -- statements from the white house or military power, how useful
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they are. it is hard to wage war by committee, it never works well. in article two of the constitution, the first paragraph -- well, second one -- talks about the role of commander-in-chief, given to the president to be that person to whom the nation looks for using the military tool to secure u.s. national interests. later in article one, congress is supposed to provide for these tools, and army and navy, now a space force and cyber command and those sorts of things. when we have a situation life afghanistan and we have the secretary of defense, chairman of joints chief -- joint chiefs and so forth saying we can and can't do things, it should call people to question whether the president of any party or time really knows the capabilities of this tool and whether we can physically go in and do things
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the public would expect their tax dollars would have made possible, if that makes sense. dr. guelzo: we do an audit thing in our constitution, we divide -- an odd thing in our constitution, we divide responsibility. we say that congress can declare war and raise an army or navy, but then we say the president is the one who was the commander in chief and to take charge and time of war. is that division of power between the legislative branch and executive branch still practical today in an environment of instant decisions? are we looking, as we did at the situation in kabul, looking at a process that now moves so fast that it almost makes the idea of congressional action and sponsor to it seem slow and ponderous and antique?
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does that create an argument in favor of unilateral presidential decision? because we have not had, correct me if i am wrong, we have not had a formal declaration of war in terms of conflict since world war ii. dakota: this reveals the reality of humans in the loop. you can create your aquatic structures, trade sets of rules and authorities and permissions, but if somebody wants to do something, they will find a way to work around that. if you recall the budget control act of 2000 11 was supposed to cap defense spending at certain levels because the federal government could figure out a way to reduce federal spending. what did congress do when they saw the reality of the military forces they created? a new spending account not
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subject to the limitations of the budget control act. they figured out how to do it. the president has always been able to say there is an urgent threat, my responsibility per the constitution is to provide for the security of the country and i can use this tool, this military to respond to that and then i will go to congress and make sure they are in agreement with it and continue to fund it. what congress does is they always continue to fund. if they control the purse, they can stop budgetary support, but they don't do that. in spite of the rhetoric, we find both sides, the legislative and executive branch, complicit in these long-running engagements and involvements in foreign countries. i think this question about whether we want to invest in a unitary power, you would have to seed -- cede budgetary
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responsibility from congress, he would never get that, or military to congress. that would be a disaster. i think the founding fathers did a good job of dividing the responsibilities that allow us to respond quickly to an emerging situation and yet you still have the responsive -- the representatives of the public responding. it is messy, it was meant to be that way so we have these sort of debates, that it seems to be the best of otherwise bad options. dr. guelzo: we have some questions coming in from the audience through our chats. some of these questions are aimed at the same target. that is the use of presidential executive orders. one of our questioners asks about the seemingly unlimited power of the president to create law and his desired policy
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through executive orders without any law having been passed. what are -- my regulation -- my recollection is that ulysses grant is the first that issues something called an executive order. have executive orders become something which have grown into a way of circumventing the normal processes of government? or are executive orders something that are much more routine, much more harmless than we sometimes think they are, they sound impressive. what are we looking at? most of us don't understand what the business of executive orders is. this is something i through out to all of our panelists. dr. spalding: in order to answer this, i think we want to build off of what dakota was talking
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about. we are in a constitutional system rather than a presidential system, so where we are right now, executive orders and all, is both have to do their jobs better. the executive has to do his job at her because obviously he has all those people working for him and elements working for him, like you were sketching out, and also congress has to do his job better. congress has to stop delegating to the executive branch and the executive branch has to say no. you have to look at the single person and structure of the chief executive of the president, commander-in-chief. you still need somebody like that, the way the world is both bigger and smaller at the same time, all of the different things sabrina was talking to just on the media, and other factors as well. it means that particular individual really has to be somebody who is self-aware,
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knows himself, knows america, knows america's role in the world, appreciates the office and obviously the constitution, and knows that he or she is one in a long line of chief executives. that is a president who will not only try to be prudent and everything he is doing but also seeking wise counsel and the knowing i cannot do everything. i think that is something where if you had both branches really looking at this constitutional system and saying we are going to do what we are supposed to do and restore that balance, you would have executive orders only as necessary rather than them becoming the back-and-forth war, the next president comes in and undoes the executive orders of the previous president and you don't actually have legislation and the reflection and liberation about it that soni factors, not just media, but so
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many factors have contributed to this change we now have in america. i don't think we are at the point where we should throughout the constitutional system, and we have to keep teaching and reminding people that that is what it is. it is not a congressional system and it is not a presidential system, it is a constitutional system. dakota: it is an illustration, we are talking about the wonderful and maddening dysfunctionality of this constitutional system we have. rule by committee, which means things hardly ever get done, and the executive just runs off with executive orders and they are not countermanded or challenged in congress. and yet if you had a completely unitary system, you could see what a supreme executive like an
