How Much Does the President Really Matter?

Video

The next time you’re sitting around with family, friends, or neighbors and feel like turning yourself into an instant target of scorn (though perhaps not as much as this person), ask the following question:

How much does the President of the United States really matter?

I’ve gotten the same response each time I’ve asked: a wild look of alarm followed by sputtering indignation and then a lengthy summary of the ways in which the President matters a great deal. Indeed, the person-on-the-street film posted in our video player (right hand column of the home page), suggests that people feel the President affects just about every facet of every American’s life, that he exerts a more powerful pull than a spouse or boss or parents.

Maybe everybody is right and I am wrong, but let me suggest a different view.

Step back for a minute and consider two other kinds of leaders: CEOs and baseball managers. The President is obviously different, but there is at least one strong parallel in all three cases: the person at the top accrues a great deal of the credit or blame for his organization’s overall performance.

But there’s good reason to think that CEOs and baseball managers have substantially less effect on a firm or a team’s outcome than we suspect. There’s a wide range of literature on CEO impact (see here, here, and here, e.g.) and, for baseball managers, less empirical research but considerable right-thinking speculation (see here and here).

So what about the President?

Think of it this way. Let’s assume that you think a given President is the worst in recent memory, or even in history. Then ask yourself to list the things for which he is directly or indirectly responsible.

It’s probably not hard to come up with a long list, especially with the current President. He is, after all, extremely unpopular. Almost everyone’s list would start with the war in Iraq and then, depending on your political and personal persuasion, would include variables like Supreme Court nominations, energy policy, the U.S.’ standing in the world, trouble in the housing and credit markets, etc.

Now stop for a minute and think about your favorite president in recent history. If you are a Bush hater, maybe you want to think about Bill Clinton. Now list all the things for which Clinton was directly or indirectly responsible that you liked a great deal, and that really affected you on a daily basis.

There are some notable exceptions to my argument: if you have a family member fighting in Afghanistan or Iraq, it’s impossible not to attribute his or her presence there to a decision made by the President. But on many other fronts, I would argue that the President’s impact is significantly overestimated. Does he nominate judges, try to effect legislation and move the economy, and set the tone for relationships with other countries? Absolutely. But for every Presidential action, there are a million strong reactions waiting to occur.

I would argue that it’s worth thinking about our system of democratic capitalism as a market like many others, not so different from the stock market. These are complex, dynamic systems in which one decision triggers many others, in which an equilibrium is constantly being sought, in which sudden movements up or down are interpreted as catastrophic in the short run but which prove, in the long run, to be minor corrections in a fairly stable system that’s organically evolving.

As for the economy itself: even though there is debate over the President’s effect on matters affecting people on a daily basis – gas and food prices, interest rates and the housing market – most economists agree that he is more of a cheerleader in this regard than a playmaker.

So why do we attribute so much power to the person in charge?

The Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle, in his fascinating and unsettling book On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History, embraced what has come to be known as the “Great Man Theory.” His view was, essentially, that history is blessed now and then by a rare heroic person who is born to lead and without whom our civilization would crumble. It is as anti-market a view as you could conceive. Personally, I find this idea a bit depressing, though I do acknowledge the common psychological need for a strong father or mother figure, for someone to stand tall and protect us, assure us, and take responsibility — even though, except in extremely rare cases (Hitler comes to mind), it is irrational to think that any one person can be responsible for the actions of millions.

Still, I think I’m in the minority. Americans’ widespread belief in the President’s absolute power — love him or hate him — is proof that the Great Man theory is alive and well. My simple argument is that this belief, as emotionally appealing as it may be, is not founded on truth.

But just pretend for a minute that you do agree with me. If you do happen to dislike the current President, this is really good news, since he probably affects your life a lot less than you fear.

Unfortunately, it’s also really bad news, because if you are hoping that a new President will swoop in and fix everything, that’s not going to happen.

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COMMENTS: 536


  1. Jeremy says:

    The president doesn’t make laws, or decide on fiscal policy for interest rates, etc, so I would agree that he is has less influence than most people think.
    He can make supreme court nominations and that has some impact with legal precidence, but when a new president comes in, if he elects new justices, they can go back and re-decide on legal proceedings.
    He can move a country into war, but still needs congress to approve (unless you don’t call it a “war”).
    I would say mostly what the president does it approve/not approve what others do, whether it be the national budget or new laws.

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  2. Jeremy says:

    The president doesn’t make laws, or decide on fiscal policy for interest rates, etc, so I would agree that he is has less influence than most people think.
    He can make supreme court nominations and that has some impact with legal precidence, but when a new president comes in, if he elects new justices, they can go back and re-decide on legal proceedings.
    He can move a country into war, but still needs congress to approve (unless you don’t call it a “war”).
    I would say mostly what the president does it approve/not approve what others do, whether it be the national budget or new laws.

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  3. Rita: Lovely Meter Maid says:

    Does the President really matter???!!! Heavens, yes! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard President Bush (Part Duh) speak (even if for only brief moments before I switch the dial). It’s outrageous, considering that I avoid hard news like the plague. Still, that man’s mealy-mouthed, snide, sniggly tones of self-satisfied bravado have infiltrated my mind, despite my best efforts to prevent this (Clinton really does have a much smoother, much more intelligent sound to his voice). Here’s a suggestion: if you *really* want to make people mad, ask them if there’s any point in voting. Hoo-wee! Patriotic Fireworks a-plenty!

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  4. Rita: Lovely Meter Maid says:

    Does the President really matter???!!! Heavens, yes! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard President Bush (Part Duh) speak (even if for only brief moments before I switch the dial). It’s outrageous, considering that I avoid hard news like the plague. Still, that man’s mealy-mouthed, snide, sniggly tones of self-satisfied bravado have infiltrated my mind, despite my best efforts to prevent this (Clinton really does have a much smoother, much more intelligent sound to his voice). Here’s a suggestion: if you *really* want to make people mad, ask them if there’s any point in voting. Hoo-wee! Patriotic Fireworks a-plenty!

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  5. David says:

    Your post makes a lot of sense. I noticed in the Spring of 2000 that something had shifted in this country.

    If I find George W. Bush to be arrogant, demanding of blind obedience, short sighted, not interested in science and ruled by emotion, then I also found that in my workplace. George Bush didn’t cause my workplace to turn evil. Both Bush and my workplace are representative of something larger.

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  6. David says:

    Your post makes a lot of sense. I noticed in the Spring of 2000 that something had shifted in this country.

    If I find George W. Bush to be arrogant, demanding of blind obedience, short sighted, not interested in science and ruled by emotion, then I also found that in my workplace. George Bush didn’t cause my workplace to turn evil. Both Bush and my workplace are representative of something larger.

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  7. rm-rf says:

    Isn’t the issue about CEO pay whether I not I can replace the current CEO with a cheaper one and still get the same performance? That is how my company looks at me as an employee – I don’t see why as a shareholder I shouldn’t do the same…

    As for GW, I can attribute to him 1 trillion in debt once the war done – that effects interest rates. There is also an increase in the price of oil due to instability he caused in the middle east… Just those two alone seem pretty significant to me from a financial side – never mind the civil rights/rule of law issues which subvert the whole structure of our society…

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  8. rm-rf says:

    Isn’t the issue about CEO pay whether I not I can replace the current CEO with a cheaper one and still get the same performance? That is how my company looks at me as an employee – I don’t see why as a shareholder I shouldn’t do the same…

    As for GW, I can attribute to him 1 trillion in debt once the war done – that effects interest rates. There is also an increase in the price of oil due to instability he caused in the middle east… Just those two alone seem pretty significant to me from a financial side – never mind the civil rights/rule of law issues which subvert the whole structure of our society…

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  9. Troy Camplin says:

    I’ve been making this argument for years. I ttypically doesn’t take long to convince people of just how unimportant the U.S. President really is. That is because of the system we have. If you are living under a dictatorship, the leader may affect you a great deal. ANd if the government is socialist, the government as a whole will affect you a great deal. But the U.S. system of government was precisely set up so that the federal government affected us least — it had a power law distribution of power, with the one federal government having the least effect your our lives, the more numerous state governments having more effect, and the even more numerous local governments having the most effect — with the even more numerous voluntary associations having even more effect. This is how it was intended, and how it still works for the most part. This is why the President — the particular President we have — matters very little.

    I remember in particular back when Clinton was first elected. He had made a number of campaign promises regarding foreign policy — the vast majority of which he reversed the day he took office. What happened? Im sure that in the transition, President GHW Bush told him, “Okay, those promises were interesting ideas, but here’s how the world really works . . . ” And there was thus a great deal of continuity between Bush and Clinton.

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  10. Troy Camplin says:

    I’ve been making this argument for years. I ttypically doesn’t take long to convince people of just how unimportant the U.S. President really is. That is because of the system we have. If you are living under a dictatorship, the leader may affect you a great deal. ANd if the government is socialist, the government as a whole will affect you a great deal. But the U.S. system of government was precisely set up so that the federal government affected us least — it had a power law distribution of power, with the one federal government having the least effect your our lives, the more numerous state governments having more effect, and the even more numerous local governments having the most effect — with the even more numerous voluntary associations having even more effect. This is how it was intended, and how it still works for the most part. This is why the President — the particular President we have — matters very little.

    I remember in particular back when Clinton was first elected. He had made a number of campaign promises regarding foreign policy — the vast majority of which he reversed the day he took office. What happened? Im sure that in the transition, President GHW Bush told him, “Okay, those promises were interesting ideas, but here’s how the world really works . . . ” And there was thus a great deal of continuity between Bush and Clinton.

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  11. RobertSeattle says:

    The President is like a tug boat pushing around a huge ship (Hopefully not the Titanic) – the President can make minor adjustments – maybe avoid the occasional iceberg, but that’s about it.

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  12. RobertSeattle says:

    The President is like a tug boat pushing around a huge ship (Hopefully not the Titanic) – the President can make minor adjustments – maybe avoid the occasional iceberg, but that’s about it.

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  13. jafi says:

    I’ve long believed that the President doesn’t have much of an influence on day-to-day issues: interest rates, the general state of the economy etc. Whoever occupied the White House during the 90′s, the run of the dot com bubble and the exuberant economy would likely have been the same.

    However, because many things are self-fulfilling, the emotional connection you mention, how people feel about the President can have a large impact. People may spend less (or more) and make decisions influenced by their perception and not reality. So the direct influence of the person who is President may be limited. The ripple effect of how people react to the President may be far greater.

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  14. jafi says:

    I’ve long believed that the President doesn’t have much of an influence on day-to-day issues: interest rates, the general state of the economy etc. Whoever occupied the White House during the 90′s, the run of the dot com bubble and the exuberant economy would likely have been the same.

    However, because many things are self-fulfilling, the emotional connection you mention, how people feel about the President can have a large impact. People may spend less (or more) and make decisions influenced by their perception and not reality. So the direct influence of the person who is President may be limited. The ripple effect of how people react to the President may be far greater.

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  15. Scott says:

    If I’m getting your shtick right, you just take the opposite of whatever the conventional wisdom is and build a case around it, right?

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  16. Scott says:

    If I’m getting your shtick right, you just take the opposite of whatever the conventional wisdom is and build a case around it, right?

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  17. Joe says:

    …But then again, if so many citizens believe act based on a belief in the ‘Great Man’ theory (conscious or not), the aggregate result of those actions tends to turn their perception into their reality. Now, could this be measured in any quantifiable way? There’s one more can of worms for ya…

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  18. Joe says:

    …But then again, if so many citizens believe act based on a belief in the ‘Great Man’ theory (conscious or not), the aggregate result of those actions tends to turn their perception into their reality. Now, could this be measured in any quantifiable way? There’s one more can of worms for ya…

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  19. Haris H. says:

    I think a lot of the hero-worship, Great Man instinct in us stems from the days of small clans and tribes, when the strong man was the leader who kept the group together in days when co-operation was necessary to survival. We instinctively seek out such a strong man, for we have evolved to equate such men with survival. Clearly our instincts are not really compatible with modern society, and it’s plausible that generations from now thsi instinct will be much weaker. But as long as we carry the genes of the clans and tribes who needed a leader, so will we crave leadership and ascribe it to someone whether deserved or not.

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  20. Haris H. says:

    I think a lot of the hero-worship, Great Man instinct in us stems from the days of small clans and tribes, when the strong man was the leader who kept the group together in days when co-operation was necessary to survival. We instinctively seek out such a strong man, for we have evolved to equate such men with survival. Clearly our instincts are not really compatible with modern society, and it’s plausible that generations from now thsi instinct will be much weaker. But as long as we carry the genes of the clans and tribes who needed a leader, so will we crave leadership and ascribe it to someone whether deserved or not.

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  21. Cliff says:

    If the president’s job is done correctly, he shouldn’t affect you much at all, but bad president’s can affect lives a great deal in a very bad way, so you have to be very careful who you vote for.

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  22. Cliff says:

    If the president’s job is done correctly, he shouldn’t affect you much at all, but bad president’s can affect lives a great deal in a very bad way, so you have to be very careful who you vote for.

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  23. Karl B. says:

    Great post.

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  24. Karl B. says:

    Great post.

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  25. Mark says:

    This argument reminds me of a similar one from fiction – Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide in which the president of the galaxy’s primary objective was to distract the public from the real inner-workings of the government. The theory being that things work themselves out on their own while we (the public) are distracted by other things.

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  26. Mark says:

    This argument reminds me of a similar one from fiction – Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide in which the president of the galaxy’s primary objective was to distract the public from the real inner-workings of the government. The theory being that things work themselves out on their own while we (the public) are distracted by other things.

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  27. Robert Seidman says:

    all the above comments notwithstanding, I still agree with Dubner completely on this topic and have thought this way for years.

    I usually try not to bring it up because it works people into a frenzy which does not always produce good results in real life, but is totally appropriate here.

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  28. Robert Seidman says:

    all the above comments notwithstanding, I still agree with Dubner completely on this topic and have thought this way for years.

    I usually try not to bring it up because it works people into a frenzy which does not always produce good results in real life, but is totally appropriate here.

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  29. frankenduf says:

    this post is at best disingenuous- yeah, Bush is a figurehead- but his admisitration is extraordinarily powerful- probably one of the most unilateral in our history- mobilizing the country’s resources to invade foreign countries and alter the course of history- gutting domestic government market regulations and altering the evolution of our governing system- this is far more powerful than Lay’s shenanigans- perhaps you meant the president of Newfoundland doesn’t matter

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  30. frankenduf says:

    this post is at best disingenuous- yeah, Bush is a figurehead- but his admisitration is extraordinarily powerful- probably one of the most unilateral in our history- mobilizing the country’s resources to invade foreign countries and alter the course of history- gutting domestic government market regulations and altering the evolution of our governing system- this is far more powerful than Lay’s shenanigans- perhaps you meant the president of Newfoundland doesn’t matter

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  31. Jeremy C. Feldman says:

    The difference between a CEO and the President is that a CEO doesn’t have a democratically elected legislative body to lead. While there may be a lot of literature on CEO impact on organizations, there’s just as much, if not more, literature on the need for strong leadership in legislative bodies. A successful president (or governor for that matter) sets the legislative agenda, builds consensus and conducts the necessary horse trading to pass his legislative initiatives through Congress. He then implements those initiatives and his held directly accountable for their success or failure. While there are cursory similarities between CEOs and the presidency, I would bet you anything that even the most sophisticated CEO would be totally lost in Oval Office.

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  32. Jeremy C. Feldman says:

    The difference between a CEO and the President is that a CEO doesn’t have a democratically elected legislative body to lead. While there may be a lot of literature on CEO impact on organizations, there’s just as much, if not more, literature on the need for strong leadership in legislative bodies. A successful president (or governor for that matter) sets the legislative agenda, builds consensus and conducts the necessary horse trading to pass his legislative initiatives through Congress. He then implements those initiatives and his held directly accountable for their success or failure. While there are cursory similarities between CEOs and the presidency, I would bet you anything that even the most sophisticated CEO would be totally lost in Oval Office.

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  33. Peter says:

    I have to disagree, albeit in a bit of a roundabout way.

    The president, like any other head of state, comes to represent the hopes and desires of the country he or she fronts (see: “mandate”). Due to this unique standing, this single person has an ability to set an ideological agenda for the nation and shape which laws, judicial decisions, etc. are made by the rest of the country’s government.

    I would argue that, unless you’re willing to accept that the government as a whole doesn’t have much effect on your life (I, for one, would not make that argument) you cannot possibly dismiss the effects of the president as the controlling influence on the government.

    It should also be noted that US presidents have a few special powers they can use to directly affect day-to-governance, e.g. executive orders and presidential signing statements; though, on the whole, I would argue that these are far less important to the presidents’ overall influence.

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  34. Peter says:

    I have to disagree, albeit in a bit of a roundabout way.

    The president, like any other head of state, comes to represent the hopes and desires of the country he or she fronts (see: “mandate”). Due to this unique standing, this single person has an ability to set an ideological agenda for the nation and shape which laws, judicial decisions, etc. are made by the rest of the country’s government.

    I would argue that, unless you’re willing to accept that the government as a whole doesn’t have much effect on your life (I, for one, would not make that argument) you cannot possibly dismiss the effects of the president as the controlling influence on the government.

    It should also be noted that US presidents have a few special powers they can use to directly affect day-to-governance, e.g. executive orders and presidential signing statements; though, on the whole, I would argue that these are far less important to the presidents’ overall influence.

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  35. Patrick says:

    I think that this view is incomplete at best. It is true that in certain spheres, such as the economy or the domestic political agenda, the president’s powers are limited. This is, after all, a democracy with elected representatives and a free market economy. (Note that this doesn’t stop presidents from taking credit for economic growth!)

    However, since WWII, the Executive Branch of the United States has accumulated enormous power in regards to foreign policy. In turn, America’s foreign affairs decisions have significant impact on the world. To suggest that the president may not “matter” much is therefore incorrect. His power is certainly not absolute, but every major American foreign policy initiative that I can think of in the last 60 years was the result of a direct decision made by the chief executive.

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  36. Patrick says:

    I think that this view is incomplete at best. It is true that in certain spheres, such as the economy or the domestic political agenda, the president’s powers are limited. This is, after all, a democracy with elected representatives and a free market economy. (Note that this doesn’t stop presidents from taking credit for economic growth!)

    However, since WWII, the Executive Branch of the United States has accumulated enormous power in regards to foreign policy. In turn, America’s foreign affairs decisions have significant impact on the world. To suggest that the president may not “matter” much is therefore incorrect. His power is certainly not absolute, but every major American foreign policy initiative that I can think of in the last 60 years was the result of a direct decision made by the chief executive.

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  37. Mike says:

    Much of what the public hears from the president and Congress is mostly rhetoric, especially during elections. Much of what each promises cannot be fulfilled without the cooperation of numerous other competing factions; words don’t mean anything unless the president can move 535 people to act – that’s problematic when there are competing interests which change with election cycles, the media’s ability to distort events, and the intelligence and motivation of the electorate on any given topic.

    Tip O’Neil said that he received so many constituent complaints about interfering with newly elected Reagan that he felt compelled to give in to many of Reagan’s ideas. I would think that the power of the President to influence depends on the response of the electorate who feel compelled to act but usually only when the situation becomes dire.

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  38. Mike says:

    Much of what the public hears from the president and Congress is mostly rhetoric, especially during elections. Much of what each promises cannot be fulfilled without the cooperation of numerous other competing factions; words don’t mean anything unless the president can move 535 people to act – that’s problematic when there are competing interests which change with election cycles, the media’s ability to distort events, and the intelligence and motivation of the electorate on any given topic.

