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Congress and the President

October 26, 2010

Civil rights leader Malcom X was known for his extremely opinionated views on society and its multitude of problems. While explaining some of his beliefs at a Cleveland church in 1964, he made an observation that is still extremely pertinent to modern American politics. He said, “In this present administration they have in the House of Representatives 257 Democrats to only 177 Republicans. They control two-thirds of the House vote. Why can’t they pass something that will help you and me? In the Senate, there are 67 senators who are of the Democratic Party. Only 33 of them are Republicans. Why, the Democrats have got the government sewed up, and you’re the one who sewed it up for them. And what have they given you for it?” Although it was by no means the main point or purpose of his speech, Malcom X’s argument raises the broader question of the effectiveness of the American political system due to the relationship between the president and Congress.

In writing the constitution, the founding fathers followed the principles originally laid out by the Greeks that designated for a “separation of the powers”.  The intentions of this system are to split the power among the different branches of government (i.e. Executive, Legislative, and Judicial), to guard against the fear of a single person becoming too powerful. In essence, each branch checks the power of the other, thus deriving the name checks and balances. One of the key components that comprises this balance of power in our current government, is the relationship between the Executive branch and the Legislative branch.

Both the Executive branch (president) and the Legislative branch (Congress) play a vital role in policy making. Problems usually derive from blockades of power that depend on the party affiliation of the Congress and the president. The only two possible scenarios are that the president and Congress are either of the same party affiliation, or they are not. Whichever situation the President finds himself changes the way that he conducts policymaking exponentially.

On one hand, if the president is dealing with a Congress of the same party lines, that majority power controls the two most powerful sectors of our government. This in effect defeats the whole premise of separation of powers, because a group with predominantly the same basic beliefs, controls power in both levels of government. This illustrates the political spoils system in that the majority gets what they want, while the minority is left fending for themselves. Although the power is great for the party in control, history has shown us that this power usually shifts during the midterm congressional elections based on the public’s perception of the president.

The other interaction between the president and Congress comes when they are of separate political affiliations. This is often seen as the time where both sides actually have to work together to get anything accomplished. Without each side collaborating and giving up on certain aspects of their agendas, nothing would get accomplished because of the political roadblock that is created. It is also here that pure democracy is put into use, because both parties represent the two predominant microcosms of the United States. Although it is more difficult to get things done in government, the things that get done more accurately portray the views of the people because the majority is split rather than one side getting all of the spoils.

As mentioned by Malcom X, the American political system is complicated and is often a poorly represented system. Although there are many faults, I believe that the way in which the Executive branch and the Legislative branch are forced to work together is one of the bright spots of the constitution. This interaction proves to be an indicator of how the country feels about a certain political party, and it truly epitomizes the sense of “pure-democracy”. In the politics of today, this is a vital process because the midterm elections for Congress are coming up next week. As of now President Obama has a democratic Congress, but soon we shall see the will of the people and most likely see a shift in power. If this happens it will be interesting to see the compromises made by both parties to help our country to continue to run smoothly.

3 Comments
  1. alifoti permalink
    October 27, 2010 8:13 PM

    I found your article very interesting in terms of the relationship between the President and congress and how this relationship plays into the separation of powers. However, I’m a little confused with the use of the phrase “pure democracy.” I don’t believe that democracy is at its height when Congress and the President are of different political affiliations, because the concept of democracy is rooted in the fact that the people hold the political authority. Democracy is in action every time that the people vote for their representatives, not just when these representatives have ideologies that clash with those of the President.
    All in all, really relevant article. Can’t wait to see what happens next week!

  2. gobluee3092 permalink
    October 29, 2010 11:42 AM

    It seems that democracy proves best when, as you said, there is a representation of both political parties in Congress and the Presidency. Our system was comprised on the idea that there need to be checks and balances to stop one person from obtaining all the power. However, when there is a distinct majority of one power in office, it seems like this is no different than having a sovereign in power.

  3. November 9, 2010 10:34 PM

    It is interesting how Malcom X references this in his ” The Ballot or the Bullet” because even though the government had the numbers to pass legislation, they did not during the time. This trend has been constant throughout all of history. When the House/Senate/Exec branch are all divided so that one party does not have significantly more power (numbers) then the other, it is said that the House is in a stalemate. However also, too often does it occur that when one party is in control of both House, Senate and the White House, that legislation that is expected to be passed, actually does. The flaw with our bipartisan government, is that the parties often only passed legislation based on their platform, instead of being representative of the entire country. Too often does legislation not get passed because of it not being feasible for the party in power. This is the case that Malcom X was addressing. The people are the power behind the government – they are the ones that elect the constituents to Congress/White House. However, once in power, the elected officials are able to keep you concerns in mind, and act representatively, OR they can only represent what there party pressures them to do. Overall, legislation – when it has the opportunity to become laws – should not be based of its feasibility or whether it will help/hurt the party – but it should be based off of what the general public feels. Otherwise, when a citizen submits a ballot, instead of being a bullet in the sense of controlling the power of government, the bullet turns around completely and shoots a hole in the faith the citizen – the faith the citizen puts in the government to represent his/her needs.

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