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Obama’s Informal Support

May 13, 2012 Leave a comment

Some social issues seem almost unresolvable.  Unlike its clearly defined roles in straight-forward political issues, the U.S. government’s involvement with social choices has always been ambiguous.  Even the smallest of social choices, it seems, can be debated as constitutional or unconstitutional.  For this reason, gay-marriage is a frequently debated subject.  So, when a new development occurs that changes the political landscape on this issue, it has tremendous importance to many citizens who are tired of the persistent nature of this debate.  On Wednesday, May 9th, 2012, President Barack Obama announced his personal opinion on the matter.  Having been a supporter of civil unions originally, Obama stated that his views were, “evolving,” and that he now is a public advocate of gay-marriage.  Though his statement represented only his personal belief, this will have major political impact in both the president’s current term and his upcoming election.  Obama’s voiced opinion is also a great example of how a president uses his or her power.  This informal tool helps to depict how the president himself views his role as a leader.  President Obama has voiced a personal opinion on a frequently-debated subject, and has demonstrated his control over the powers that a president holds.

The main reason as to why this debate persists is due to the ambiguous nature of the constitution’s coverage of this issue.  Of course, the issue is not named specifically, so any arguments for, or against, gay-marriage must be inferred.  People supporting gay-marriage look to the Equal Protection Clause and the Due Process Clause of the constitution to support their argument.  They assert that homosexuals are not being treated with equal protection of the law and are being dealt with unfairly.  The opposition look for a concrete definition of marriage and some believe it is solely between a man and a woman.  Either way, this issue has always been a state-level concern.  With President Obama’s support, the issue may now be a federal concern.

The manner in which the President shared his opinion is important as well.  His announcement to the public, which can also be called “going public”, is a powerful informal tool of a president.  New tools have allowed the president to persuade the public and members of congress in ways that have never been explored.  Obama announced his opinion, for example, on television, but the announcement has spread like wildfire through the internet and is the subject for many radio programs.  Virtually any source of media has given the president a new route for winning the public’s hearts, with the main goal of persuasion.  Simply with this informal tool, the president has made an issue relevant and important, and put some building pressure between him and any congressman who would oppose the president if this issue was brought up for federal legislation.

It is astonishing that Neustadt’s Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents: The Politics of Leadership, a book written in 1960, can hold so much political relevance today.  Obama, modern presidents before him, and assuredly future presidents will all use these formal and informal tactics to achieve political persuasion.  Even with an issue as difficult to solve as gay-marriage, informal powers of the president might just create enough pressure or gain enough support to solve the problem.

-Paxton S

The Freedom To Spend

April 23, 2012 3 comments

A frequently discussed political issue is the role of money in elections.  It seems as though no matter what a candidate does, for any political election, his or her monetary wealth must be touched on by the media.  Candidates are criticized for spending too much, spending too little, running too many ads, or not spending enough on advertising.  If any inference can be made from these constant reports on the money spent on an election, it is that money is important to the election side of the political process.

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Though there is a heated argument over how important spending is to elections, it can be reasonably asserted that money, for its very basic purpose, is required to fund a political campaign, therein lies a problem.  Can money play a role in elections without leading to corruption?  Is the utilization of one’s wealth for political purposes a right granted by the freedom-defining documents that govern the country or a cheating tool used to “buy” your say in legislation?  Valid points support both sides of this argument, making it an often-discussed topic whenever an election rolls around.

Supporters of the freedom to spend or give money in an election have one major argument that they use to back their opinions, and this is the first amendment.  In court cases like Buckley v. Valeo (1976) and Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission (2010), the advocates of election spending state that spending money is an expression of freedom of speech.  Their argument revolves around the idea that candidates have a right to spend money, run ads or political movies, and conduct their campaign without government oversight because interference would be a violation of their first amendment rights.  Still, it is difficult to prove the extent of the amendment when the issue they are discussing is not directly mentioned.  Even so, how could the issue be mentioned?  When the Bill of Rights was written, all a candidate had to do to win an election was offer free alcohol to anyone who would give him his vote.  This argument has a few flaws in its stretch application of the first amendment, but is sound as a reason to not limit the amount a candidate can spend to get elected.

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The population that believes excessive spending in election to be harmful raises a multitude of valid points as well.  The first, and obvious, assertion is that through unlimited spending, candidates are able to “buy” policies through their wealth.  This gives an uneven playing field to the candidates without as much funding as their opponents because the candidates are simply “out-spent.”  Additionally, wealthier candidates are able to make themselves more visible to voters than candidates who cannot afford as many television ads or radio broadcasts.  Voters can’t vote for candidates they cannot see.  Supporters of limited election spending also claim that money not only affects elections, but also leaks into the legislative process.  Politicians can reward their biggest supporting PACs or wealthy donors with legislative decisions that the donors favor.  Legislative decisions suddenly become based on gaining votes rather than making unbiased political calls.  These are all warranted concerns that need to be voiced to keep a fair electoral system.

No matter which side someone supports, the persistence of this issue is undeniable.  The fact that money in elections was an issue when George Washington was campaigning is evidence of the eternal nature of this debate.  It is somewhat paradoxical that the only way to reform this problem, for either side of the argument, is through government legislation, yet the only means of getting somebody into office to put the legislation into effect is by supplying that candidate with monetary support.  Because the debate will no doubt continue, the importance of money in elections is, was, and will be an important issue for every election.

-Paxton S

Categories: A1, Learning Tags: ,
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