    Tip O’Neil said that he received so many constituent complaints about interfering with newly elected Reagan that he felt compelled to give in to many of Reagan’s ideas. I would think that the power of the President to influence depends on the response of the electorate who feel compelled to act but usually only when the situation becomes dire.

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  39. zbicyclist says:

    I think you can make a better argument in the sciences — that basically any ONE scientist doesn’t matter, and that whatever they discovered/developed would have just been discovered/developed at some later time.

    On the other hand, starting a stupid war kills hundreds of thousands of people [the majority being Iraqi civilians] who are dead forever.

    To me, this post sounds like what a lot of former Bush supporters are saying now.
    There are several variants: “Bush really wan’t a conservative, so his failure doesn’t tarnish conservatives.” is one common one.

    This one is “it doesn’t matter who was president — all this bad s*** would have happened no matter who was president.”

    Face it, those who voted for Bush: the guy is/was a disaster, and you are responsible for putting him there. It’s an ugly truth, but it’s truth.

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  40. zbicyclist says:

    I think you can make a better argument in the sciences — that basically any ONE scientist doesn’t matter, and that whatever they discovered/developed would have just been discovered/developed at some later time.

    On the other hand, starting a stupid war kills hundreds of thousands of people [the majority being Iraqi civilians] who are dead forever.

    To me, this post sounds like what a lot of former Bush supporters are saying now.
    There are several variants: “Bush really wan’t a conservative, so his failure doesn’t tarnish conservatives.” is one common one.

    This one is “it doesn’t matter who was president — all this bad s*** would have happened no matter who was president.”

    Face it, those who voted for Bush: the guy is/was a disaster, and you are responsible for putting him there. It’s an ugly truth, but it’s truth.

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  41. Ian says:

    I’ve thought quite a bit about the ideas expressed (being that they already existed, but he took the time to write them down) by Carlyle and their relation to how Bush and many CEO’s view themselves within their organization. The idea itself goes back to Francis Bacon, and by relation even Aristotle, with the idea of the “philosopher king” which was long believed to be the only path to just government. On a side note, David Brooks wrote a column a while ago speaking of the relationships Bush has with other foriegn leaders, making a connection between the state of our foriegn relations and the President’s personal relationship with the leader. I think the example he used was something like: “I have a great relationship with (insert leaders name here) so things will go well with on a policy level with(insert country name here). This is an obvious fallacy, but I think it is a prevalent one in the ranks of our highest leadership (be it corporate or political). I agree with you in that bureaucracies will always move with glacial like force, rendering any particular leader ineffectual in the short term. Policy, and accountability to that policy by all levels of leadership (both “great men” and not-so-great men) within a bureaucracy is the only way to affect change.

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  42. Ian says:

    I’ve thought quite a bit about the ideas expressed (being that they already existed, but he took the time to write them down) by Carlyle and their relation to how Bush and many CEO’s view themselves within their organization. The idea itself goes back to Francis Bacon, and by relation even Aristotle, with the idea of the “philosopher king” which was long believed to be the only path to just government. On a side note, David Brooks wrote a column a while ago speaking of the relationships Bush has with other foriegn leaders, making a connection between the state of our foriegn relations and the President’s personal relationship with the leader. I think the example he used was something like: “I have a great relationship with (insert leaders name here) so things will go well with on a policy level with(insert country name here). This is an obvious fallacy, but I think it is a prevalent one in the ranks of our highest leadership (be it corporate or political). I agree with you in that bureaucracies will always move with glacial like force, rendering any particular leader ineffectual in the short term. Policy, and accountability to that policy by all levels of leadership (both “great men” and not-so-great men) within a bureaucracy is the only way to affect change.

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  43. Lucas says:

    I don’t think this observation says anything besides: Big Changes don’t come easy.

    The democtratic capitalism system (your terms) is a very strong system. The real strength in the system is that (almost) everyone has a stake in it. This concept has been around for a while (Read Max Weber). So anything or anyone (President) will have a hard time making changes and therefore anyone will be seen as not having that big of impact. This of course is a good thing if you are a winner in the current system and therefore do not want big changes.

    For those of us of all political stripes that would like some big changes, I think it does make sense to have great hopes for a new president. Not because the new president will autmoatically change things, but because it is probably the best change to make the biggest gains in the lease amount of time. Great president are at best great catalysts for big change or at least great conduits for big change.

    We know that big changes do occur in political systems (Hitler and the Holocaust as your negative example and lets say FDR and social security/social safety net as a positive example).
    Political historians know that these individuals in actuality played a small role in the process. However, I think it is fair to say that without their leadership neither change would have been as fast and powerful. The president wont be the most important part of big changes, but we know he/she will be an essential part. All parts are necessary because big change doesn’t come easy.

    To frame the question another way:

    Can you imagine a huge shift in attacking global warming without a president that is committed to the issue?

    Will Gays and Lesbians recieve full rights with a US President that is homophobic?

    There are, of course, a host of other factors that will impact these changes, corporate leadership, weather, TV, etc. But the average person cannot in one single moment make an impact on these factors. The presidency is not a sure bet, but it may be the best/most efficient bet.

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  44. Lucas says:

    I don’t think this observation says anything besides: Big Changes don’t come easy.

    The democtratic capitalism system (your terms) is a very strong system. The real strength in the system is that (almost) everyone has a stake in it. This concept has been around for a while (Read Max Weber). So anything or anyone (President) will have a hard time making changes and therefore anyone will be seen as not having that big of impact. This of course is a good thing if you are a winner in the current system and therefore do not want big changes.

    For those of us of all political stripes that would like some big changes, I think it does make sense to have great hopes for a new president. Not because the new president will autmoatically change things, but because it is probably the best change to make the biggest gains in the lease amount of time. Great president are at best great catalysts for big change or at least great conduits for big change.

    We know that big changes do occur in political systems (Hitler and the Holocaust as your negative example and lets say FDR and social security/social safety net as a positive example).
    Political historians know that these individuals in actuality played a small role in the process. However, I think it is fair to say that without their leadership neither change would have been as fast and powerful. The president wont be the most important part of big changes, but we know he/she will be an essential part. All parts are necessary because big change doesn’t come easy.

    To frame the question another way:

    Can you imagine a huge shift in attacking global warming without a president that is committed to the issue?

    Will Gays and Lesbians recieve full rights with a US President that is homophobic?

    There are, of course, a host of other factors that will impact these changes, corporate leadership, weather, TV, etc. But the average person cannot in one single moment make an impact on these factors. The presidency is not a sure bet, but it may be the best/most efficient bet.

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  45. anandine says:

    The right question is what things would be different if we had a different president. Suggestions include whether we would have invaded Iraq and who would be on the Supreme Court.

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  46. anandine says:

    The right question is what things would be different if we had a different president. Suggestions include whether we would have invaded Iraq and who would be on the Supreme Court.

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  47. Ap says:

    While its a provocative argument to try to make (as many are on this blog), I have to disagree with this one.

    The President definitely has his limitations in a few areas, but in some, his influence is large. YOu have to remember, often times the President CREATES the issues that become focal points. Think about it this way: If Bush wasn’t in office would Iraq have every happened? Would it even have been MENTIONED as an issue? Would Iraq just be going abuot its merry way right now? I’d have to say probably, and that’s just one example.

    If the President comes out tomorrow and says his wife has breast cancer and he wants to make it a focal point of his presidency, he can influence that. If he talks about it in his speeches and his State of the Union, individual citizens, under, I guess, the “Great Man” concept and the idea that what the President thinks is important, is acually important, will start caring about breast cancer more (like they care about Darfur LESS because of him), then Congressman respond and money gets allocated, etc.

    So no, the personal views and ideas of the President matter ag reat deal because he has the voice and the power to make them a reality.

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  48. Ap says:

    While its a provocative argument to try to make (as many are on this blog), I have to disagree with this one.

    The President definitely has his limitations in a few areas, but in some, his influence is large. YOu have to remember, often times the President CREATES the issues that become focal points. Think about it this way: If Bush wasn’t in office would Iraq have every happened? Would it even have been MENTIONED as an issue? Would Iraq just be going abuot its merry way right now? I’d have to say probably, and that’s just one example.

    If the President comes out tomorrow and says his wife has breast cancer and he wants to make it a focal point of his presidency, he can influence that. If he talks about it in his speeches and his State of the Union, individual citizens, under, I guess, the “Great Man” concept and the idea that what the President thinks is important, is acually important, will start caring about breast cancer more (like they care about Darfur LESS because of him), then Congressman respond and money gets allocated, etc.

    So no, the personal views and ideas of the President matter ag reat deal because he has the voice and the power to make them a reality.

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  49. Paul says:

    A new president can come in and change the one real effect that Bush has caused.

    He or she can bring our troops home.

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  50. Paul says:

    A new president can come in and change the one real effect that Bush has caused.

    He or she can bring our troops home.

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  51. SeanSeatle says:

    In response to RobertSeattle – the Pres may be a tug boat, but once that big ship is turned, even just a a few degrees (in this case to the right), it is very hard to unturn it. I look at the Supreme Court as the obvious example. We will be living with the Roberts court for many years.

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  52. SeanSeatle says:

    In response to RobertSeattle – the Pres may be a tug boat, but once that big ship is turned, even just a a few degrees (in this case to the right), it is very hard to unturn it. I look at the Supreme Court as the obvious example. We will be living with the Roberts court for many years.

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  53. Humbert says:

    I wholeheartedly agree. W is proof that the president is largely inconsequential. The President is supposed to be a sort of international ambassador for the nation and yet W can barely speak. The nation has essentially been on auto-pilot now for about 7 years. By and large things are OK here in the states. As the author points out, it is different matter altogether if you are in the military. As for me, I can’t think of one thing that W does that impacts me really. Just a moron on the loose who will soon be put out to pasture.

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  54. Humbert says:

    I wholeheartedly agree. W is proof that the president is largely inconsequential. The President is supposed to be a sort of international ambassador for the nation and yet W can barely speak. The nation has essentially been on auto-pilot now for about 7 years. By and large things are OK here in the states. As the author points out, it is different matter altogether if you are in the military. As for me, I can’t think of one thing that W does that impacts me really. Just a moron on the loose who will soon be put out to pasture.

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  55. Ish says:

    This is an odd point to make during a presidency when a few hundred Florida ballots dramatically changed the course of millions of lives in the middle east, many of those terminally.

    I think the U.S. is the one country where it’s a moral imperative to vote. Not because of domestic policy – our own bad management is our own problem – but because we uniquely can give our president the ability to level other societies. No other voters can give their leader that kind of power.

    So sure, most of the time most of what most presidents do isn’t very important to most people. But when a US president is frightened, threatened, or just callous, a lot of children can die on a lot of streets. I’d term this more than simply a ‘notable exception.’

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  56. Ish says:

    This is an odd point to make during a presidency when a few hundred Florida ballots dramatically changed the course of millions of lives in the middle east, many of those terminally.

    I think the U.S. is the one country where it’s a moral imperative to vote. Not because of domestic policy – our own bad management is our own problem – but because we uniquely can give our president the ability to level other societies. No other voters can give their leader that kind of power.

    So sure, most of the time most of what most presidents do isn’t very important to most people. But when a US president is frightened, threatened, or just callous, a lot of children can die on a lot of streets. I’d term this more than simply a ‘notable exception.’

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  57. Moe says:

    I think some of the comments may have missed Dubner’s point. Ofcourse the president has influence in Congress, foreign policy, etc. But how much of that really translates to large effects on YOUR life.

    Iraq: In all honesty, aside from being bugged by protesters, I haven’t felt its effects at all. Total casualties have been around 3,700, which is less than 800 a year on avg. To put that into perspective, there are roughly 40,000 casualties due to car crashes in the U.S. every year. The chances of being effected by someone who has died in Iraq are just slightly higher than being effected by the death of someone who got struck by lightning. True, it’s a heartless way of looking at it, but those soldiers knew the risks of Iraq, and they joined the army. Their service is admirable, but it has not effected me. The war in Iraq has had zero effect on my life. If I didn’t hear people talking about it, I would not have known that it even happened.

    Judges: Sure, presidents can appoint judges. How much does that really effect me? Well… I haven’t felt it at all either. Most Americans can’t even name the Supreme Court Justices, let alone a recent case.

    Economy: This has been debated over and over again, but even if the president has an effect on the economy, I would argue that how I react to it has a greater effect for my wellbeing than the influence of the president.

    Social Matters: Gays and lesbians aren’t effected by the president, but by their state legislature. I can’t really see any social issue that had an impact on my lfe.

    In conclusion, if Gore was elected, I really don’t think MY life would have changed in any dramatic way. Sure, large macro policies would change, but overall, I can almost guarantee that I would be sitting at this same desk, commenting on this same blog.

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  58. Moe says:

    I think some of the comments may have missed Dubner’s point. Ofcourse the president has influence in Congress, foreign policy, etc. But how much of that really translates to large effects on YOUR life.

    Iraq: In all honesty, aside from being bugged by protesters, I haven’t felt its effects at all. Total casualties have been around 3,700, which is less than 800 a year on avg. To put that into perspective, there are roughly 40,000 casualties due to car crashes in the U.S. every year. The chances of being effected by someone who has died in Iraq are just slightly higher than being effected by the death of someone who got struck by lightning. True, it’s a heartless way of looking at it, but those soldiers knew the risks of Iraq, and they joined the army. Their service is admirable, but it has not effected me. The war in Iraq has had zero effect on my life. If I didn’t hear people talking about it, I would not have known that it even happened.

    Judges: Sure, presidents can appoint judges. How much does that really effect me? Well… I haven’t felt it at all either. Most Americans can’t even name the Supreme Court Justices, let alone a recent case.

    Economy: This has been debated over and over again, but even if the president has an effect on the economy, I would argue that how I react to it has a greater effect for my wellbeing than the influence of the president.

    Social Matters: Gays and lesbians aren’t effected by the president, but by their state legislature. I can’t really see any social issue that had an impact on my lfe.

    In conclusion, if Gore was elected, I really don’t think MY life would have changed in any dramatic way. Sure, large macro policies would change, but overall, I can almost guarantee that I would be sitting at this same desk, commenting on this same blog.

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  59. RedRat says:

    I would heartily disagree! You cannot compare the President to a CEO. After all, CEOs are hired by the board of directors or fashioned by the company stockholders. The President, on the other hand (using your analogy), would appoint his “board of directors”. If we had a Parliamentarian form of government, as in the UK or most European countries, you might have a point.

    This current President has just been far more effective in getting his policies implemented by truly politicizing the whole of government. He wields a good deal of power and uses it. For example, he has basically thumbed his nose at the current Congress and they have been powerless (mostly of their own volition) to essentially slink back to their offices. His war, tax, and economic policies impact everyone in the country.

    When the President appoints his cabinet members he surrounds himself with people who will help formulate policy but then see to it that those policies are carried out. During the past 6 or so years you have seen cabinet members leave, presumably because they might disagree on those policy matters, but they LEAVE, and new ones come in.

    I think you might be confused because most, and I stress the word ‘most’, past presidents have felt that they must work with the larger body of Congress to develop programs to further certain aims of their respective political parties. They have been, for the most part, more interested in cooperative alliances and moving to the middle of political thought. President Bush is probably one of the few in recent times that has more influence on government programs than any other president since FDR.

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  60. RedRat says:

    I would heartily disagree! You cannot compare the President to a CEO. After all, CEOs are hired by the board of directors or fashioned by the company stockholders. The President, on the other hand (using your analogy), would appoint his “board of directors”. If we had a Parliamentarian form of government, as in the UK or most European countries, you might have a point.

    This current President has just been far more effective in getting his policies implemented by truly politicizing the whole of government. He wields a good deal of power and uses it. For example, he has basically thumbed his nose at the current Congress and they have been powerless (mostly of their own volition) to essentially slink back to their offices. His war, tax, and economic policies impact everyone in the country.

    When the President appoints his cabinet members he surrounds himself with people who will help formulate policy but then see to it that those policies are carried out. During the past 6 or so years you have seen cabinet members leave, presumably because they might disagree on those policy matters, but they LEAVE, and new ones come in.

    I think you might be confused because most, and I stress the word ‘most’, past presidents have felt that they must work with the larger body of Congress to develop programs to further certain aims of their respective political parties. They have been, for the most part, more interested in cooperative alliances and moving to the middle of political thought. President Bush is probably one of the few in recent times that has more influence on government programs than any other president since FDR.

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  61. John Brady says:

    As Mr. Dubner has noted, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan can be directly attributed to the President (though there was a great deal of support from Congress and the military). As commenter #18 noted foreign policy is greatly influenced by the executive branch though the State dept. has the potential to greatly influence the President’s decisions but still is largely at the President’s mercy. (Congress always seem to weigh in at a later point). The appointment of Supreme Court judges is very influential and is a real area of Presidential influence (and party politics) that can affect everybody for decades. Certainly the President is a guiding light for the Justice Department as well as the other cabinet departments as to what regulations will be favored and which will be relegated to the back burners. However there are a great number of programs that live on after a President has departed and often assume a bureaucratic life of their own and the current President can have little effect on without causing all manner of havoc. Given all the above (and there is a great deal more), “Does the President have a great effect on the country and our personal lives?” The answer would seem to be sometimes but our President to date have been inextricably bound in the countries politics that they have acted largely with a majority mandate. But President Bush’s actions as President have indicated that there is lurking desire to bypass seeking a mandate and simply govern by ideology. Watch out then! You won’t be able to ask the above question, but you’ll know the answer!

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  62. John Brady says:

    As Mr. Dubner has noted, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan can be directly attributed to the President (though there was a great deal of support from Congress and the military). As commenter #18 noted foreign policy is greatly influenced by the executive branch though the State dept. has the potential to greatly influence the President’s decisions but still is largely at the President’s mercy. (Congress always seem to weigh in at a later point). The appointment of Supreme Court judges is very influential and is a real area of Presidential influence (and party politics) that can affect everybody for decades. Certainly the President is a guiding light for the Justice Department as well as the other cabinet departments as to what regulations will be favored and which will be relegated to the back burners. However there are a great number of programs that live on after a President has departed and often assume a bureaucratic life of their own and the current President can have little effect on without causing all manner of havoc. Given all the above (and there is a great deal more), “Does the President have a great effect on the country and our personal lives?” The answer would seem to be sometimes but our President to date have been inextricably bound in the countries politics that they have acted largely with a majority mandate. But President Bush’s actions as President have indicated that there is lurking desire to bypass seeking a mandate and simply govern by ideology. Watch out then! You won’t be able to ask the above question, but you’ll know the answer!

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  63. Concerned Reader says:

    This sort of argument is surprising from someone who probably gets it that small changes in the conditions of a big system can have dramatic effects over time. Never mind the kinds of changes that are seated for decades in the supreme court. And when the stars are aligned, as they were for a long time when Republicans controlled the executive and the legislature, the president (or his office, which is clearly corporate) exerts an influence wildly disproportionate to its representative capacity.

    The example of soldiers in iraq is disingenuous. A better one would be women, who already have and will increasingly come to have their uteruses padlocked by an almost entirely male group of decision makers installed by the president.

    Women’s health declines. Quality of life for children declines. More children group up disenfranchised and tending to criminal behavior. Urban crime and prison overcrowding skyrocket.

    Well. There’s some exaggeration for effect. But I think the Tipping Point has more to say about the President’s effects on things than Dubner.

