Becoming a president of the United States can be one of the most demanding jobs in the world. This is because of various constitutional, legislative and political interests. The paper shall look at some specific examples in history.
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Constitutional crises of the Nixon and Reagan administrations
The Nixon presidency was afflicted with the Watergate scandal. It started from June seventeenth 1972 and culminated in the resignation of this president in the month of August 1974. The scandal emanated from a break in of the Watergate complex during the former mentioned date. This break in was carried out by five individuals who were found to have strong links with high ranking officials within the Nixon presidency. Some of them included the serving Attorney general and members of the Nixon reelection committee. Shortly after this burglary, the courts later came to realize that Nixon had knowledge of the break in and had taken substantial measures to cover up this crime. In the process of doing this, he engaged in several illegal actions such as payment of bribes to the burglars so as to keep them quiet, intimidating his political opponents and overstepping his mandate as president by requiring the CIA and the FBI to go against their obligations. In this regard, the president had committed perjury because of staging a large conspiracy. The constitutional crisis in the Nixon presidency emerged after it had been asserted that the President was trying to act over and above the three arms of the United States government which include the Executive branch (through its agencies), the legislative branch which wanted to impeach him and the Judicial branch which was in charge of the Watergate trial and subsequent hearings. President Nixon did not abide by all three branches’ demands when he was asked to hand over recording tapes. The latter leader had taped conversations going on in the White house and they had these tapes had the potential to reveal whether the President was guilty or not. After a long tag of war between himself and these three bodies, the President released the tapes and it found that he had engaged in a conspiracy to hide the true reason behind the Watergate break in. This eventually pushed him to the wall as he saw an inevitable impeachment campaign by Congress; he therefore had to step down. This scandal became a constitutional crisis because the three government branches were wrestling against a serving President. (Sirica 1979, 114)
President Reagan was faced with the Iran Contra affair that occurred in the year 1985. This scandal was a constitutional crisis because members of the Reagan administration attempted to override the country’s constitution under the guise of security. At that time, the National Security council was negotiating the fate of hostages held by an Iranian terrorist group. The latter council sold weapons to the Iranian terrorist group and then diverted this very amount (forty eight million dollars) to counter revolutionaries linked to the Nicaraguan government. There were two major constitutional issues that arose in these actions. First of all, the United States does not support such a method of handling terrorist organizations. It instead advocated for isolationist tactics. In other words, it was unethical to exchange hostages for arms as was the case in this deal. Secondly, the constitution did not approve of provisions of financial assistance to a revolutionary group in the concerned country. In other words, this was a direct violation of US policy on international relations with Nicaragua. It should however be noted that prior to this constitutional crisis, the US national security team was keen on prolonging the Iraqi-Iran conflict so as to wear out these two countries and thus secure the lives of the concerned US hostages. However, after the administration became frustrated with Congress’ opposition, it decided to act independently by funding the Nicaraguan contras. This eventually led to a crisis of the constitution since questions were brought forward on whether a presidential administration can act in contravention of Congress’s decisions. It was also found that members of this administration were trying to obstruct investigations and the entire scandal was characterized by deceit as well as secrecy since documents involving the arms trade were destroyed by members of Reagan’s administration. (New York Times, 27 November 1988, A 15)
The concept of modern presidency is characterized by presidents who act independently of their parties by appealing directly to the masses and also by leaders who take responsibility for their own actions without implicating their parties. The thirty fifth president of the US republic President John F. Kennedy demonstrated this concept in his election. This leader increased his influence and power at the cost of other government institutions and Congress as well. In fact, it can be argued that his actions were fundamental in causing competition between several modern presidents and congress when it comes to policy related issues. If there is a legislative agenda that a certain modern president endorses then such an individual is likely to push it forward with little regard for parliament. These patterns can be witnessed by actions carried out by Nixon, Clinton and Reagan within their terms in office. (Gould 2004, 41)
Modern American presidencies are also characterized by intense and successful use of media platforms to propagate one’s agenda. The development of mass communication devices such as television, radio and others was critical in making this fact true. For instance, there had been an assassination attempt against President Reagan during his term in office. The American public was therefore waiting to hear what their president had to say to them with regard to this matter. This leader made a televised speech where he talked about his support for tax cuts for the American people. Through such tactics, he was able to win the citizens’ support.
Modern presidencies are also characterized by conflicting demands. This can be demonstrated very clearly through President George Bush Jnr.’s presidency. In the modern era, the American people redefined their expectations of what their President should be; one who understands the needs of the common persons but at the same time takes control of the international arena. These are conflicting expectations that may sometimes lead to the detriment of a certain leader. For instance, in the Bush presidency, the public demonstrated wide support for his policies after the nine eleventh attacks as he displayed aggressive leadership in the international arena. This support was so strong that it led to his re-election. However, after prolonged occupation of Iraq, it became evident to the American people that there was a wide divide between their president and the needs at home. This eventually led to his waning popularity and public disdain against him.
Another important aspect of the modern American president is the reduction of legislative powers against presidents. After President JFK got to power, he introduced the concept of a celebrity president who could appeal directly to the hearts and minds of the people. These powers were so great that they could even surpass some of congress’s powers. A case in point was President Bill Clinton. The latter individual was facing a possibility of impeachment by Congress as a result of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. However, he publicly apologized for his actions and therefore won the support of the populace. This eventually caused parliament to loose certain elements of their impeachment abilities as they had to reconsider opinions held by the public.
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The modern presidency is a huge challenge to various individuals because there are varying and conflicting expectations. However, some presidents have managed to juggle these divergent views.
Gould, L. 2004. The modern American presidency. Lawrence: Kansas University press.
Sirica, J. 1979. Break in, tapes, conspirators and the pardon. NY: Norton Publishers.