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emperor or king would actually be able to do. they just rule by decree, and we would not want that, either. what it comes down to, to what dr. spalding was talking about, is the character and competence and thoughtfulness of the people we elect into office. if you want a beer drinking buddy, you will get a beer drinking buddy. if you want somebody who is serious about understanding the world and the country, what their actions might imply for their successors, how they might carry on this long line of tradition of actually quite a bit of restraint, which i think fort washington set the standard for on that, you have to give some thought to the people you elect, and i think where sabrina was coming from, with very important points, is this sense that these senior individuals are accessible, that they
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resonate with me and i can relate to them, and yet not have the pendulum swing so far in the popularity contest that you are not getting competent people into office. so that when the chips are down and you have anna gaskins -- you have afghanistan or a border crisis, do these people whom you liked and play well on social media -- why did john f. kennedy defeat richard nixon? one was on tv and the other wasn't. how did social media shape the perspectives of a chief executive and are we getting the competence and seriousness and the majority of individuals that can handle national and global affairs? dr. guelzo: are we reaching a point where between congress and the president, and unwillingness on the part of congress to challenge the president, the willingness of the president to
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move in certain directions, where we haven't created what is a fourth branch of government, a federal or executive bureaucracy that tends to function according to its own administrative law with its own administrative courts? am i describing something which is a matter of real concern, and if so, what do we do about it? dr. spalding: you are describing something of great concern and the rise of the administrative state is now 100 years, it is not something that is just recent. it is something people need to know about. i think a lot of people don't even understand it is a problem. so first would be telling people about that, educating people and trying to bring together. it means not only is the pressure on the president to do his job and have all of those different qualities and the self awareness of restraint, and
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congress to do its job, but we as citizens have to do our job. that is very important and people forget in today's 24/7 world, a lot of what we have already been talking about. we are very important in this and that is something i don't think in our current culture, it is very difficult to say you have to be responsible and you have to educate yourself about these candidates and you have to decide, and it is incumbent on you as a good citizen to talk about it with your family, friends and neighbors. dr. guelzo: i have one last question number that is for sabrina. you have been a student body president, so the question i want to ask is this -- when you were student body president at florida international university, were you a great student body president or the
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greatest student body president? sabrina: i would like to say i was the greatest, but to kind of discuss and shed some light on what student government was -- i say it is the local list -- localist version of politics. there is also a sense of fiduciary responsibility because we are directing the use of the service fees. my apologies, my lights are going off in my office because it is detecting a haven't moved from my desk, but i will keep going. the size of our student body is approximately 56,000 students. it is quite a few students i had represent and i am thankful i was able to be reelected twice,
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but with that position, it required a sense of self-awareness that dr. spalding hinted at before that is important for serving as a president of sorts. i really found a sense of responsibility through that position because it allowed me to be aware of the institution, it allowed me to be aware of what we were doing not just in service of our students, but on the research side. i am expanding on this to say the role of a presidency, it is crucial to have that sense of self-awareness, of what is going on within those bureaucracies and government. i had a cabinet of folks i had to appoint that would serve over specific initiatives we were trying to carry out, and that team was just as critical as me. this panel is trying to answer the question of do we need a president? i would think yes would be the answer, we need that representation, that captain leading the ship, but the president is important, however
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his cabinet, the folks in these agencies, they are critical positions. i think with the proliferation of news, the 24 hour news cycle in social media, there is not enough attention on who these people are and those details of what is going on to the average person who might not be as engaged as everyone on this panel on a policy perspective. you ask someone right now in my own hallway right now, who are our cabinet secretaries? most people cannot answer that. who is the deputy secretary? these kind of questions and understanding who these people are, not just determining our policy but carrying out our policy, is a critical thing i think is not focused on as much as it should be. again, i think i was a fantabulous president, but only as good as the people around me. dr. guelzo: i will be happy to vote for that or for you the next i have a chance to do so.
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i think the clock is telling me we have come to the end of our session and i think it has been a very enjoyable session. i have enjoyed interacting with everyone. what i would like to do in conclusion is to turn the screen and the microphone back over to angela, who will bring our session to a close, and as i do, let me once again thank dr. spalding, dakota wood and sabrina for their contributions to this discussion today. angela? the floor is yours. angela: thank you all, what incredible discussion. dakota, so timely with what is going on in the nation right now, it is nice when we are planning something and we have current events and we can bring it all together. we so appreciate all of you. we appreciate the participants, and on behalf of our president, please continue to join us for these conversations.
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