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  64. Concerned Reader says:

    This sort of argument is surprising from someone who probably gets it that small changes in the conditions of a big system can have dramatic effects over time. Never mind the kinds of changes that are seated for decades in the supreme court. And when the stars are aligned, as they were for a long time when Republicans controlled the executive and the legislature, the president (or his office, which is clearly corporate) exerts an influence wildly disproportionate to its representative capacity.

    The example of soldiers in iraq is disingenuous. A better one would be women, who already have and will increasingly come to have their uteruses padlocked by an almost entirely male group of decision makers installed by the president.

    Women’s health declines. Quality of life for children declines. More children group up disenfranchised and tending to criminal behavior. Urban crime and prison overcrowding skyrocket.

    Well. There’s some exaggeration for effect. But I think the Tipping Point has more to say about the President’s effects on things than Dubner.

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  65. econ2econ says:

    I have to agree with the post and with Moe. It’s not that they have no influence or that their decisions don’t have large scale impacts, it’s that at an individual level, not much is changed. Much more of it lies within our minds. The general public acts as if the president has a magic button in his office that raises gas prices and launches missiles.

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  66. econ2econ says:

    I have to agree with the post and with Moe. It’s not that they have no influence or that their decisions don’t have large scale impacts, it’s that at an individual level, not much is changed. Much more of it lies within our minds. The general public acts as if the president has a magic button in his office that raises gas prices and launches missiles.

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  67. Blue Sun says:

    I, too, take issue with this simplistic vision of the President and his “powers.”

    The President is in charge of the entire Executive branch of the government (the only branch that is, at least nominally, in the hands of a single person). He has profound influence on the nation that are not obvious to those only skimming the surface.

    Through his appointments and influence, he controls policy at the Department of Defense, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Education, Department of Agriculture, Department of Labor, Department of Justice, Department of State, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Transportation, Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Commerce, Department of Energy, Department of Treasury, and Department of the Interior.

    Much of the changing of America’s course in critical areas over the past six years has gone on under the media’s radar, where lobbyists and corporate flacks installed by the President and his hand-picked Cabinet Secretaries and department heads have been busily tearing down hundreds of regulations or shifting focus away from enforcing existing regulatory law. Much of this alteration in our government is profound, but won’t be evident for years, if not decades.

    Congress may legislate to their hearts’ content, but they must then delegate to these Cabinet departments and the myriad subagencies – all directly under the President’s control – to execute the laws.

    The President is the point man in all of our diplomatic relations the world over and sets the tone for our relations with the rest of the world. He appoints our ambassadors and other public ministers and consuls, even our U.N. representative. He appoints judges and all other officers of the country not otherwise provided for in the Constitution.

    He has the power to negotiate treaties, and, while the Senate has an advise and consent responsibility, if the President doesn’t want to participate in an international treaty, the Senate will never see it on their desks for ratification.

    Even in the cases where the Senate has the power to reject a Presidential nominee, they can’t propose replacements, and must work from the palette the President gives them. He has the absolute power to fill all vacancies with recess appointments when the Senate is not in session.

    He has the power to veto any bill he chooses, forcing the Congress to require a supermajority, and not just a simple majority, to do its legistlative duties.

    He is the Commander-in-Chief of the various military branches, as well as the militias (National Guard) of the states.

    He has the power to grant reprieves, pardons, and commutations for offenses committed against the United States.

    And, last of all, he has what Teddy Roosevelt referred to as the “Bully Pulpit,” perhaps his greatest power. Nobody else in America has the opportunity or ability to make his beliefs and policies, and the arguments for them, known to the people.

    I am thunderstruck once again how little our own citizenry seem to understand about the way our government actually functions.

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  68. Blue Sun says:

    I, too, take issue with this simplistic vision of the President and his “powers.”

    The President is in charge of the entire Executive branch of the government (the only branch that is, at least nominally, in the hands of a single person). He has profound influence on the nation that are not obvious to those only skimming the surface.

    Through his appointments and influence, he controls policy at the Department of Defense, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Education, Department of Agriculture, Department of Labor, Department of Justice, Department of State, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Transportation, Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Commerce, Department of Energy, Department of Treasury, and Department of the Interior.

    Much of the changing of America’s course in critical areas over the past six years has gone on under the media’s radar, where lobbyists and corporate flacks installed by the President and his hand-picked Cabinet Secretaries and department heads have been busily tearing down hundreds of regulations or shifting focus away from enforcing existing regulatory law. Much of this alteration in our government is profound, but won’t be evident for years, if not decades.

    Congress may legislate to their hearts’ content, but they must then delegate to these Cabinet departments and the myriad subagencies – all directly under the President’s control – to execute the laws.

    The President is the point man in all of our diplomatic relations the world over and sets the tone for our relations with the rest of the world. He appoints our ambassadors and other public ministers and consuls, even our U.N. representative. He appoints judges and all other officers of the country not otherwise provided for in the Constitution.

    He has the power to negotiate treaties, and, while the Senate has an advise and consent responsibility, if the President doesn’t want to participate in an international treaty, the Senate will never see it on their desks for ratification.

    Even in the cases where the Senate has the power to reject a Presidential nominee, they can’t propose replacements, and must work from the palette the President gives them. He has the absolute power to fill all vacancies with recess appointments when the Senate is not in session.

    He has the power to veto any bill he chooses, forcing the Congress to require a supermajority, and not just a simple majority, to do its legistlative duties.

    He is the Commander-in-Chief of the various military branches, as well as the militias (National Guard) of the states.

    He has the power to grant reprieves, pardons, and commutations for offenses committed against the United States.

    And, last of all, he has what Teddy Roosevelt referred to as the “Bully Pulpit,” perhaps his greatest power. Nobody else in America has the opportunity or ability to make his beliefs and policies, and the arguments for them, known to the people.

    I am thunderstruck once again how little our own citizenry seem to understand about the way our government actually functions.

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  69. Julia says:

    If enough people buy into the Great Man theory, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. There were a variety of ways in which the U.S. leader could have discussed 9/11 while in the public eye–our leader framed it as a reason to be fearful of both other foreign attacks and attacks from within; a reason that the government should be given more power to regulate our lives so that they can protect us. Before policy was even created, the President had already set the stage for how the issue was going to be discussed. Sure, the patriot act was passed not just by the President but by other members of our government; but had our leader not turned the nation’s mood toward fear and paranoia, it’s likely that more leaders and citizens would have viewed the act as an unecessary violation of our rights rather than a necessary sacrifice to shield us from an invisible enemy.

    No matter how popular an individual President is, the office of the U.S. President is generally viewed as “important,” and therefore how the person in that office frames issues guides the opinion and actions of other leaders and voters. It’s not that the President creates policy by himself, it’s that he can essentially steer policy just by opening his mouth before it is even brought to the floor.

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  70. Julia says:

    If enough people buy into the Great Man theory, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. There were a variety of ways in which the U.S. leader could have discussed 9/11 while in the public eye–our leader framed it as a reason to be fearful of both other foreign attacks and attacks from within; a reason that the government should be given more power to regulate our lives so that they can protect us. Before policy was even created, the President had already set the stage for how the issue was going to be discussed. Sure, the patriot act was passed not just by the President but by other members of our government; but had our leader not turned the nation’s mood toward fear and paranoia, it’s likely that more leaders and citizens would have viewed the act as an unecessary violation of our rights rather than a necessary sacrifice to shield us from an invisible enemy.

    No matter how popular an individual President is, the office of the U.S. President is generally viewed as “important,” and therefore how the person in that office frames issues guides the opinion and actions of other leaders and voters. It’s not that the President creates policy by himself, it’s that he can essentially steer policy just by opening his mouth before it is even brought to the floor.

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  71. Ken Schwarz says:

    The President is the CEO of the executive branch of government. Think about all the administrative agencies. Think about FEMA and the dismal job done in New Orleans. Think about our air traffic control system and how it has become a rare event for a plane to take off or land on time. Who is responsible for making sure things run right? Who is ultimately accountable? If we say that the President can have little impact on our ordinary lives, then who can we blame for the vast array of “little” problems make our lives less than they should be? The President is the top dog and when the business of government is not conducted adequately it is his or her fault.

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  72. Ken Schwarz says:

    The President is the CEO of the executive branch of government. Think about all the administrative agencies. Think about FEMA and the dismal job done in New Orleans. Think about our air traffic control system and how it has become a rare event for a plane to take off or land on time. Who is responsible for making sure things run right? Who is ultimately accountable? If we say that the President can have little impact on our ordinary lives, then who can we blame for the vast array of “little” problems make our lives less than they should be? The President is the top dog and when the business of government is not conducted adequately it is his or her fault.

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  73. mike says:

    Neither Al Gore nor John Kerry would have us bogged down in Iraq at the moment. I count that as considerable evidence that presidents do may a significant difference.

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  74. mike says:

    Neither Al Gore nor John Kerry would have us bogged down in Iraq at the moment. I count that as considerable evidence that presidents do may a significant difference.

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  75. Julie says:

    in addition to all the good examples above: the damage to the environment is irreversible, and consider all of his appointments and the work they do in addition to the supreme court. And now that the presidents poll numbers are down, congress is running away from him: so yes, I guess he matters.

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  76. Julie says:

    in addition to all the good examples above: the damage to the environment is irreversible, and consider all of his appointments and the work they do in addition to the supreme court. And now that the presidents poll numbers are down, congress is running away from him: so yes, I guess he matters.

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  77. Robert C says:

    Generally speaking, I think you are right on about presidents not mattering nearly as much as we think they do. When Clinton, Bush Sr., or Reagan took credit for jobs created, for the collapse of hostile regimes abroad, or for an upturn in the economy, much and perhaps most of the responsibility in each case usually lay elsewhere.

    However, given the particular nature of this particular president and his particular decisions, I think we are currently in a — you guessed it — PARTICULARLY remarkable period of presidential importance.

    Here are just a handful of things that are a result of recent decisions made by this president that would not have been made by a president of a differing political agenda and level of personal incompetence: many thousands of Americans’ lives gone that wouldn’t have been (Iraq, post-Katrina FEMA etc. incompetence, perhaps even 9/11), hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives gone that wouldn’t have been, unprecedented budget deficits that simply would not have occurred, and backing out of support for Kyoto and therefore setting back the move to help forestall the harmful effects of climate change (harming not only US leadership in the fight, to the economic and technological detriment of future generations of Americans — but quite possibly being ultimately responsible for either otherwise unnecessarily drastic measures in the future or indeed the fate of human life on this planet).

    There are of course plenty of other things to add to the list. But I humbly suggest that you think about these things, think about whether they would have occurred during a Clinton, Gore, or even Bush Sr. presidency, and then perhaps consider revising your case to something along the lines of “most of the time presidents don’t matter as much as we act like they do, as long as they don’t do crazy, colossally detrimental things that endanger and even extinguish the lives and livelihoods of countless thousands and perhaps millions of people”. Other than that, keep up the great work!

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  78. Robert C says:

    Generally speaking, I think you are right on about presidents not mattering nearly as much as we think they do. When Clinton, Bush Sr., or Reagan took credit for jobs created, for the collapse of hostile regimes abroad, or for an upturn in the economy, much and perhaps most of the responsibility in each case usually lay elsewhere.

    However, given the particular nature of this particular president and his particular decisions, I think we are currently in a — you guessed it — PARTICULARLY remarkable period of presidential importance.

    Here are just a handful of things that are a result of recent decisions made by this president that would not have been made by a president of a differing political agenda and level of personal incompetence: many thousands of Americans’ lives gone that wouldn’t have been (Iraq, post-Katrina FEMA etc. incompetence, perhaps even 9/11), hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives gone that wouldn’t have been, unprecedented budget deficits that simply would not have occurred, and backing out of support for Kyoto and therefore setting back the move to help forestall the harmful effects of climate change (harming not only US leadership in the fight, to the economic and technological detriment of future generations of Americans — but quite possibly being ultimately responsible for either otherwise unnecessarily drastic measures in the future or indeed the fate of human life on this planet).

    There are of course plenty of other things to add to the list. But I humbly suggest that you think about these things, think about whether they would have occurred during a Clinton, Gore, or even Bush Sr. presidency, and then perhaps consider revising your case to something along the lines of “most of the time presidents don’t matter as much as we act like they do, as long as they don’t do crazy, colossally detrimental things that endanger and even extinguish the lives and livelihoods of countless thousands and perhaps millions of people”. Other than that, keep up the great work!

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  79. John says:

    In my opinion, it depends on the issue. For example, I think that Presidents have very little to do with the success or failure of the economy. Franklin Roosevelt, for all his actions during the Great Depression did not really succeed in pulling the US out of the Depression. It took World War II to do that. On the otherhand, during the Cuban Missle crisis President Kennedy took the US to the brink of nuclear war that would have resulted in the deaths of over 100 million Americans (not counting the impact on the former Soviet Union or Europe). As it turned out he selected an approach that defused the situation and resulted in the withdrawl of Soviet nuclear weapons from Cuba.

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  80. John says:

    In my opinion, it depends on the issue. For example, I think that Presidents have very little to do with the success or failure of the economy. Franklin Roosevelt, for all his actions during the Great Depression did not really succeed in pulling the US out of the Depression. It took World War II to do that. On the otherhand, during the Cuban Missle crisis President Kennedy took the US to the brink of nuclear war that would have resulted in the deaths of over 100 million Americans (not counting the impact on the former Soviet Union or Europe). As it turned out he selected an approach that defused the situation and resulted in the withdrawl of Soviet nuclear weapons from Cuba.

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  81. James Howell says:

    I proposed this idea to my father-in-law many years ago and one would have thought I proposed selling his daughter – my wife – into white slavery. A president can have a serious effect on one’s life, as you say, if a family member is in Iraq but remember this, if Congress had put it’s foot down and weren’t the cowards they are, our soldiers would not be there. From a leadership perspective, the president is at the tip of the pyramid but he wouldn’t be there if the rest of the pyramid moved elsewhere.

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  82. James Howell says:

    I proposed this idea to my father-in-law many years ago and one would have thought I proposed selling his daughter – my wife – into white slavery. A president can have a serious effect on one’s life, as you say, if a family member is in Iraq but remember this, if Congress had put it’s foot down and weren’t the cowards they are, our soldiers would not be there. From a leadership perspective, the president is at the tip of the pyramid but he wouldn’t be there if the rest of the pyramid moved elsewhere.

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  83. robert says:

    There definitely is a view by some in society that the President has amazing power to shape our lives. One comment referenced President Bush’s pro-life stance and thinks that he is to blame for unwanted children in our nation. I can think of two people (the mother and father) who are much more responsible for that child’s birth than President Bush and his pro-life justices. On a more fiscal subject, If the Fair Tax was signed into law I think everyone would have a lot more control over their lives, instead of an arbitrary and convoluted system that is the U.S. tax code.

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  84. robert says:

    There definitely is a view by some in society that the President has amazing power to shape our lives. One comment referenced President Bush’s pro-life stance and thinks that he is to blame for unwanted children in our nation. I can think of two people (the mother and father) who are much more responsible for that child’s birth than President Bush and his pro-life justices. On a more fiscal subject, If the Fair Tax was signed into law I think everyone would have a lot more control over their lives, instead of an arbitrary and convoluted system that is the U.S. tax code.

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  85. Blue Sun says:

    The claim about how CEOs and baseball managers often merely take responsibility for what is done lower down in the organization is a false analogy.

    CEOs and baseball managers rarely have the opportunity the President has to determine the players at the lower levels. The President, through his closest advisors and senior appointments, builds the team he wants, based on the criteria he sets and the policies he wishes to pursue. There may be tens of thousands of career bureaucrats laboring down in the trenches, but it is Bush appointees standing above them telling them what to dig, where to dig, when to dig, and how deep to dig.

    The idea that the President is like a baseball manager, his reputation captive to the performance of a bunch of over-paid players who were selected by a general manager and home office, that were not appointed by him, and that have the power to fire him if he protests their actions too vociferously is about as flawed an analogy as I’ve come across in recent months.

    Perhaps it would be slightly less flawed if you compare the President to George Steinbrenner, rather than Joe Torre – but you guys are still trying to compare apples and locomotives.

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  86. Blue Sun says:

    The claim about how CEOs and baseball managers often merely take responsibility for what is done lower down in the organization is a false analogy.

    CEOs and baseball managers rarely have the opportunity the President has to determine the players at the lower levels. The President, through his closest advisors and senior appointments, builds the team he wants, based on the criteria he sets and the policies he wishes to pursue. There may be tens of thousands of career bureaucrats laboring down in the trenches, but it is Bush appointees standing above them telling them what to dig, where to dig, when to dig, and how deep to dig.

    The idea that the President is like a baseball manager, his reputation captive to the performance of a bunch of over-paid players who were selected by a general manager and home office, that were not appointed by him, and that have the power to fire him if he protests their actions too vociferously is about as flawed an analogy as I’ve come across in recent months.

    Perhaps it would be slightly less flawed if you compare the President to George Steinbrenner, rather than Joe Torre – but you guys are still trying to compare apples and locomotives.

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  87. tb says:

    in response to david, who wrote that this president shares the following traits with people in his workplace, who are “arrogant, demanding of blind obedience, short sighted, not interested in science and ruled by emotion.”

    could the revival of fundamentalist religion have anything to do with it? bush is a devout christian, and the above-described traits seem to be characteristics of any organized religion worth its salt.

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  88. tb says:

    in response to david, who wrote that this president shares the following traits with people in his workplace, who are “arrogant, demanding of blind obedience, short sighted, not interested in science and ruled by emotion.”

    could the revival of fundamentalist religion have anything to do with it? bush is a devout christian, and the above-described traits seem to be characteristics of any organized religion worth its salt.

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  89. Matt Hughes says:

    I’ve been saying this for years. I’m not fan of the current administration, yet I challenge friends and coworkers to articulate, exactly, the President’s role in events and actions generating much of the animus I hear from them. And, to a person, they all respond with the same “sputtering indignation” you describe. And, as often, I’m derided as an apologist for the administration simply for suggesting that the massive bureaucracy that runs our country might be responsible for our current foibles (and successes). I’m sorry, everyone, America is far too complex (and too interesting, I think) for us to lay the blame or credit for our actions at the feet of any one individual.

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  90. Matt Hughes says:

    I’ve been saying this for years. I’m not fan of the current administration, yet I challenge friends and coworkers to articulate, exactly, the President’s role in events and actions generating much of the animus I hear from them. And, to a person, they all respond with the same “sputtering indignation” you describe. And, as often, I’m derided as an apologist for the administration simply for suggesting that the massive bureaucracy that runs our country might be responsible for our current foibles (and successes). I’m sorry, everyone, America is far too complex (and too interesting, I think) for us to lay the blame or credit for our actions at the feet of any one individual.

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  91. Charles Silver says:

    I wish the President (indeed, the entire government apparatus at all levels) mattered little in my life, but I fear that he (and it) matters a lot. One measure of importance is his (and its) ability to influence money flows. By this governments matter enormously, not just because of the sheer amounts of money they process but because of the enormous influence they exert on money flows indirectly (such as through tax subsidies and regulations). Another measure concerns the number of options people are wrongly forbidden, such as the use of illegal drugs, or wrongly allowed, such as the ability to pollute without cost. How much control a President personally exerts over these matters is difficult to say, partly because a President can choose to have more or less control.

