The perils of being a Democratic President

Following the Snowden leaks, the NSA data-hoarding and the surrounding controversy, Obama gave a speech last Friday to discuss the role of the NSA. The speech was hotly anticipated and there was not a huge amount of consensus as to what he would say.

Somewhat surprisingly, he did tell the NSA they had to stop holding vast quantities of data as it was an over-reach of their powers.

The examples here are wonderful. But lets start with the perils – being a Democrat and dealing with a perception of foreign/terrorist threats. Democrats in this situation encounter what is coined in some circles as the ‘mommy problem’; this is the idea that Democrats are elected when people want social welfare whereas when people want protecting they elect Republicans. Therefore Democrats who find themselves in Obama’s situation find themselves often unable to move away from confrontation for fear of their Democratic label being given as the reason. Mark Mardell adeptly explains about this case that, “as so often, [President Obama’s] liberal instincts may be at war with his perceived duty as commander in chief – and he may be doomed to disappoint many on both sides of the debate”.

This is supported in Oliver Stone’s, ‘The Untold History of the United States’, where a meeting is described between Leon panetta (head of the CIA at the time) and Obama regarding putting more troops into Afghanistan. The following excerpt is an astounding demonstration of the limitations of power of the president when it comes to foreign policy, an area in which he is traditionally perceived as strongest:

Obama met with close National Security Councils advisors over Thanksgiving weekend to weigh his options. “I don’t see how you can defy your military chain here,” Army Colonel John Tien warned him, implying that his entire military high command…might resign in protest. Donilon and CIA director Leon Panetta had been expressing similar views. “No Democratic president can go against military advice, especially if he asked for it,” PAnetta admonished. “So just do it,” he recommended. “Do what they say.”

This fascinating insight (and I thoroughly recommend the whole book!) demonstrates that perhaps a president’s control is not as black and white as many students have a tendency to imply.

Equally, this can be used to demonstrate an attempt to control the Federal Bureaucracy, a terrifyingly powerful body for many Americans that can be perceived to go largely unchecked, thus resulting in this kind of scandal. However, having studied this branch, you should be sceptical about the extent to which Obama will succeed in this control.

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