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  92. Charles Silver says:

    I wish the President (indeed, the entire government apparatus at all levels) mattered little in my life, but I fear that he (and it) matters a lot. One measure of importance is his (and its) ability to influence money flows. By this governments matter enormously, not just because of the sheer amounts of money they process but because of the enormous influence they exert on money flows indirectly (such as through tax subsidies and regulations). Another measure concerns the number of options people are wrongly forbidden, such as the use of illegal drugs, or wrongly allowed, such as the ability to pollute without cost. How much control a President personally exerts over these matters is difficult to say, partly because a President can choose to have more or less control.

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  93. Greg B. says:

    I would agree with the “Great Man” Theory to a limited extent. My agreement is based upon the idea that because the president is such a visible figure and his actions under such scrutiny, that the President has the power to change a culture, which is the most important power anyone can have. His appointees in the vast federal bureaucracy, sharing similar ideological views, can influence the culture at those institutions, and thus their priorities. After all, a culture in economist’s terms is a lens through which things aquire value, and the president’s ability to manipulate culture through his policies, words, and actions mean more than the federal bank and a 1/4 percent hike on interest rates.

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  94. Greg B. says:

    I would agree with the “Great Man” Theory to a limited extent. My agreement is based upon the idea that because the president is such a visible figure and his actions under such scrutiny, that the President has the power to change a culture, which is the most important power anyone can have. His appointees in the vast federal bureaucracy, sharing similar ideological views, can influence the culture at those institutions, and thus their priorities. After all, a culture in economist’s terms is a lens through which things aquire value, and the president’s ability to manipulate culture through his policies, words, and actions mean more than the federal bank and a 1/4 percent hike on interest rates.

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  95. John Jay says:

    We’re $4 trillion dollars (that’s about $13,000 for every person in America) deeper in debt as a nation because of the President Bush’s influence on the discussion about taxes and spending than we would be if Gore were President and continued our balanced policies.

    Democratic Congressmen gave Reagan his deficits; Republican Congressmen gave Clinton his deficit reduction. Individual Presidents do have a HUGE impact in setting the tone of national debate and nudging others to respond that spans parties.

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  96. John Jay says:

    We’re $4 trillion dollars (that’s about $13,000 for every person in America) deeper in debt as a nation because of the President Bush’s influence on the discussion about taxes and spending than we would be if Gore were President and continued our balanced policies.

    Democratic Congressmen gave Reagan his deficits; Republican Congressmen gave Clinton his deficit reduction. Individual Presidents do have a HUGE impact in setting the tone of national debate and nudging others to respond that spans parties.

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  97. Bill says:

    Your post overstates the case. Of course it matters. I’m sure, for example, that you will go vote for the presidential candidate of your choice. If it didn’t really matter all that much, you wouldn’t vote.

    Yes, there are many forces outside presidential direct control. But a president can lead, persuade, set a tone for a country. Oh, and he can lead a country into a Trillion dollar war with 4 million displaced (2 million interior) in IRAQ, thousands of deaths, and promote great geo-political instability and hatred of the US. How about them apples?

    On a more personal level, it would seem he can tap into your phone line and suspend habeus corpus, at least for a little while.

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  98. Bill says:

    Your post overstates the case. Of course it matters. I’m sure, for example, that you will go vote for the presidential candidate of your choice. If it didn’t really matter all that much, you wouldn’t vote.

    Yes, there are many forces outside presidential direct control. But a president can lead, persuade, set a tone for a country. Oh, and he can lead a country into a Trillion dollar war with 4 million displaced (2 million interior) in IRAQ, thousands of deaths, and promote great geo-political instability and hatred of the US. How about them apples?

    On a more personal level, it would seem he can tap into your phone line and suspend habeus corpus, at least for a little while.

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  99. Blue Sun says:

    John posted: “For example, I think that Presidents have very little to do with the success or failure of the economy.”

    I guess then that it is just a coincidence that, over the past 50 years, deficits decline during Democratic administrations and rise precipitously under Republicans. Both Clinton and LBJ left office having turned deficits into surpluses (and LBJ had the Vietnam War to finance). Under Democratic administrations, joblessness falls, poverty falls, and crime falls. All three rise under Republican administrations.

    Here are some comparisons of economic performance during Democratic and Republican administrations:

    Growth of real disposable personal income (1953-2001)

    D: 3.65% R: 3.08%

    Employment gains per year (1953-2001)

    D: 1.684 million/year R: 1.279 million/year

    Unemployment (1947-2001)
    D: 4.8% R: 6.3%

    Average after-tax return on tangible capital (1952-2004)

    D: 4.3% R: 3.2%

    GDP Growth (1962-2001)

    D: 3.9%

    R: 2.9%

    GDP Growth (1930-2000)

    D: 5.4% R: 1.6%

    Inflation (1962-2000)

    D: 4.26% R: 4.96%

    Percentage Growth in total federal spending (1962-2001)

    D: 6.96% R: 7.57%

    Percentage growth in non-defense federal spending (1962-2001)

    D: 8.34% R:10.08%

    Yearly budget deficit (1962 – 2001)

    D: $36 billion R: $190 billion

    Increase in national debt (1962-2001)

    D: $0.72 trillion (20 years) $3.8 trillion (20 years)

    Annual stock market returns (1927 – 2000) (DOW)

    D: 13.4% R:8.1%

    Annual stock market returns (1927-2000) (S&P 500)

    D: 12.3% R: 8.0%

    Sources include BLS, Forbes, WSJ, the Fed, CPI, U.S. Government 2003 Budget, etc.

    Note that in EVERY METRIC, Democratic administrations show statistically significant improvement in performance over Republican administrations (and few of these figures include ANY data from Dubya’s administration, which will drag down Republican averages in a number of critical catagories).

    For those of you who do not believe the President and his advisors have much influence on the economy, that’s a helluva lot of coincidences to explain.

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  100. Blue Sun says:

    John posted: “For example, I think that Presidents have very little to do with the success or failure of the economy.”

    I guess then that it is just a coincidence that, over the past 50 years, deficits decline during Democratic administrations and rise precipitously under Republicans. Both Clinton and LBJ left office having turned deficits into surpluses (and LBJ had the Vietnam War to finance). Under Democratic administrations, joblessness falls, poverty falls, and crime falls. All three rise under Republican administrations.

    Here are some comparisons of economic performance during Democratic and Republican administrations:

    Growth of real disposable personal income (1953-2001)

    D: 3.65% R: 3.08%

    Employment gains per year (1953-2001)

    D: 1.684 million/year R: 1.279 million/year

    Unemployment (1947-2001)
    D: 4.8% R: 6.3%

    Average after-tax return on tangible capital (1952-2004)

    D: 4.3% R: 3.2%

    GDP Growth (1962-2001)

    D: 3.9%

    R: 2.9%

    GDP Growth (1930-2000)

    D: 5.4% R: 1.6%

    Inflation (1962-2000)

    D: 4.26% R: 4.96%

    Percentage Growth in total federal spending (1962-2001)

    D: 6.96% R: 7.57%

    Percentage growth in non-defense federal spending (1962-2001)

    D: 8.34% R:10.08%

    Yearly budget deficit (1962 – 2001)

    D: $36 billion R: $190 billion

    Increase in national debt (1962-2001)

    D: $0.72 trillion (20 years) $3.8 trillion (20 years)

    Annual stock market returns (1927 – 2000) (DOW)

    D: 13.4% R:8.1%

    Annual stock market returns (1927-2000) (S&P 500)

    D: 12.3% R: 8.0%

    Sources include BLS, Forbes, WSJ, the Fed, CPI, U.S. Government 2003 Budget, etc.

    Note that in EVERY METRIC, Democratic administrations show statistically significant improvement in performance over Republican administrations (and few of these figures include ANY data from Dubya’s administration, which will drag down Republican averages in a number of critical catagories).

    For those of you who do not believe the President and his advisors have much influence on the economy, that’s a helluva lot of coincidences to explain.

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  101. Robert Miller says:

    If the president does have great power as many assume I wonder who helps make all these decisions? One man does not know/research everything relating to the nation. Cabinet members, advisors, aids, etc. who accumulate and present info to the president provide the basis for decisions. Is their view always unbiased? Does the president read and understand 100% of what they give him? I think not. I suspect the president’s decisions are pre-packaged and orchestrated more than we know.

    Bush may be a poor president, but his cabinet is also poor. Every good leader surrounds him/herself with good people. I feel presidential candidates should be required to run with a proposed list of cabinet members. Is that feasible?

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  102. Robert Miller says:

    If the president does have great power as many assume I wonder who helps make all these decisions? One man does not know/research everything relating to the nation. Cabinet members, advisors, aids, etc. who accumulate and present info to the president provide the basis for decisions. Is their view always unbiased? Does the president read and understand 100% of what they give him? I think not. I suspect the president’s decisions are pre-packaged and orchestrated more than we know.

    Bush may be a poor president, but his cabinet is also poor. Every good leader surrounds him/herself with good people. I feel presidential candidates should be required to run with a proposed list of cabinet members. Is that feasible?

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  103. RMHK says:

    The President picks his staff, fills vacancies in the Suprene Court and selects judges. Corporations may lead him around by the nose to some degree, but in the end the buck stops with the President. Our current President cares nothing about the average citizen. He wants money, power and oil. I will admit, in his case he probably couldn’t walk across the street without Cheney, but he is at the top and he must take responsibility for the way things turn out.

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  104. RMHK says:

    The President picks his staff, fills vacancies in the Suprene Court and selects judges. Corporations may lead him around by the nose to some degree, but in the end the buck stops with the President. Our current President cares nothing about the average citizen. He wants money, power and oil. I will admit, in his case he probably couldn’t walk across the street without Cheney, but he is at the top and he must take responsibility for the way things turn out.

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  105. PatBob says:

    The comments made by BlueSun nails it exactly. The President of the United States is a very powerful figure in the overall scheme of how our federal government works. Part of the job of the Legislative and Judicial Branches of government is to ensure that the person occupying this office dosn’t get carried away (checks and balances). The founding fathers of this country discussed this issue at great length, and expressed concerns about the powers being given to this office. This is why there is such consternation every time a Supreme Court Justice is appointed. The president can nominate a justice with a certain pre-disposed political or personal outlook on important issues or idealogical bent. FDR tried this during his “reign” by attempting to pack the court that would view the programs he was trying to push favorably, programs that did or would have had a significant impact on the average Joe. We, the citizens of this country, have been warned time and again, starting with Thomas Jefferson and the first president, George Washington (re: his farewell address), through Eisenhower and others, that the powers held by the office of the president of the United States needs to have an ever watchful eye cast on it to ensure that the principles upon which this country were founded are not violated or abrogated in any way to the detriment of us all. Our lives are indeed affected by the president, in both the short and long term.

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  106. PatBob says:

    The comments made by BlueSun nails it exactly. The President of the United States is a very powerful figure in the overall scheme of how our federal government works. Part of the job of the Legislative and Judicial Branches of government is to ensure that the person occupying this office dosn’t get carried away (checks and balances). The founding fathers of this country discussed this issue at great length, and expressed concerns about the powers being given to this office. This is why there is such consternation every time a Supreme Court Justice is appointed. The president can nominate a justice with a certain pre-disposed political or personal outlook on important issues or idealogical bent. FDR tried this during his “reign” by attempting to pack the court that would view the programs he was trying to push favorably, programs that did or would have had a significant impact on the average Joe. We, the citizens of this country, have been warned time and again, starting with Thomas Jefferson and the first president, George Washington (re: his farewell address), through Eisenhower and others, that the powers held by the office of the president of the United States needs to have an ever watchful eye cast on it to ensure that the principles upon which this country were founded are not violated or abrogated in any way to the detriment of us all. Our lives are indeed affected by the president, in both the short and long term.

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  107. Soplisist says:

    Carlyle’s Great Man Theory of history has taken a beating at times, such as in books like Hilter’s Willing Executioners (where the argument is basically that one must have a inclined population to go along with the “Great Man”), but the problem with attempts to argue against the Great Man theory (or it could be the Great Woman as well), is the fundamental postulate of chaos mathematics, the butterfly effect, which is sensitive dependence on initial conditions. That is to say, Carlyle was only half right in the first place, in that it isn’t that the person is great, but that the structure allows one person to exercize undue influence. So in the case of presidents, the population takes a single person and puts that person in a position in which their strengths (or weaknesses) matter proportionally more than other people’s strengths or weaknesses. So you have a magnification of one person’s idiosyncracies. It doesn’t matter if that person shares many characteristics with a sizable percentage of the population, still a president’s specific characteristics will be magnified. Its no help at all to point out that half of Americans are arrogant or distrusting of science, because you could easily imagine a president who had been an arrogant, but effective CEO or legislator, who had learned how to solve genuine problems, who would have brought to our country’s current set of woes much more maturity than the current arrogant ineffectual “Great Man.”

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  108. Soplisist says:

    Carlyle’s Great Man Theory of history has taken a beating at times, such as in books like Hilter’s Willing Executioners (where the argument is basically that one must have a inclined population to go along with the “Great Man”), but the problem with attempts to argue against the Great Man theory (or it could be the Great Woman as well), is the fundamental postulate of chaos mathematics, the butterfly effect, which is sensitive dependence on initial conditions. That is to say, Carlyle was only half right in the first place, in that it isn’t that the person is great, but that the structure allows one person to exercize undue influence. So in the case of presidents, the population takes a single person and puts that person in a position in which their strengths (or weaknesses) matter proportionally more than other people’s strengths or weaknesses. So you have a magnification of one person’s idiosyncracies. It doesn’t matter if that person shares many characteristics with a sizable percentage of the population, still a president’s specific characteristics will be magnified. Its no help at all to point out that half of Americans are arrogant or distrusting of science, because you could easily imagine a president who had been an arrogant, but effective CEO or legislator, who had learned how to solve genuine problems, who would have brought to our country’s current set of woes much more maturity than the current arrogant ineffectual “Great Man.”

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  109. J says:

    Presidents wield immense power. For example, the War in Iraq was not at all inevitable after the tragedy of September 11th (although the Afghanistan invasion would have occurred under any President I believe). It is not hard to imagine a different President never invading Iraq. 3600 lives lost, tens of thousands of casualties, $500B and counting to pay for the War, an over-extended miliary, Osama bin Laden still not captured, and a historic low global reputation have all been the result. None of this was inevitable. One person can make a huge difference. The President made Iraq the nation’s priority.

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  110. J says:

    Presidents wield immense power. For example, the War in Iraq was not at all inevitable after the tragedy of September 11th (although the Afghanistan invasion would have occurred under any President I believe). It is not hard to imagine a different President never invading Iraq. 3600 lives lost, tens of thousands of casualties, $500B and counting to pay for the War, an over-extended miliary, Osama bin Laden still not captured, and a historic low global reputation have all been the result. None of this was inevitable. One person can make a huge difference. The President made Iraq the nation’s priority.

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  111. Alister says:

    Are you kidding me? We would not be in Iraq right now if not for President Bush. Even now he is the biggest obstacle to our withdrawal from Iraq. That is power.

    The untold billions spent on the Iraq war, money that could be put to better use domestically, perhaps does not affect me so much. But all of that wasted money affects the American people as a collective.

    Presidents, even if they are cheerleaders, are extremely influential cheerleaders. Roosevelt’s fireside chats being one example. What about Winston Churchill’s ability to lift the spirits of his countrymen during the worst of the Blitz? This influence is not easily measured. But it makes their influence no less valuable.

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  112. Alister says:

    Are you kidding me? We would not be in Iraq right now if not for President Bush. Even now he is the biggest obstacle to our withdrawal from Iraq. That is power.

    The untold billions spent on the Iraq war, money that could be put to better use domestically, perhaps does not affect me so much. But all of that wasted money affects the American people as a collective.

    Presidents, even if they are cheerleaders, are extremely influential cheerleaders. Roosevelt’s fireside chats being one example. What about Winston Churchill’s ability to lift the spirits of his countrymen during the worst of the Blitz? This influence is not easily measured. But it makes their influence no less valuable.

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  113. Jim says:

    Doesn’t it depend, for example, on whether (a) you’re trying to stay alive in Baghdad, (b) suffer from Parkingson’s Disease, or (c) need a very late-term abortion?

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  114. Jim says:

    Doesn’t it depend, for example, on whether (a) you’re trying to stay alive in Baghdad, (b) suffer from Parkingson’s Disease, or (c) need a very late-term abortion?

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  115. L. Kurt Engelhart says:

    What do we mean by ‘president?’ Is it the person ending in the tips of his fingers, the sound of his voice, and the smell of his aftershave? Or is it the huge, agenda pursuing, organization of which the person is the titular head. I believe in almost all cases it must be the latter. ‘President’ has no legitimate meaning when applied to a single individual.

    This distinction is important because it determines what you, as an individual, need to do if you do not like the behavior of this organization as the political administration of your country. Obviously it is not sufficient to simply vote for a new ‘president.’

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  116. L. Kurt Engelhart says:

    What do we mean by ‘president?’ Is it the person ending in the tips of his fingers, the sound of his voice, and the smell of his aftershave? Or is it the huge, agenda pursuing, organization of which the person is the titular head. I believe in almost all cases it must be the latter. ‘President’ has no legitimate meaning when applied to a single individual.

    This distinction is important because it determines what you, as an individual, need to do if you do not like the behavior of this organization as the political administration of your country. Obviously it is not sufficient to simply vote for a new ‘president.’

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  117. John Chuckman, Toronto, Canada says:

    I should think Bush has demonstrated for all time just how little the President of the United States is needed.

    This man’s capacities are strained just giving one of his mind-numbing speeches, and he’s in bed by nine.

    He doesn’t understand a great deal of what he talks about, and he’s managed to make terrible decisions time after time. He let them drown in New Orleans, and the city remains a mess. No evidence at all of power or leadership.

    Actually, the American Constitution makes the President a weak figure in domestic affairs.

    His office only displays real power in modern times when there is war, the Founders having made the great mistake of naming him Commander in Chief.

    Since others hold the power to declare war, the Founders thought they were being wise dividing authority this way.

    But what war of the many started by the US since WWII has been declared? None.

    We are left with the Commander in Chief role with no real check.

    In domestic economic affairs, the President almost doesn’t matter at all. He has little authority. And the changes he does advocate and get passed by Congress are generally too tiny to matter much for an economy the size of the United States.

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  118. John Chuckman, Toronto, Canada says:

    I should think Bush has demonstrated for all time just how little the President of the United States is needed.

    This man’s capacities are strained just giving one of his mind-numbing speeches, and he’s in bed by nine.

    He doesn’t understand a great deal of what he talks about, and he’s managed to make terrible decisions time after time. He let them drown in New Orleans, and the city remains a mess. No evidence at all of power or leadership.

    Actually, the American Constitution makes the President a weak figure in domestic affairs.

    His office only displays real power in modern times when there is war, the Founders having made the great mistake of naming him Commander in Chief.

    Since others hold the power to declare war, the Founders thought they were being wise dividing authority this way.

    But what war of the many started by the US since WWII has been declared? None.

    We are left with the Commander in Chief role with no real check.

    In domestic economic affairs, the President almost doesn’t matter at all. He has little authority. And the changes he does advocate and get passed by Congress are generally too tiny to matter much for an economy the size of the United States.

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  119. Michael G says:

    No one seems to have mentioned one of the most direct ways this president has influenced many citizens’ lives directly: the education bill known as “No Child Left Behind. ” In the guise of improving education, this worst educated of presidents ahs actually severely damaged it, focussing much too much attnetion on rote learning to pass tests, probably making schooling qaand learnign less attractive to many kids, encouraging the rise of private schooling for the better off to evade these simplicities, and dmaging an entier generation.

    In general, the post exhibits the fallacy of much economic thinking — that everything is determined by ratioanl behavior in markets, in which individual blips cannot matter much. In fact, given the way current polticis works, andthe possiblities of current communications ssytems, the President of the US has far more ability to affect both history and present life than most past leaders could have imagined. Bush himself may be just a vehiicle for those around him to pursue neds they have long sought, but without htis vehicle at their disposal thye would have succeeded much less. further,as in the case of education, Bush’s particular and idiosyncratic vieews ahd much to do with the passage of the law, its enforcement in the executive branch, and its supoort in Congress.

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  120. Michael G says:

    No one seems to have mentioned one of the most direct ways this president has influenced many citizens’ lives directly: the education bill known as “No Child Left Behind. ” In the guise of improving education, this worst educated of presidents ahs actually severely damaged it, focussing much too much attnetion on rote learning to pass tests, probably making schooling qaand learnign less attractive to many kids, encouraging the rise of private schooling for the better off to evade these simplicities, and dmaging an entier generation.

    In general, the post exhibits the fallacy of much economic thinking — that everything is determined by ratioanl behavior in markets, in which individual blips cannot matter much. In fact, given the way current polticis works, andthe possiblities of current communications ssytems, the President of the US has far more ability to affect both history and present life than most past leaders could have imagined. Bush himself may be just a vehiicle for those around him to pursue neds they have long sought, but without htis vehicle at their disposal thye would have succeeded much less. further,as in the case of education, Bush’s particular and idiosyncratic vieews ahd much to do with the passage of the law, its enforcement in the executive branch, and its supoort in Congress.

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  121. David says:

    To follow up on #3 and #44: in 2000 Ken Lay, Enron CEO, was highly influential in the corporate world. Could my company have been copying his company, because Enron stock always went up? That would tie fundamentalism to my workplace.

    We might follow the money before attributing much to the man (great or not not great). Enron was number one donor to the 2000 Bush campaign (and for a long time, even the 2004 campaign).

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  122. David says:

    To follow up on #3 and #44: in 2000 Ken Lay, Enron CEO, was highly influential in the corporate world. Could my company have been copying his company, because Enron stock always went up? That would tie fundamentalism to my workplace.

    We might follow the money before attributing much to the man (great or not not great). Enron was number one donor to the 2000 Bush campaign (and for a long time, even the 2004 campaign).

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  123. Caleb Powers says:

    I am a classic political liberal, educated at a classic small liberal arts college. I was in college when Reagan was elected president, and I thought the world would end, with a “real” conservative in the White House, as did most of my friends.

    And, nothing changed. Oh, there was lots of news about things going on in Washington, but as far as me and my life, nothing changed. And since then, I’ve never made the mistake of thinking that any president would ever make much of a difference either way.

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  124. Caleb Powers says:

    I am a classic political liberal, educated at a classic small liberal arts college. I was in college when Reagan was elected president, and I thought the world would end, with a “real” conservative in the White House, as did most of my friends.

    And, nothing changed. Oh, there was lots of news about things going on in Washington, but as far as me and my life, nothing changed. And since then, I’ve never made the mistake of thinking that any president would ever make much of a difference either way.

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  125. Marie says:

    You note that the government is a very complex system, comparing it to our market economy.

    This is an interesting comparison because, in certain ways, the “market” of our present government is rigged. Through use of public money to help finance campaigns and through favorable election rules, the two major parties have a lock on the system, distorting it in ways which are similar to interference in the free market.

    Thus we have little differentiation between parties, unresponsiveness, “imperial” presidencies, etc.

    But, as to the importance of the Presidency, by rights he should only matter when he does big dumb or big smart things. He is, after all, the Executive and executes, not initiates.

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  126. Marie says:

    You note that the government is a very complex system, comparing it to our market economy.

    This is an interesting comparison because, in certain ways, the “market” of our present government is rigged. Through use of public money to help finance campaigns and through favorable election rules, the two major parties have a lock on the system, distorting it in ways which are similar to interference in the free market.

    Thus we have little differentiation between parties, unresponsiveness, “imperial” presidencies, etc.

    But, as to the importance of the Presidency, by rights he should only matter when he does big dumb or big smart things. He is, after all, the Executive and executes, not initiates.

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  127. ils vont says:

    I am not sure how much power the PM of England has but he seems like much more of an administrator than a leader.

    http://www.ilsvont.com

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  128. ils vont says:

    I am not sure how much power the PM of England has but he seems like much more of an administrator than a leader.

    http://www.ilsvont.com

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  129. les says:

    No, a president does not matter. Each individual matters only to their own actions. Do you need a pope to believe in church, NO. Leaders are only Crutches for those with low self esteem and the lack or supposed lack of insight. Ivory Palaces, Are they a figment of our imagination? People determine the Market, fiscal policy, so forth. Like the saying ” It’s hard soar like an Eagle when you’re surrounded by Turkeys”

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  130. les says:

    No, a president does not matter. Each individual matters only to their own actions. Do you need a pope to believe in church, NO. Leaders are only Crutches for those with low self esteem and the lack or supposed lack of insight. Ivory Palaces, Are they a figment of our imagination? People determine the Market, fiscal policy, so forth. Like the saying ” It’s hard soar like an Eagle when you’re surrounded by Turkeys”

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  131. Richard Serlin says:

    This is a very flawed and dangerous analysis. There are some enourmous differences between the types of power and influence the president has compared to the power and influence of say a basball team coach or CEO.

    Do you think it affects American’s lives significantly when millions of children have health care or do not? If you don’t, then the president doesn’t matter much. If you rightly do, then the president matters hugely, as this president will veto and kill the child health care bill in congress currently, while a Democrat president would almost surely sign it into law.

    Do you think it affects American’s lives significantly if they have free or virtually free universal health care that they can never lose. If John Edwards becomes president, the odds of this are very good. There will be a mandate that will pressure congress. He will push for it hard with the bully pulpit, and he will not kill it with a veto. If a Republican becomes the next president it will not happen. He will killed it by neglect and/or a veto.

    Do you think free trade affects American’s lives significantly? Economists say the advancement of free trade has increased American (and especially the rest of the world’s) standards of living and technological advance tremendously since World War II. Who is in the White House has a tremendous effect on whether free trade advances or retreats. With Clinton in the White House NAFTA barely passed. A veto from another president would have killed it. Even another president who would not have killed it with a veto, probably could not have marshalled enough Democrat votes to pass it the way Clinton did.

    Do you think economic regulation affects American’s lives significantly? The president has a huge impact on this with his power to kill regulation through pressure on congress, and with his veto. He also has great power to push for and sign into law regulation. Today there are more bankruptcy filings per year than divorce filings, and foreclosures are epidemic. Research has shown that this is greatly the result of deregulation in the finance industry. In the past credit card companies could not charge interest rates in the 30s, or anyting close, in all but a few states. Mortgage interest rates could not go into the 20s. A Republican President means a lot more anything goes. A Democrat President means comparatively far more consumer protection regulation.

    Do you think students graduating college swimming in student loan debt, greatly deterred from innovating and taking risks and starting families as a result of this, affects American’s lives significantly? A Democrat president is far more likely than a Republican one to sign and push bills to alleviate this, rather than veto them, or push bills to make things even worse.

    This President signed the recent bankruptcy bill (2005). Amongst many wide reaching provisions is one which makes it essentially impossible for students to dismiss fully private student loan debt in bankruptcy. These loans can have interest rates reaching into the 20s, so that the balance can skyrocket to the point where it can never be paid. With no bankruptcy relief the student becomes a lifetime indentured servant. A Democrat President would almost certainly have vetoed and killed this bill. A Replican President signed it into law. You don’t think this affects American’s lives significantly?

    Do you even think it affects American’s lives significantly if we go to war? Obviously the odds of us going to war in Iraq were far greater with George W. Bush as president than with Al Gore.

    Do you think the amount of oil money going to terrorist supporting, brutal, and anti-American regimes affects American’s lives significantly? With a different president we could easily have right now much higher milage standards as these could be supported and pushed, rather than vetoed and killed. The same goes for a host of other conservation measures.

    Do you think the threat of global warming affects American’s lives (or future American’s lives) significantly? If John Edwards is president there will likely be immensly less carbon in the environment than if Fred Thompson is. Mr. Thompson has recently gone on record as saying that he doesn’t even believe in global warming. Mr. Edwards would seek out and sign carbon lowering treaties, rather than killing them with a veto as Mr. Thompson would. Research spending to deal with, and alleviate, global warming would likely be far greater under an Edwards Presidency than a Thompson one.

    Do you think the amount of money spent on research to cure Cancer, AIDS, Parkinsons Disease, and more affects American’s lives significantly. The President has a huge impact on the budgets of those things and everything with his veto power and threat and his ability to rally, pressure, reward and punish, congress, especially members of his own party. This President pushed hard for and signed trillions in tax cuts for the wealthiest American’s. Those tax cuts would never have happened under an Al Gore presidency and instead that money could have been spent on Cancer research, universal health care, basic scientific and medical research, education, re-training, infrastructure, a continued surplus and the paying off of national debt, as under Clinton, rather than shifting from the largest surpluses in American history to the largest deficits in American history, etc. You don’t think this would have a significant effect on American’s lives.

    Do you think choices for federal and supreme court justices affect American’s lives significantly?

    I could go on and on. It’s astounding how greatly different for the better or worse American’s lives, and the lives of people all over the world, can be as a result of who we elect as president.

    The president of the United States has very different powers, and is in a very different situation, than the coach of a sports team, or a CEO. Who we vote for is enourmously important.

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  132. Richard Serlin says:

    This is a very flawed and dangerous analysis. There are some enourmous differences between the types of power and influence the president has compared to the power and influence of say a basball team coach or CEO.

    Do you think it affects American’s lives significantly when millions of children have health care or do not? If you don’t, then the president doesn’t matter much. If you rightly do, then the president matters hugely, as this president will veto and kill the child health care bill in congress currently, while a Democrat president would almost surely sign it into law.

    Do you think it affects American’s lives significantly if they have free or virtually free universal health care that they can never lose. If John Edwards becomes president, the odds of this are very good. There will be a mandate that will pressure congress. He will push for it hard with the bully pulpit, and he will not kill it with a veto. If a Republican becomes the next president it will not happen. He will killed it by neglect and/or a veto.

    Do you think free trade affects American’s lives significantly? Economists say the advancement of free trade has increased American (and especially the rest of the world’s) standards of living and technological advance tremendously since World War II. Who is in the White House has a tremendous effect on whether free trade advances or retreats. With Clinton in the White House NAFTA barely passed. A veto from another president would have killed it. Even another president who would not have killed it with a veto, probably could not have marshalled enough Democrat votes to pass it the way Clinton did.

    Do you think economic regulation affects American’s lives significantly? The president has a huge impact on this with his power to kill regulation through pressure on congress, and with his veto. He also has great power to push for and sign into law regulation. Today there are more bankruptcy filings per year than divorce filings, and foreclosures are epidemic. Research has shown that this is greatly the result of deregulation in the finance industry. In the past credit card companies could not charge interest rates in the 30s, or anyting close, in all but a few states. Mortgage interest rates could not go into the 20s. A Republican President means a lot more anything goes. A Democrat President means comparatively far more consumer protection regulation.

    Do you think students graduating college swimming in student loan debt, greatly deterred from innovating and taking risks and starting families as a result of this, affects American’s lives significantly? A Democrat president is far more likely than a Republican one to sign and push bills to alleviate this, rather than veto them, or push bills to make things even worse.

    This President signed the recent bankruptcy bill (2005). Amongst many wide reaching provisions is one which makes it essentially impossible for students to dismiss fully private student loan debt in bankruptcy. These loans can have interest rates reaching into the 20s, so that the balance can skyrocket to the point where it can never be paid. With no bankruptcy relief the student becomes a lifetime indentured servant. A Democrat President would almost certainly have vetoed and killed this bill. A Replican President signed it into law. You don’t think this affects American’s lives significantly?

    Do you even think it affects American’s lives significantly if we go to war? Obviously the odds of us going to war in Iraq were far greater with George W. Bush as president than with Al Gore.

    Do you think the amount of oil money going to terrorist supporting, brutal, and anti-American regimes affects American’s lives significantly? With a different president we could easily have right now much higher milage standards as these could be supported and pushed, rather than vetoed and killed. The same goes for a host of other conservation measures.

    Do you think the threat of global warming affects American’s lives (or future American’s lives) significantly? If John Edwards is president there will likely be immensly less carbon in the environment than if Fred Thompson is. Mr. Thompson has recently gone on record as saying that he doesn’t even believe in global warming. Mr. Edwards would seek out and sign carbon lowering treaties, rather than killing them with a veto as Mr. Thompson would. Research spending to deal with, and alleviate, global warming would likely be far greater under an Edwards Presidency than a Thompson one.

    Do you think the amount of money spent on research to cure Cancer, AIDS, Parkinsons Disease, and more affects American’s lives significantly. The President has a huge impact on the budgets of those things and everything with his veto power and threat and his ability to rally, pressure, reward and punish, congress, especially members of his own party. This President pushed hard for and signed trillions in tax cuts for the wealthiest American’s. Those tax cuts would never have happened under an Al Gore presidency and instead that money could have been spent on Cancer research, universal health care, basic scientific and medical research, education, re-training, infrastructure, a continued surplus and the paying off of national debt, as under Clinton, rather than shifting from the largest surpluses in American history to the largest deficits in American history, etc. You don’t think this would have a significant effect on American’s lives.

    Do you think choices for federal and supreme court justices affect American’s lives significantly?

    I could go on and on. It’s astounding how greatly different for the better or worse American’s lives, and the lives of people all over the world, can be as a result of who we elect as president.

    The president of the United States has very different powers, and is in a very different situation, than the coach of a sports team, or a CEO. Who we vote for is enourmously important.

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  133. econ2econ says:

    Blue Sun’s metrics don’t paint the whole picture. What about periods where there have been different parties in congress vs. the White House? What about economic shifts that occur in one administration and carry over into the next? The economic upturn in the 1990s started occuring under Bush I. The economic downturn in the early 2000s started in the latter part of the Clinton terms. Which one do we “blame”? The effects of policies and cultural shifts that occur in a 4 or 8 year period are often not realized until much later. One could easily say that Blue Sun’s metrics should be interpreted as one party inheriting the aftermath of the other party’s deeds.

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  134. econ2econ says:

    Blue Sun’s metrics don’t paint the whole picture. What about periods where there have been different parties in congress vs. the White House? What about economic shifts that occur in one administration and carry over into the next? The economic upturn in the 1990s started occuring under Bush I. The economic downturn in the early 2000s started in the latter part of the Clinton terms. Which one do we “blame”? The effects of policies and cultural shifts that occur in a 4 or 8 year period are often not realized until much later. One could easily say that Blue Sun’s metrics should be interpreted as one party inheriting the aftermath of the other party’s deeds.

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  135. ttj says:

    Presidents don’t act alone. They are the front men (or women). That’s something people often fail to realize. They have numerous advisers who give them information to act on and who encourage them to act in given ways. However, as you said, people need to feel that some one individual holds responsibility. They need to find someone to blame or someone to hold up as an example. There are some people who believe, however, that presidents should be given much less authority in the constitution so that every move they make is entirely controlled. In that way, nothing they do would have a great impact and we, the citizens would not be required to as much as knowing their names.

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  136. ttj says:

    Presidents don’t act alone. They are the front men (or women). That’s something people often fail to realize. They have numerous advisers who give them information to act on and who encourage them to act in given ways. However, as you said, people need to feel that some one individual holds responsibility. They need to find someone to blame or someone to hold up as an example. There are some people who believe, however, that presidents should be given much less authority in the constitution so that every move they make is entirely controlled. In that way, nothing they do would have a great impact and we, the citizens would not be required to as much as knowing their names.

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  137. Jon Zelner says:

    This is backwards economist-style thinking. It may be that the president isn’t *always* important, but it is better to think about the power of rare events (think about earthquakes and massive outbreaks here) than to always think in terms of the mean and the ‘on average’ behavior. It’s not usually the center of the distribution that makes change, but the tails…

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  138. Jon Zelner says:

    This is backwards economist-style thinking. It may be that the president isn’t *always* important, but it is better to think about the power of rare events (think about earthquakes and massive outbreaks here) than to always think in terms of the mean and the ‘on average’ behavior. It’s not usually the center of the distribution that makes change, but the tails…

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  139. Jonathan Twigg says:

    I think the effects of the current president have been far reaching. It has been mentioned many times that he nominates the Supreme Court Justices. His administration also appoints the heads of the E.P.A., the Parks Service, etc. These choices can nullify the effects of positive legislation by selective enforcement of rules. They can delay implementation of programs by calling for studies. They can change the course of progress by ingoring or editing studies. And of course, by his diplomatic style he can avoid war or create one. I believe that the position of president doesn’t well fit the example you are trying to illustrate. This is a unique position that truly can affect even small areas of American life.

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  140. Jonathan Twigg says:

    I think the effects of the current president have been far reaching. It has been mentioned many times that he nominates the Supreme Court Justices. His administration also appoints the heads of the E.P.A., the Parks Service, etc. These choices can nullify the effects of positive legislation by selective enforcement of rules. They can delay implementation of programs by calling for studies. They can change the course of progress by ingoring or editing studies. And of course, by his diplomatic style he can avoid war or create one. I believe that the position of president doesn’t well fit the example you are trying to illustrate. This is a unique position that truly can affect even small areas of American life.

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  141. Bob says:

    Would we have been in a war in Iraq if Bush wasn’t president? I think not.

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  142. Bob says:

    Would we have been in a war in Iraq if Bush wasn’t president? I think not.

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  143. beaumont livingston says:

    Think of all the $$$ that the rich people get because of Bush’s tax cut?
    That was proposed by Bush, passed by congress, and signed into law. If the election hadn’t been stolen and Gore would have been sworn in, this would not have happened.

    That is a big difference.

    No war in Iraq. That is a big difference.

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  144. beaumont livingston says:

    Think of all the $$$ that the rich people get because of Bush’s tax cut?
    That was proposed by Bush, passed by congress, and signed into law. If the election hadn’t been stolen and Gore would have been sworn in, this would not have happened.

    That is a big difference.

    No war in Iraq. That is a big difference.

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  145. Les says:

    Sounds like a bunch of Long Winded Politicians on this forum. How much share does each individual own in the Democratic Process? Is it nothing more than a Market, Business, a career building stone to see who can own the most toys and guess what, you are the Toys! Puppets on a String. Health care is not determined by Politics but only by the diseased and the cured and where do a majority of these diseases stem from, Scientific Research. The Diseases were only brought about from the pure ignorance of those who supposedly lead the supposed weak minded. Does the president relieve a cold of a sick child? Does the president tuck your child in every night, help your child with their Math, uplift your child when they’re down…? The thoughts displayed of many shows the ignorance of many and why many feel the need of a HERO. The president does not protect us from outside intrusions, only worsens the State due to the Lack of understanding or is that the Plan to ensure their position is forever maintained when there was never a NEED for it. It is easy to cheat on Taxes when the Laws are passed to allow for the Loop Holes. How many Politicians will admit stealing from and/or deceiving the People and how many people will admit stealing from the Country when in essence you are stealing from the well being of your own children, friends, family, so forth… The Hoopla displayed by many means nothing except one word; Ignorance. I support no Party, Only the people which I live around and encounter in this Beautifully diverse World.

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  146. Les says:

    Sounds like a bunch of Long Winded Politicians on this forum. How much share does each individual own in the Democratic Process? Is it nothing more than a Market, Business, a career building stone to see who can own the most toys and guess what, you are the Toys! Puppets on a String. Health care is not determined by Politics but only by the diseased and the cured and where do a majority of these diseases stem from, Scientific Research. The Diseases were only brought about from the pure ignorance of those who supposedly lead the supposed weak minded. Does the president relieve a cold of a sick child? Does the president tuck your child in every night, help your child with their Math, uplift your child when they’re down…? The thoughts displayed of many shows the ignorance of many and why many feel the need of a HERO. The president does not protect us from outside intrusions, only worsens the State due to the Lack of understanding or is that the Plan to ensure their position is forever maintained when there was never a NEED for it. It is easy to cheat on Taxes when the Laws are passed to allow for the Loop Holes. How many Politicians will admit stealing from and/or deceiving the People and how many people will admit stealing from the Country when in essence you are stealing from the well being of your own children, friends, family, so forth… The Hoopla displayed by many means nothing except one word; Ignorance. I support no Party, Only the people which I live around and encounter in this Beautifully diverse World.

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  147. CWW says:

    Even assuming all this analysis is correct, you’re omitting the scope of power that the President has.

    Let’s assume all the impact that the President has was in affecting Americans’ sense of well-being. (With a given president at the helm we may feel more or less secure, safe, be more or less optimistic with regard to future, and thus make subtle changes in our decisions about savings and expenditure.) This is a tiny change on the individual level but aggregated across the whole country can make a huge psychological impact. While we can name a dozen things that the current president has done both good or bad, it’s the ones we can’t name that might hurt the most.

    If the only impact of the current presidency (ignoring the war in Iraq, justice nominations, healthcare, education, foreign relations) is to teach American youth that power grants the permission to deceive masses, grant favors to cronies and trample constitutional rights of others, this impact is sufficiently far reaching that it cannot be ignored.

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  148. CWW says:

    Even assuming all this analysis is correct, you’re omitting the scope of power that the President has.

    Let’s assume all the impact that the President has was in affecting Americans’ sense of well-being. (With a given president at the helm we may feel more or less secure, safe, be more or less optimistic with regard to future, and thus make subtle changes in our decisions about savings and expenditure.) This is a tiny change on the individual level but aggregated across the whole country can make a huge psychological impact. While we can name a dozen things that the current president has done both good or bad, it’s the ones we can’t name that might hurt the most.

    If the only impact of the current presidency (ignoring the war in Iraq, justice nominations, healthcare, education, foreign relations) is to teach American youth that power grants the permission to deceive masses, grant favors to cronies and trample constitutional rights of others, this impact is sufficiently far reaching that it cannot be ignored.

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  149. nancy says:

    Well, from the posts above, it’s pretty clear that the President matters in one very big way: it gives people who are ill-informed, over-consuming and self-indulgent someone to blame for the consequences of their own micro-economic choices. The oil companies wanted this war to get at Iraq’s unexploited 2 billion barrels. Would they have had the polical weight to get a President elected who would go along with it, if the public weren’t so determined to use as much energy as they wanted?

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  150. nancy says:

    Well, from the posts above, it’s pretty clear that the President matters in one very big way: it gives people who are ill-informed, over-consuming and self-indulgent someone to blame for the consequences of their own micro-economic choices. The oil companies wanted this war to get at Iraq’s unexploited 2 billion barrels. Would they have had the polical weight to get a President elected who would go along with it, if the public weren’t so determined to use as much energy as they wanted?

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  151. KCB says:

    Since he doesn’t matter much, can they quit putting him on the news? Because I’m sick of looking at him. And then, since the next President won’t matter much either, can their campaigns quit calling me and sending me mail for at least another 6 months? Because it’s just too early for me to care that much about something that won’t matter much anyway.

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  152. KCB says:

    Since he doesn’t matter much, can they quit putting him on the news? Because I’m sick of looking at him. And then, since the next President won’t matter much either, can their campaigns quit calling me and sending me mail for at least another 6 months? Because it’s just too early for me to care that much about something that won’t matter much anyway.

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  153. econ2econ says:

    I think this post and other recent ones highlight the shift in the makeup of commenters with the move to NYTimes.com. No longer is it mostly Freakonomic/economic enthusiasts, it’s now more evenly divided among Freakonomic/economic enthusiasts and NY Times Op-Ed fans. Not that this is a surprise or anything. I’m not sure if this adds more richness to the debate, or just leaves me feeling like we’re all banging our head against a wall… I guess I’ll have to wait and see.

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  154. econ2econ says:

    I think this post and other recent ones highlight the shift in the makeup of commenters with the move to NYTimes.com. No longer is it mostly Freakonomic/economic enthusiasts, it’s now more evenly divided among Freakonomic/economic enthusiasts and NY Times Op-Ed fans. Not that this is a surprise or anything. I’m not sure if this adds more richness to the debate, or just leaves me feeling like we’re all banging our head against a wall… I guess I’ll have to wait and see.

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  155. Jose says:

    The president matters more and more as the system of checks and balances is becoming unbalanced. This article by Chalmers Johnson http://www.harpers.org/archive/2007/01/0081346
    Provides evidence of how our military-industrial systems work in favor of shifting the balance of power to the executive branch, and in particular, its mouthpiece (Bush). Regardless of whether or not he makes all the policy decisions, it is him and his team that make those decisions together, and as the leader of his team he provides a lot of influence.
    To use a chess analogy, he seems to be like a king: limited movements in any direction, but he can still make those movements and he is the most crucial figure. Without the king, the game is over.

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  156. Jose says:

    The president matters more and more as the system of checks and balances is becoming unbalanced. This article by Chalmers Johnson http://www.harpers.org/archive/2007/01/0081346
    Provides evidence of how our military-industrial systems work in favor of shifting the balance of power to the executive branch, and in particular, its mouthpiece (Bush). Regardless of whether or not he makes all the policy decisions, it is him and his team that make those decisions together, and as the leader of his team he provides a lot of influence.
    To use a chess analogy, he seems to be like a king: limited movements in any direction, but he can still make those movements and he is the most crucial figure. Without the king, the game is over.

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  157. Steve says:

    I suggest that the author watch the film “Bobby” about RFK and ask himself how different the last 39 years might have been had he lived and we had elected him instead of Nixon.

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  158. Steve says:

    I suggest that the author watch the film “Bobby” about RFK and ask himself how different the last 39 years might have been had he lived and we had elected him instead of Nixon.

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  159. Nate says:

    Bob: “Would we have been in a war in Iraq if Bush wasn’t president? I think not.”

    But the next question should be, would we be in Iraq if our Congress persons and Senators had read all the intelligence data? Or if they would not have had the option to declare war on a tactic and instead had to put their ass on the line and declare war on Iraq?

    I think the correct way to look at this is, that if the checks and balances fall apart because one group isn’t doing their job (for the last 8 years it has been our legislators), then the President’s decisions will be able to have some significant effect on our lives.

    Would anyone sign a mortgage that was thrown together by their banker 15 minutes beforehand and sign it without reading it?
    Because that is what essentially happened with the “Patriot” Act (I’m convinced many politicians simply vote on bills based on their titles).

    It is not any one individual in government, but our system that is failing us. It is obvious, through the actions of our Congress, that it is safe to assume human beings will act in their personal best interest. We need to rework the system somehow. Personally I think making government more local is the best solution. If I woke up tomorrow and heard California seceded the Union I would have renewed hope for the future.

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  160. Nate says:

    Bob: “Would we have been in a war in Iraq if Bush wasn’t president? I think not.”

    But the next question should be, would we be in Iraq if our Congress persons and Senators had read all the intelligence data? Or if they would not have had the option to declare war on a tactic and instead had to put their ass on the line and declare war on Iraq?

    I think the correct way to look at this is, that if the checks and balances fall apart because one group isn’t doing their job (for the last 8 years it has been our legislators), then the President’s decisions will be able to have some significant effect on our lives.

    Would anyone sign a mortgage that was thrown together by their banker 15 minutes beforehand and sign it without reading it?
    Because that is what essentially happened with the “Patriot” Act (I’m convinced many politicians simply vote on bills based on their titles).

    It is not any one individual in government, but our system that is failing us. It is obvious, through the actions of our Congress, that it is safe to assume human beings will act in their personal best interest. We need to rework the system somehow. Personally I think making government more local is the best solution. If I woke up tomorrow and heard California seceded the Union I would have renewed hope for the future.

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  161. George says:

    The main economic effect of the President seems to be providing employment for political cartoonists, late night talk show hosts, and editorial writers. By this standard, both Bush and Clinton have been great presidents.

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  162. George says:

    The main economic effect of the President seems to be providing employment for political cartoonists, late night talk show hosts, and editorial writers. By this standard, both Bush and Clinton have been great presidents.

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  163. mw says:

    Steven,

    I am disappointed to see the utter lack of evidence supporting your arguments, especially in the Freakonomics column which I expect to be based on logic more than speculation. In fact, your supposed evidence about CEOs only undermines your argument. Does Warren Buffet impact a firm when he becomes part of its management or board? The fact that he takes on such roles would indicate that he believes so, and I think his opinion is as credible as anyone’s in business. How about Sam Walton, Jack Welch, or Bill Gates, to name a few? or Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling? Would their organizations be where they are (or aren’t) today without them?

    You also mistakenly, and without any discussion of why it is at all reasonable to do so, equate the belief that the President matters with belief in the Great Man theory. Just because one believes the President matters doesn’t mean that one believes that very few others also matter in shaping history. Is your thinking so regional and stereotypically American as to consider a country declaring war on another country so trivial as to not really matter, or do you think that Bush did not have much impact on that decision?

    Next time, please do some homework and ground your opinions in logic and reason, rather than joining the ranks of the ever-more-popular American news media which encourages the American people to form beliefs based on emotion and shallow, one-sided “facts” without considering the merits (or lack thereof) as evidenced by a full set of available facts and data that are evaluated with some deliberate thought.

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  164. mw says:

    Steven,

    I am disappointed to see the utter lack of evidence supporting your arguments, especially in the Freakonomics column which I expect to be based on logic more than speculation. In fact, your supposed evidence about CEOs only undermines your argument. Does Warren Buffet impact a firm when he becomes part of its management or board? The fact that he takes on such roles would indicate that he believes so, and I think his opinion is as credible as anyone’s in business. How about Sam Walton, Jack Welch, or Bill Gates, to name a few? or Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling? Would their organizations be where they are (or aren’t) today without them?

    You also mistakenly, and without any discussion of why it is at all reasonable to do so, equate the belief that the President matters with belief in the Great Man theory. Just because one believes the President matters doesn’t mean that one believes that very few others also matter in shaping history. Is your thinking so regional and stereotypically American as to consider a country declaring war on another country so trivial as to not really matter, or do you think that Bush did not have much impact on that decision?

    Next time, please do some homework and ground your opinions in logic and reason, rather than joining the ranks of the ever-more-popular American news media which encourages the American people to form beliefs based on emotion and shallow, one-sided “facts” without considering the merits (or lack thereof) as evidenced by a full set of available facts and data that are evaluated with some deliberate thought.

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  165. chip says:

    While I understand the point of your discourse, it is clear that the President has a great deal of accountability for the decisions he makes from his team. In fact, although the current one may be something of a tool of Rove and Cheney, ultimately he can choose or replace many of his key players (such as Gonzales) and therefore remains accountable and possibly legally responsible for their high crimes and misdemeanors. It is a kind of smarmy sophistry to suggest that many aspects of our lives would not be different under Al Gore, John Kerry, or the next Democrat in line. The President sets tone, policy, and even in a weakened state can send more troops to Iraq in spite of overwhelming opposition, he can stymie progress on all kinds of initiatives from Congress (look at Child Health). I think the power of the President can be overstated, I think you clearly understate it.
    Chip

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  166. chip says:

    While I understand the point of your discourse, it is clear that the President has a great deal of accountability for the decisions he makes from his team. In fact, although the current one may be something of a tool of Rove and Cheney, ultimately he can choose or replace many of his key players (such as Gonzales) and therefore remains accountable and possibly legally responsible for their high crimes and misdemeanors. It is a kind of smarmy sophistry to suggest that many aspects of our lives would not be different under Al Gore, John Kerry, or the next Democrat in line. The President sets tone, policy, and even in a weakened state can send more troops to Iraq in spite of overwhelming opposition, he can stymie progress on all kinds of initiatives from Congress (look at Child Health). I think the power of the President can be overstated, I think you clearly understate it.
    Chip

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  167. Les says:

    The main point is that it is not a GAME, this is LIFE and to subject one as a PAWN in order to provide for and/or uplift any figure, King or otherwise is demeaning the value of your Loved Ones and Oneself as well as Life in General. To many, the Game never ends and LIFE continues as we know it and at times even better without the induction of a Figure head.

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  168. Les says:

    The main point is that it is not a GAME, this is LIFE and to subject one as a PAWN in order to provide for and/or uplift any figure, King or otherwise is demeaning the value of your Loved Ones and Oneself as well as Life in General. To many, the Game never ends and LIFE continues as we know it and at times even better without the induction of a Figure head.

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  169. Booblik says:

    Maybe G.W. doesn’t really matter to you, but I’m sure for a lot of Iraqi people he is the biggest evil they’ve seen. I bet you’d have an opposite opinion on this topic when suddenly you mother gets killed, or for that matter, thousands innocent civilians suffer because of someone’s lame international policy.

    I do not agee with you. If the President doesn’t matter, why won’t we elect Bush for the third time in a row? See, nobody really wants to.

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  170. Booblik says:

    Maybe G.W. doesn’t really matter to you, but I’m sure for a lot of Iraqi people he is the biggest evil they’ve seen. I bet you’d have an opposite opinion on this topic when suddenly you mother gets killed, or for that matter, thousands innocent civilians suffer because of someone’s lame international policy.

    I do not agee with you. If the President doesn’t matter, why won’t we elect Bush for the third time in a row? See, nobody really wants to.

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  171. Fred says:

    The president not only selects Supreme court justices and cabinet members, but through these individuals provides for the filling of COUNTLESS other positions throughout government. It is these positions that greatly influence the future of the nation. When a president places individuals who abuse the power trusted to them (even if it be at the presiden’t will) or ignore the responsibility given them, they can (and recently have) cause significant changes that cn have a profound change onthe public’s perception of the government as well as the institutions’ ability to function efficiently and productively.

    Even if you argue that the Vice president has recently been wielding this power, it is only by explicit or implicit permission of the President that he can.

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  172. Fred says:

    The president not only selects Supreme court justices and cabinet members, but through these individuals provides for the filling of COUNTLESS other positions throughout government. It is these positions that greatly influence the future of the nation. When a president places individuals who abuse the power trusted to them (even if it be at the presiden’t will) or ignore the responsibility given them, they can (and recently have) cause significant changes that cn have a profound change onthe public’s perception of the government as well as the institutions’ ability to function efficiently and productively.

    Even if you argue that the Vice president has recently been wielding this power, it is only by explicit or implicit permission of the President that he can.

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  173. Ian says:

    The problem with those who believe in the “great man” ideal is the difference between idea and execution. The president, without a doubt powerful, has no real power to execute any policy. There are literally thousands of checks and balances inherent in our political system between the president and the “masses”. That being said, Bush has been more successful than most installing those who he believes will execute his (and his cabinet’s) plans.

    Post #59 was the best reply so far (except for my original of course) in that it describes exactly the track Bush has taken in his political appointments: by installing those close to him (and not experts in the field) or people from industry into oversight positions, Bush has effectively removed the chaos of the bureaucracy from his political calculations. There can be no decent because he has removed career civil servants and those loyal to their organizations (rather than to the executive) from the decision making process.

    Although it seems I might be contradicting myself, I just point out that Bush has made progress into eliminating the checks and balances in government, but there are still many levels between him and the “great man.”

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  174. Ian says:

    The problem with those who believe in the “great man” ideal is the difference between idea and execution. The president, without a doubt powerful, has no real power to execute any policy. There are literally thousands of checks and balances inherent in our political system between the president and the “masses”. That being said, Bush has been more successful than most installing those who he believes will execute his (and his cabinet’s) plans.

    Post #59 was the best reply so far (except for my original of course) in that it describes exactly the track Bush has taken in his political appointments: by installing those close to him (and not experts in the field) or people from industry into oversight positions, Bush has effectively removed the chaos of the bureaucracy from his political calculations. There can be no decent because he has removed career civil servants and those loyal to their organizations (rather than to the executive) from the decision making process.

    Although it seems I might be contradicting myself, I just point out that Bush has made progress into eliminating the checks and balances in government, but there are still many levels between him and the “great man.”

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  175. adrienne says:

    Signing statements offer the President a power of revision and veto that are not afforded to figures of power in other organizations.

    Issues of campaign finance also completely trouble this argument.

    Though an interesting topic of discussion, it seems you approached this argument with selective vision and a disingenuous stance that American politics operate exactly as they are taught in first grade civics classes.

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  176. adrienne says:

    Signing statements offer the President a power of revision and veto that are not afforded to figures of power in other organizations.

    Issues of campaign finance also completely trouble this argument.

    Though an interesting topic of discussion, it seems you approached this argument with selective vision and a disingenuous stance that American politics operate exactly as they are taught in first grade civics classes.

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  177. Charles McCabeq says:

    It seems to me that the question of the influence of leaders is a matter of scale, which is also what Freakonomics and The Tipping Point are largely about. The influence of a leader tends to be more apparent in small groups and is often obscured as the size of the group increases. A baseball manager leads a small group, and while his won/lost record will usually reflect the talent of his players, the manager does have the authority to make decisions at critical moments when games are won or lost. Replace the pitcher? With which reliever? Pinch hit? Sacrifice bunt? Over the long haul, two managers with roughly equally talented teams will probably have nearly equivalent won/lost records, even if each one has a very different “philosophy” of the game and pattern of strategic decision making. In support of this idea, we can consider the Houston Astros winning percentage of 53% over the 15 years that Drayton McClain has owned the team. That winning percentage is the third best in baseball over that period, exceeded only by the Yankees and the Braves. These three teams have had very different managers over that time, but each has had consistently good talent. But of course, baseball is a game, and while it has its complexities, they are not of the scale of real-life organizations.

    In the case of a business, the operation of the size factor seems very clear. In a small company, the effort and decisions of the leader are crucial and will clearly determine success or failure. In larger corporations, the effort and decisions of the leader continue to be very important, but their effect is diluted because the results are created by the effort of every employee. If a CEO has a long tenure with a company and acquires the Chairman title as well, the person’s influence will register in every aspect of the enterprise and perhaps of the industry in which the company operates. Would the company have been as successful with another CEO or a succession of CEOs? Perhaps. But it will be a very different company after 20 years of CEO A than it would have been under a succession of CEOs B, C, R and T.

    The U.S. president leads a group of some 300 million people, and while he has great authority and power, the impact of any given action on an individual citizen is generally slight. But there is some effect, even if only to make many of us very angry and determined not to allow a Bush clone to take over in 2009. And the responses of each citizen to a president’s actions will eventually add up over time to something rather distinctive. The character and maybe even the structure of the nation will be different after 8 years of George W. Bush that it would have been under 8 years of Al Gore. The effects accumulate, slowly, inexorably, no doubt obscurely. But over the years they manifest themselves in tangible ways in both the public realm and the lives of individuals. We are all affected. It may be said that we got the president we deserved in GWB, but by no means a majority of citizens thought he was what we deserved or wanted. He does not simply reflect some pre-existing zeitgeist. He became president only by the narrowest of margins, and only because a Supreme Court reflecting the conservative views of Ronald Reagan and Bush the First prevented a Florida recount. However, after 8 years of W’s administration, he has clearly left his mark — not only through the many problems that he has chosen to ignore, such as real healthcare reform and global warming, but also through his policies on resource develoment and the environment, the economy and taxation, justice and personal liberty, and most manifestly the war in Iraq and foreign policy. Surely it is not possible to say that we would find ourselves in the same position we are in today if Al Gore had moved into the White House in 2001 or John kerry in 2005 instead of W. How do you account for the differences if you do not lay them at the feet of the man who has occupied the White House for the last 6+ years? You can do so only if you ignore the scale factors and the mechanisms by which a president’s actions spread through the social fabric of the nation.

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  178. Charles McCabeq says:

    It seems to me that the question of the influence of leaders is a matter of scale, which is also what Freakonomics and The Tipping Point are largely about. The influence of a leader tends to be more apparent in small groups and is often obscured as the size of the group increases. A baseball manager leads a small group, and while his won/lost record will usually reflect the talent of his players, the manager does have the authority to make decisions at critical moments when games are won or lost. Replace the pitcher? With which reliever? Pinch hit? Sacrifice bunt? Over the long haul, two managers with roughly equally talented teams will probably have nearly equivalent won/lost records, even if each one has a very different “philosophy” of the game and pattern of strategic decision making. In support of this idea, we can consider the Houston Astros winning percentage of 53% over the 15 years that Drayton McClain has owned the team. That winning percentage is the third best in baseball over that period, exceeded only by the Yankees and the Braves. These three teams have had very different managers over that time, but each has had consistently good talent. But of course, baseball is a game, and while it has its complexities, they are not of the scale of real-life organizations.

    In the case of a business, the operation of the size factor seems very clear. In a small company, the effort and decisions of the leader are crucial and will clearly determine success or failure. In larger corporations, the effort and decisions of the leader continue to be very important, but their effect is diluted because the results are created by the effort of every employee. If a CEO has a long tenure with a company and acquires the Chairman title as well, the person’s influence will register in every aspect of the enterprise and perhaps of the industry in which the company operates. Would the company have been as successful with another CEO or a succession of CEOs? Perhaps. But it will be a very different company after 20 years of CEO A than it would have been under a succession of CEOs B, C, R and T.

    The U.S. president leads a group of some 300 million people, and while he has great authority and power, the impact of any given action on an individual citizen is generally slight. But there is some effect, even if only to make many of us very angry and determined not to allow a Bush clone to take over in 2009. And the responses of each citizen to a president’s actions will eventually add up over time to something rather distinctive. The character and maybe even the structure of the nation will be different after 8 years of George W. Bush that it would have been under 8 years of Al Gore. The effects accumulate, slowly, inexorably, no doubt obscurely. But over the years they manifest themselves in tangible ways in both the public realm and the lives of individuals. We are all affected. It may be said that we got the president we deserved in GWB, but by no means a majority of citizens thought he was what we deserved or wanted. He does not simply reflect some pre-existing zeitgeist. He became president only by the narrowest of margins, and only because a Supreme Court reflecting the conservative views of Ronald Reagan and Bush the First prevented a Florida recount. However, after 8 years of W’s administration, he has clearly left his mark — not only through the many problems that he has chosen to ignore, such as real healthcare reform and global warming, but also through his policies on resource develoment and the environment, the economy and taxation, justice and personal liberty, and most manifestly the war in Iraq and foreign policy. Surely it is not possible to say that we would find ourselves in the same position we are in today if Al Gore had moved into the White House in 2001 or John kerry in 2005 instead of W. How do you account for the differences if you do not lay them at the feet of the man who has occupied the White House for the last 6+ years? You can do so only if you ignore the scale factors and the mechanisms by which a president’s actions spread through the social fabric of the nation.

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  179. Ian says:

    In a reply to post 86:

    I agree that they approached this post with a “selective vision.” The problem is that this is exactly what economics is, taking a selected amount of data and applying it to another set of selected data. Unfortunately, there is no quantitative aspect to this argument, that is what makes it freakanomics and not economics.

    Freakanomics is a thought exercise and brings up interesting opinions and ideas, that is why you can buy it in paperback from Amazon.

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  180. Ian says:

    In a reply to post 86:

    I agree that they approached this post with a “selective vision.” The problem is that this is exactly what economics is, taking a selected amount of data and applying it to another set of selected data. Unfortunately, there is no quantitative aspect to this argument, that is what makes it freakanomics and not economics.

    Freakanomics is a thought exercise and brings up interesting opinions and ideas, that is why you can buy it in paperback from Amazon.

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  181. Nola Rog says:

    I think it might be more interesting to look at the variance in the importance of presidents across time and space. Certainly none of my peers here in New Orleans would be indignant at your claim that the president does not have an effect on their lives. He (and others) has had the greatest effect…. and continues to affect outcomes every day the levees remain in their current (inadequate) condition.

    Like your column, love the book. This was not a very well thought out piece, however.

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  182. Nola Rog says:

    I think it might be more interesting to look at the variance in the importance of presidents across time and space. Certainly none of my peers here in New Orleans would be indignant at your claim that the president does not have an effect on their lives. He (and others) has had the greatest effect…. and continues to affect outcomes every day the levees remain in their current (inadequate) condition.

    Like your column, love the book. This was not a very well thought out piece, however.

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  183. Justin says:

    I think you glossed over an important point. You mentioned supreme court nominees (and wow, are roberts and alito destroying the bill of rights quickly), but you neglected other judicial nominees and appointees to executive agencies. In the current regime, these ultra-conservative, pro-business, ends-based thinkers wreak havoc on civil liberties and day-to-day policies. These effects can be proximately attributed to Bush.

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  184. Justin says:

    I think you glossed over an important point. You mentioned supreme court nominees (and wow, are roberts and alito destroying the bill of rights quickly), but you neglected other judicial nominees and appointees to executive agencies. In the current regime, these ultra-conservative, pro-business, ends-based thinkers wreak havoc on civil liberties and day-to-day policies. These effects can be proximately attributed to Bush.

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  185. Darren L. says:

    Just because the negative effects of a president’s actions are not felt immediately does not mean a president’s actions have little negative effect.

    As an example, look at the Supreme Court. President Bush is responsible for two conservative judges on the court. Although the court has clearly swung to the right, your average American hasn’t felt its effects yet. But years from now, after several cases are decided, this won’t be the case.

    It’s the same with the economy and the environment. Economies don’t change in an instant. Carbon doesn’t fill the atmosphere in a moment. It’s only when we take the long view that we can understand the effect a President can have on our courts, our markets, and our world.

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  186. Darren L. says:

    Just because the negative effects of a president’s actions are not felt immediately does not mean a president’s actions have little negative effect.

    As an example, look at the Supreme Court. President Bush is responsible for two conservative judges on the court. Although the court has clearly swung to the right, your average American hasn’t felt its effects yet. But years from now, after several cases are decided, this won’t be the case.

    It’s the same with the economy and the environment. Economies don’t change in an instant. Carbon doesn’t fill the atmosphere in a moment. It’s only when we take the long view that we can understand the effect a President can have on our courts, our markets, and our world.

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  187. Rockonomist says:

    This reminds me of a description in Douglas Adams’ Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

    “The President [of the Galaxy] in particular is very much a figurehead – he wields no real power whatsoever. He is apparently chosen by the
    government, but the qualities he is required to display are not those of leadership but those of finely judged outrage. For this reason the President is always a controversial choice, always an infuriating but fascinating character. His job is not to wield power but to draw attention away from it. On those criteria Zaphod Beeblebrox is one of the most successful Presidents the Galaxy has ever had—he has already spent two of his ten Presidential years in prison for fraud.”

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  188. Rockonomist says:

    This reminds me of a description in Douglas Adams’ Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

    “The President [of the Galaxy] in particular is very much a figurehead – he wields no real power whatsoever. He is apparently chosen by the
    government, but the qualities he is required to display are not those of leadership but those of finely judged outrage. For this reason the President is always a controversial choice, always an infuriating but fascinating character. His job is not to wield power but to draw attention away from it. On those criteria Zaphod Beeblebrox is one of the most successful Presidents the Galaxy has ever had-he has already spent two of his ten Presidential years in prison for fraud.”

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  189. Sid says:

    Hi,

    Could you explain why Pakistan and India are on different paths / trajectory? They were the same country before 1947 so the people, history, culture etc is similar. Then how come one country is secular, democratic, vibrant, open (not perfect) and the other is a dictatorship. If your theory or idea of market view is correct then this should not have happened.

    Another example, South Africa and Iraq. In South Africa the majority were oppressed by the minority. In Iraq Majority (Shias and Kurds) were oppressed by the minority (Sunnis). Very similar situations then how come one country had a peaceful transition to democracy and the other did not.

    I agree with you that market view will triumph over a single persons insight more often than not in predicting the future but it can not lead.

    The mistake here is that you have transmuted prediction of the future with leadership. These are two vastly different things.

    Regards,
    Sid

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  190. Sid says:

    Hi,

    Could you explain why Pakistan and India are on different paths / trajectory? They were the same country before 1947 so the people, history, culture etc is similar. Then how come one country is secular, democratic, vibrant, open (not perfect) and the other is a dictatorship. If your theory or idea of market view is correct then this should not have happened.

    Another example, South Africa and Iraq. In South Africa the majority were oppressed by the minority. In Iraq Majority (Shias and Kurds) were oppressed by the minority (Sunnis). Very similar situations then how come one country had a peaceful transition to democracy and the other did not.

    I agree with you that market view will triumph over a single persons insight more often than not in predicting the future but it can not lead.

    The mistake here is that you have transmuted prediction of the future with leadership. These are two vastly different things.

    Regards,
    Sid

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  191. Rick says:

    Three words: the bully pulpit (and the obsequious “Main Stream Media” for being the stenographers for the current regime to broadcast their finely-crafted talking points. Shame, shame, shame.

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  192. Rick says:

    Three words: the bully pulpit (and the obsequious “Main Stream Media” for being the stenographers for the current regime to broadcast their finely-crafted talking points. Shame, shame, shame.

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  193. Philip J Tramdack says:

    Well Steve, how about the Tiny Man Theory. That theory is as follows: every once in a very long while a complete moron comes along, an intellectual pygmy, a failure at everything he has ever tried. The Tiny Man is put up to the Big Job by a secret cabal of influential people who believe the Tiny Man can be controlled like a puppet to do their bidding. Lo and behold! The Tiny Man, once ensconced in the Big Job, thinks he is a Great Man! Chaos ensues! All of the bad things anybody can think up happen, and lots of others that no one can predict happen too, because, to paraphrase Dick Cheney, “chaos happens.” When this happens in a “democracy” it is especially fascinating.

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  194. Philip J Tramdack says:

    Well Steve, how about the Tiny Man Theory. That theory is as follows: every once in a very long while a complete moron comes along, an intellectual pygmy, a failure at everything he has ever tried. The Tiny Man is put up to the Big Job by a secret cabal of influential people who believe the Tiny Man can be controlled like a puppet to do their bidding. Lo and behold! The Tiny Man, once ensconced in the Big Job, thinks he is a Great Man! Chaos ensues! All of the bad things anybody can think up happen, and lots of others that no one can predict happen too, because, to paraphrase Dick Cheney, “chaos happens.” When this happens in a “democracy” it is especially fascinating.

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  195. Charles Shoopak says:

    Clinton presidency – the economy, stupid. Also, sometimes a good presidency is like a well umpired game. (and the Bush tax cuts are not just “cheerleading”)

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  196. Charles Shoopak says:

    Clinton presidency – the economy, stupid. Also, sometimes a good presidency is like a well umpired game. (and the Bush tax cuts are not just “cheerleading”)

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  197. fred says:

    on a related topic, this paper by ben olken and ben jones…

    http://ideas.repec.org/p/nbr/nberwo/13102.html

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  198. fred says:

    on a related topic, this paper by ben olken and ben jones…

    http://ideas.repec.org/p/nbr/nberwo/13102.html

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  199. Leonie says:

    Isn’t the war in Iraq enough?

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  200. Leonie says:

    Isn’t the war in Iraq enough?

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  201. Karen says:

    I must say your attitude is rather smug. The role of president should not be likened in any way to CEO or baseball manager. Neither of those positions includes being the global mouthpiece for an entire nation. Especially in regards to our current president who has the communication skills of a first grader I am most certainly affected by his ignorance. The antagonistic sentiments against Americans travelling abroad are very real and very directly attributed to the one man in office right now.

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  202. Karen says:

    I must say your attitude is rather smug. The role of president should not be likened in any way to CEO or baseball manager. Neither of those positions includes being the global mouthpiece for an entire nation. Especially in regards to our current president who has the communication skills of a first grader I am most certainly affected by his ignorance. The antagonistic sentiments against Americans travelling abroad are very real and very directly attributed to the one man in office right now.

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  203. charles kohm says:

    I am responding to Nancy in Post# 73.

    Iraq’s known oil reserves are at least 112 billion barrels (and may exceed 250 bbls), not the 2 billion barrels you cited. That’s why we’re in Iraq with Great Britain. Exxon-Mobil has been hankering for an Iraqi take-over since the 1970′s when Iraq nationalized its resources.

    The president and his team were certainly directly responsible for our incursion into Iraq, with Afghanistan providing a secure military presence next door to Iran and Pakistan.

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  204. charles kohm says:

    I am responding to Nancy in Post# 73.

    Iraq’s known oil reserves are at least 112 billion barrels (and may exceed 250 bbls), not the 2 billion barrels you cited. That’s why we’re in Iraq with Great Britain. Exxon-Mobil has been hankering for an Iraqi take-over since the 1970′s when Iraq nationalized its resources.

    The president and his team were certainly directly responsible for our incursion into Iraq, with Afghanistan providing a secure military presence next door to Iran and Pakistan.

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  205. Anon says:

    Dubner understands very little about how the government works if he thinks the Presidency doesn’t matter.

    The executive branch is responsible for enforcing *all laws*. No law can even be said to exist if the President decides it will not be enforced under his watch. The executive branch spends two and a half trillion dollars every year. It controls the most powerful military organization on the planet.

    Bush has refused to enforce, among others: laws against discrimination, laws against polluters, laws supporting unions, and laws against corporate crime. He has invaded two countries and current estimates are that the U.S. has killed approximately one million human beings in Iraq. His inaction for New Orleans killed about 1500 Americans.

    It can’t seriously be argued that the Presidency has little power.

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  206. Anon says:

    Dubner understands very little about how the government works if he thinks the Presidency doesn’t matter.

    The executive branch is responsible for enforcing *all laws*. No law can even be said to exist if the President decides it will not be enforced under his watch. The executive branch spends two and a half trillion dollars every year. It controls the most powerful military organization on the planet.

    Bush has refused to enforce, among others: laws against discrimination, laws against polluters, laws supporting unions, and laws against corporate crime. He has invaded two countries and current estimates are that the U.S. has killed approximately one million human beings in Iraq. His inaction for New Orleans killed about 1500 Americans.

    It can’t seriously be argued that the Presidency has little power.

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  207. Chicago 1234 says:

    Ask all those people who’s sons, daughters, fathers etc died for the bright shinning lie that this administration told the country to justify invading Iraq how much influence the president has.
    Look at the worst fiscal melt down in 50 years and then think about how long it will take the U.S goverment to pay off liar bushs deficit.
    The war in Iraq that keeps us from winning the war on terror belongs to liar bush and the republiCONS along with thier media mopes.

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  208. Chicago 1234 says:

    Ask all those people who’s sons, daughters, fathers etc died for the bright shinning lie that this administration told the country to justify invading Iraq how much influence the president has.
    Look at the worst fiscal melt down in 50 years and then think about how long it will take the U.S goverment to pay off liar bushs deficit.
    The war in Iraq that keeps us from winning the war on terror belongs to liar bush and the republiCONS along with thier media mopes.

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  209. gary says:

    bush isn’t a president. it’s a plant silly. a plant in a forest. hahaah

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  210. gary says:

    bush isn’t a president. it’s a plant silly. a plant in a forest. hahaah

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  211. Bobby says:

    The President and his team can totally send a trillion dollars of public money overseas. I think it’s pretty hard to deny that that makes a sizable dent in everyone’s lives.

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  212. Bobby says:

    The President and his team can totally send a trillion dollars of public money overseas. I think it’s pretty hard to deny that that makes a sizable dent in everyone’s lives.

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  213. Roman says:

    I believe this president has impacted the country significantly and therefore he does matter. The easy example is Iraq. It appears pretty clear now that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake because no weapons of mass destruction were ever found and we have not been able to extract our forces or stabilize the country after removing Saddam Hussein from power. The negative consequences of the invasion in terms of loss of life, taxpayer dollars spent on the effort, loss of respect on the international stage and the strain on our military, just name a few, have been severe. While the president was not single-handedly responsible for all of this, I believe he was the one person who had to support the invasion or it would never have been possible. I don’t think you can make a compelling case we would be there without his support and his efforts to convince enough of the right people to go along with it. I don’t believe any other single person could have decided on this course of action and brought it to fruition other than the president (not the Speaker of the House, not the Majority Leader in the Senate, not Bill Gates, not Madonna — you get the picture, no other person regardless of position in the government, wealth, power or fame could play as singular a role in making the invasion happen). While I agree that over the long term even something as significant as the invasion of Iraq will seem less important, that does not lead me to the conclusion that the president does not matter. He matters a lot, right here and now.

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  214. Roman says:

    I believe this president has impacted the country significantly and therefore he does matter. The easy example is Iraq. It appears pretty clear now that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake because no weapons of mass destruction were ever found and we have not been able to extract our forces or stabilize the country after removing Saddam Hussein from power. The negative consequences of the invasion in terms of loss of life, taxpayer dollars spent on the effort, loss of respect on the international stage and the strain on our military, just name a few, have been severe. While the president was not single-handedly responsible for all of this, I believe he was the one person who had to support the invasion or it would never have been possible. I don’t think you can make a compelling case we would be there without his support and his efforts to convince enough of the right people to go along with it. I don’t believe any other single person could have decided on this course of action and brought it to fruition other than the president (not the Speaker of the House, not the Majority Leader in the Senate, not Bill Gates, not Madonna — you get the picture, no other person regardless of position in the government, wealth, power or fame could play as singular a role in making the invasion happen). While I agree that over the long term even something as significant as the invasion of Iraq will seem less important, that does not lead me to the conclusion that the president does not matter. He matters a lot, right here and now.

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  215. Spud says:

    Do presidents make a difference?

    Apparently they do, regardless of opinions, including yours and mine.

    See response #50 – posted by Blue Sun. I find no data which refutes any of the data he presented.

    Or ask the 3,500 Americans whose lives were wasted in Iraq.

    You are mistaken.

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  216. Spud says:

    Do presidents make a difference?

    Apparently they do, regardless of opinions, including yours and mine.

    See response #50 – posted by Blue Sun. I find no data which refutes any of the data he presented.

    Or ask the 3,500 Americans whose lives were wasted in Iraq.

    You are mistaken.

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  217. Roger L Tschappatt says:

    If the President doesn’t matter very much, then why in the world would I really, really, really like to be President?

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  218. Roger L Tschappatt says:

    If the President doesn’t matter very much, then why in the world would I really, really, really like to be President?

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  219. Kevin says:

    In a society as big as ours, one person cannot matter much in terms of shaping our culture, even the president. But on existential issues, his or her judgment and actions matter profoundly. This president judged Iraq to be a thret and the Taliban to be tamed. He then acted accordingly. You think that he doesn’t matter?

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  220. Kevin says:

    In a society as big as ours, one person cannot matter much in terms of shaping our culture, even the president. But on existential issues, his or her judgment and actions matter profoundly. This president judged Iraq to be a thret and the Taliban to be tamed. He then acted accordingly. You think that he doesn’t matter?

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  221. David says:

    You are basically right. But what if the person playing the role of the president’s real intention is to use the ‘role of the president’ to punch all the right buttons in the political machine to secure more wealth for certain factions that he is loyal too? Well maybe this line is the start to some bigger insights. In ‘regular circumstances’ the president as you say, does not play such a large part in our community lives. But we have an ‘irregularity’. Up until now we were more a nation of laws…that has been changed. Therefore, there are clearly linked effects with our daily lives, perhaps not immediate, but through future outcomes. Go a little further, think a little more deeply…and skeptically. Sorry if this wasn’t coherent enough. Thanks.

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  222. David says:

    You are basically right. But what if the person playing the role of the president’s real intention is to use the ‘role of the president’ to punch all the right buttons in the political machine to secure more wealth for certain factions that he is loyal too? Well maybe this line is the start to some bigger insights. In ‘regular circumstances’ the president as you say, does not play such a large part in our community lives. But we have an ‘irregularity’. Up until now we were more a nation of laws…that has been changed. Therefore, there are clearly linked effects with our daily lives, perhaps not immediate, but through future outcomes. Go a little further, think a little more deeply…and skeptically. Sorry if this wasn’t coherent enough. Thanks.

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  223. david says:

    Also you are ignoring some facts. With a different president, many innocent Iraqis and American soldiers would still be alive. Surely this affects many American lives? I think your argument is still a bit superficial and sweeping.

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  224. david says:

    Also you are ignoring some facts. With a different president, many innocent Iraqis and American soldiers would still be alive. Surely this affects many American lives? I think your argument is still a bit superficial and sweeping.

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  225. Imnishient says:

    During the second Clinton administration I was convinced the president was irrelevant. I’m not so sure anymore. Every president, with the possible exception of Washington, has been the mouthpiece of the cabal who put him in office. The members of this group are the people who are relevant. Unless a financially independent candidate, such as Bloomberg, gets elected this will always be true.

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  226. Imnishient says:

    During the second Clinton administration I was convinced the president was irrelevant. I’m not so sure anymore. Every president, with the possible exception of Washington, has been the mouthpiece of the cabal who put him in office. The members of this group are the people who are relevant. Unless a financially independent candidate, such as Bloomberg, gets elected this will always be true.

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  227. Jamie says:

    There’s a bunch of dead folks in Iraq who might not see the wisdom of your argument. Me either for that matter.

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  228. Jamie says:

    There’s a bunch of dead folks in Iraq who might not see the wisdom of your argument. Me either for that matter.

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  229. Mike says:

    As I read this in Iraq, I find myself amused by the notion that who the President is has no significant impact on my life.

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  230. Mike says:

    As I read this in Iraq, I find myself amused by the notion that who the President is has no significant impact on my life.

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  231. Amit says:

    I will ask rephrase the question thusly: When in history have nations(societies) have asked this question regarding their Leader(Commander in chief? Decider in chief? Educator in chief?)? After all, we are not talking about a faceless leader of the party who becomes Prime Minister in due course if he has not blotted the copybook. We are talking about a leader who can purportedly exempt the whole executive branch (the people who enforce laws, make war and spend money on behalf of the Federal Government)from any legal scrutiny if that scrutiny show signs of uncovering wrongdoing. We can ask that question in good faith only when we either believe that the country is so far gone that no leader can make a real difference and only a revolution will do, or when we believe that the country is doing so well that a leader can not do enough harm to make a difference.

    Our country is at neither of these two extremes: I think that a new President can make all the difference in the world! Just as the current President did. Mr. Dubner’s question shows that he underestimates the impact of a marginal change on the political and economic and even the cultural landscape.

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  232. Amit says:

    I will ask rephrase the question thusly: When in history have nations(societies) have asked this question regarding their Leader(Commander in chief? Decider in chief? Educator in chief?)? After all, we are not talking about a faceless leader of the party who becomes Prime Minister in due course if he has not blotted the copybook. We are talking about a leader who can purportedly exempt the whole executive branch (the people who enforce laws, make war and spend money on behalf of the Federal Government)from any legal scrutiny if that scrutiny show signs of uncovering wrongdoing. We can ask that question in good faith only when we either believe that the country is so far gone that no leader can make a real difference and only a revolution will do, or when we believe that the country is doing so well that a leader can not do enough harm to make a difference.

    Our country is at neither of these two extremes: I think that a new President can make all the difference in the world! Just as the current President did. Mr. Dubner’s question shows that he underestimates the impact of a marginal change on the political and economic and even the cultural landscape.

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  233. Dave Reisman says:

    Notwithstanding separation of powers, federalism, checks and balances and other formal and informal speedbumps slowing presidential power–or Congressional, for that matter–the answer to the question of how important our president is can be answered by addressing the following: How different would the world, and America’s role in it, look today if, instead of having elected George Bush, we had elected in 2000 a statesman of the stature and gift of political nuance of an FDR or Lincoln or an American version of Churchill? Consider the alternate responses of these leaders to 9/11, stem-cell research, EPA regulations and environmental issues generally, the rancor and divisiveness that passes for national debate, the growing sectarian and tribal competition in many parts of the world, and so forth…. I submit leadership may matter less than many people think, but at the same time, it undoubtedly matters more than many could suppose.

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  234. Dave Reisman says:

    Notwithstanding separation of powers, federalism, checks and balances and other formal and informal speedbumps slowing presidential power–or Congressional, for that matter–the answer to the question of how important our president is can be answered by addressing the following: How different would the world, and America’s role in it, look today if, instead of having elected George Bush, we had elected in 2000 a statesman of the stature and gift of political nuance of an FDR or Lincoln or an American version of Churchill? Consider the alternate responses of these leaders to 9/11, stem-cell research, EPA regulations and environmental issues generally, the rancor and divisiveness that passes for national debate, the growing sectarian and tribal competition in many parts of the world, and so forth…. I submit leadership may matter less than many people think, but at the same time, it undoubtedly matters more than many could suppose.

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  235. Davey says:

    Steves, (Dubner and Levitt):

    Jeez, the comments here at the Times grow so big so fast that it is just plain tedious to read them and follow them. As somebody said on another topic, the quality of postings is down since the move to the Times and for sure the quantity is up. There is a lot more chaff around the wheat.

    Of course, the President matters. But not as much as your Congressman. I love how so many of the comments here took the opportunity to take shots at President Bush rather than to address the actual question, which might have been better phrased as, “Does the Presidency matter?” It’s also interesting that whoever is editing the comments allowed those off-topic responses through. The question wasn’t “Does President Bush matter?”

    Too many comments here, too much to follow and I miss the old Freakonomics blog. .

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  236. Davey says:

    Steves, (Dubner and Levitt):

    Jeez, the comments here at the Times grow so big so fast that it is just plain tedious to read them and follow them. As somebody said on another topic, the quality of postings is down since the move to the Times and for sure the quantity is up. There is a lot more chaff around the wheat.

    Of course, the President matters. But not as much as your Congressman. I love how so many of the comments here took the opportunity to take shots at President Bush rather than to address the actual question, which might have been better phrased as, “Does the Presidency matter?” It’s also interesting that whoever is editing the comments allowed those off-topic responses through. The question wasn’t “Does President Bush matter?”

    Too many comments here, too much to follow and I miss the old Freakonomics blog. .

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  237. L. Groesbeck says:

    The current president drove two businesses into the ground before being elected, and despite some seriously terrible decisions (that it looks the VP and his advisors decided on, anyway) the U.S. will survive, move on, and thrive. We all mourn the thousands of U.S. soldiers who have diedd in Iraq and Afghanisan, but, comparatively speaking, our casualties are very low.

    Most of us are alive and OK despite having a clown in the White House. The man doesn’t matter as much as the people he surrounds himself with.

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  238. L. Groesbeck says:

    The current president drove two businesses into the ground before being elected, and despite some seriously terrible decisions (that it looks the VP and his advisors decided on, anyway) the U.S. will survive, move on, and thrive. We all mourn the thousands of U.S. soldiers who have diedd in Iraq and Afghanisan, but, comparatively speaking, our casualties are very low.

    Most of us are alive and OK despite having a clown in the White House. The man doesn’t matter as much as the people he surrounds himself with.

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  239. kevy says:

    The argument about the President not being as powerful as is often conceived, especially by the mainstream media and popular opinion, is both right and wrong, and I speak as someone who teaches a college class in the American Presidency.

    It is right to the degree that the President exists among other institutions and in many respects can not behave as unilaterally as many might think. It is fair to say that the Congressional elections that occur every two years are as important as the Presidential election, which recieved exponentially more coverage. The latter dynamic is a product of the great man theory of history so popular especially with the media. So, yes, in many respects the President’s power is over-rated.

    However, in other respects – ways not mention in the original column – the President is very important. One rarely takes into consideration executive orders, or memos the float around major agencies such as the EPA, but these are very effective ways in which Presidents can shape policy and governance in ways that does indeed have effects on our lives daily. Such things as OSHA and EPA standards can be shifted or, in fact, eliminated at the drop of a Presidential pen at times. Pre-9/11 one of the controversies with the Bush administration was their change in the allowable level of arsenic in the water…arsenic in the water higher with Bush than Gore…still think it doesn’t matter. Check OSHA regs during Clinton and during Bush, you’ll see a change and in many cases no legislation to implement it. Rather, this is part of the power of the executive branch. These sort of issues do not capture the attention of the mainstream media or public opnion that often, so they fly under the radar, but please do the research yourself, as I tell my students, and you’ll see clear ways in which who is President effects your life in measurable ways.

    Kevy

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  240. kevy says:

    The argument about the President not being as powerful as is often conceived, especially by the mainstream media and popular opinion, is both right and wrong, and I speak as someone who teaches a college class in the American Presidency.

    It is right to the degree that the President exists among other institutions and in many respects can not behave as unilaterally as many might think. It is fair to say that the Congressional elections that occur every two years are as important as the Presidential election, which recieved exponentially more coverage. The latter dynamic is a product of the great man theory of history so popular especially with the media. So, yes, in many respects the President’s power is over-rated.

    However, in other respects – ways not mention in the original column – the President is very important. One rarely takes into consideration executive orders, or memos the float around major agencies such as the EPA, but these are very effective ways in which Presidents can shape policy and governance in ways that does indeed have effects on our lives daily. Such things as OSHA and EPA standards can be shifted or, in fact, eliminated at the drop of a Presidential pen at times. Pre-9/11 one of the controversies with the Bush administration was their change in the allowable level of arsenic in the water…arsenic in the water higher with Bush than Gore…still think it doesn’t matter. Check OSHA regs during Clinton and during Bush, you’ll see a change and in many cases no legislation to implement it. Rather, this is part of the power of the executive branch. These sort of issues do not capture the attention of the mainstream media or public opnion that often, so they fly under the radar, but please do the research yourself, as I tell my students, and you’ll see clear ways in which who is President effects your life in measurable ways.

    Kevy

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  241. Larry W says:

    If in 2000, Al Gore had been elected president and not Bush, I think we would be living in a much different world right now. We most likely wouldn’t be at war in Iraq, stem cell research would be going full steam ahead, work on renewable energy would be much further along, the environment would be in much better shape etc. etc. Every week in my work as a doctor in the US I meet someone who is personally affected by the war in Iraq, because they have a family member or loved one serving in the Middle East.

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  242. Larry W says:

    If in 2000, Al Gore had been elected president and not Bush, I think we would be living in a much different world right now. We most likely wouldn’t be at war in Iraq, stem cell research would be going full steam ahead, work on renewable energy would be much further along, the environment would be in much better shape etc. etc. Every week in my work as a doctor in the US I meet someone who is personally affected by the war in Iraq, because they have a family member or loved one serving in the Middle East.

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  243. David says:

    Jared Diamond gives an alternative view of the Great Man Theory in GG&S.

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  244. David says:

    Jared Diamond gives an alternative view of the Great Man Theory in GG&S.

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  245. Kit says:

    If the President doesn’t make a difference then it must be the vice-president. Or maybe it is the attorney general. FDR was a leader who made a difference. Abraham Lincoln made a difference.

    If you’re right that the President doesn’t make a difference it has to be the VP. I think I disagree with you.

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  246. Kit says:

    If the President doesn’t make a difference then it must be the vice-president. Or maybe it is the attorney general. FDR was a leader who made a difference. Abraham Lincoln made a difference.

    If you’re right that the President doesn’t make a difference it has to be the VP. I think I disagree with you.

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  247. Mark Schenker says:

    I first encountered the “Great Man” theory in “The BEst and the Brightest” by David Halberstam, in which he attributes much of the disaster of Vietnam to the personal myopia of our nation’s leaders at the time. I wasn’t completely persuaded that individuals could equal the forces of history and national institutions.

    Unfortunately, the current presidency has convinced me that a single individual presidency can make a huge amount of difference (even though there’s a whole army of advisors/assistants/counselors behind Bush, as there are behind any president). You can also consider the presidency of FDR as an example of an individual president creating significant change.

    I think that either argument is too extreme and glib. There are strong forces that even the President can’t change, but he certainly has power to set policies that can profoundly affect our lives, for better or for worse.

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  248. Mark Schenker says:

    I first encountered the “Great Man” theory in “The BEst and the Brightest” by David Halberstam, in which he attributes much of the disaster of Vietnam to the personal myopia of our nation’s leaders at the time. I wasn’t completely persuaded that individuals could equal the forces of history and national institutions.

    Unfortunately, the current presidency has convinced me that a single individual presidency can make a huge amount of difference (even though there’s a whole army of advisors/assistants/counselors behind Bush, as there are behind any president). You can also consider the presidency of FDR as an example of an individual president creating significant change.

    I think that either argument is too extreme and glib. There are strong forces that even the President can’t change, but he certainly has power to set policies that can profoundly affect our lives, for better or for worse.

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  249. elspi says:

    There is very little a president can do to help the country.
    There is no lower bound on how much a president can hurt the country.
    (Think nuclear winter). There are > 1 M people dead as a result of our little iraq adventure. There are > 50 K killed or maimed US servicemen. The total cost is > 2 T.

    The numbers are huge. The post is stupid.

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  250. elspi says:

    There is very little a president can do to help the country.
    There is no lower bound on how much a president can hurt the country.
    (Think nuclear winter). There are > 1 M people dead as a result of our little iraq adventure. There are > 50 K killed or maimed US servicemen. The total cost is > 2 T.

    The numbers are huge. The post is stupid.

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  251. William Zame says:

    It is remarkably silly to say that the President has little effect, even if by “effect” Dubner means only “financial effects on the everyday lives of most citizens.” Doesn’t Dubner think Social Security matters? Or Medicare? or free trade?

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  252. William Zame says:

    It is remarkably silly to say that the President has little effect, even if by “effect” Dubner means only “financial effects on the everyday lives of most citizens.” Doesn’t Dubner think Social Security matters? Or Medicare? or free trade?

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  253. Galen says:

    The President may be insignificant insofar as his behavior doesn’t influence my private life to a great degree, but people who study happiness like Richard Layard might argue that political discourse actually has a great effect on the national happiness. As one of the other commenters above mentioned, it’s hard for most people to escape reading or listening to the news and reacting positively or negatively to the President’s commentary. The theory behind happiness studies is that people gain the greatest happiness from a feeling of belonging and trusting other people in their society. Clinton and Bush are both guilty of betraying the trust and expectations of certain groups of people during their Presidencies. Every President and ordinary person is guilty of this at some point, but with politicians, there seems to be a much lower threshold. In Japan for instance, a member of the Prime Minister’s cabinet immediately resigned after the fallout from suggesting that the US was justified in using the Atomic Bomb twice on Japan. I think that probably struck a nerve so deeply embedded in Japanese culture that people couldn’t fathom trusting someone that held that particular belief. Maybe Americans do need to chill out and lower their expectations about politicians, but rather than changing every single American, wouldn’t it be a lot easier just to moderate the President’s behavior so that everyone could be just a little bit happier?

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  254. Galen says:

    The President may be insignificant insofar as his behavior doesn’t influence my private life to a great degree, but people who study happiness like Richard Layard might argue that political discourse actually has a great effect on the national happiness. As one of the other commenters above mentioned, it’s hard for most people to escape reading or listening to the news and reacting positively or negatively to the President’s commentary. The theory behind happiness studies is that people gain the greatest happiness from a feeling of belonging and trusting other people in their society. Clinton and Bush are both guilty of betraying the trust and expectations of certain groups of people during their Presidencies. Every President and ordinary person is guilty of this at some point, but with politicians, there seems to be a much lower threshold. In Japan for instance, a member of the Prime Minister’s cabinet immediately resigned after the fallout from suggesting that the US was justified in using the Atomic Bomb twice on Japan. I think that probably struck a nerve so deeply embedded in Japanese culture that people couldn’t fathom trusting someone that held that particular belief. Maybe Americans do need to chill out and lower their expectations about politicians, but rather than changing every single American, wouldn’t it be a lot easier just to moderate the President’s behavior so that everyone could be just a little bit happier?

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  255. Dr. R.D.B.Laime says:

    There is a lot of truth in the statement that the President, or a governor for that matter doesn’t really affect much. The President, any President, can, if possible use a “bully pulpit” to get things done. Look at Pres. Harry S Truman. Truman had lower poll numbers than George W. Bush, and yet among Presidents since 1900, Truman made more critical decision than most, including FDR. Truman was involved in far more controversy than most–strikes in major industries after WWII. And he made the crucial decisions to drop the atomic bomb on two Japanese cities(talk about not have good intelligence). Truman, in my opinion, did matter. He was not afraid to do so–for example in firing Gen. MacArthur during the Korean conflict. Can’t think of any major decison Bill Clinton made(I voted for him twice thinking he might). FDR, a great man, played games with Churchill before WWII. FDR did make some dramatic decision at the outset of his first term, yet most economists will say it was WWII that brought us out of the depression.
    One present Democratic Presidental hopeful, William Blain Richardson, consistently claims he’s created 80,000 job. Phooey.
    Anyhow, a President can do a few things, yet, in most cases, needs the advise and consent of the U.S. Senate. Maybe, just maybe, we might think about going the way of the Brits and others–a parliment, prime minister and hey, a House of Lords(and Ladies).

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  256. Dr. R.D.B.Laime says:

    There is a lot of truth in the statement that the President, or a governor for that matter doesn’t really affect much. The President, any President, can, if possible use a “bully pulpit” to get things done. Look at Pres. Harry S Truman. Truman had lower poll numbers than George W. Bush, and yet among Presidents since 1900, Truman made more critical decision than most, including FDR. Truman was involved in far more controversy than most–strikes in major industries after WWII. And he made the crucial decisions to drop the atomic bomb on two Japanese cities(talk about not have good intelligence). Truman, in my opinion, did matter. He was not afraid to do so–for example in firing Gen. MacArthur during the Korean conflict. Can’t think of any major decison Bill Clinton made(I voted for him twice thinking he might). FDR, a great man, played games with Churchill before WWII. FDR did make some dramatic decision at the outset of his first term, yet most economists will say it was WWII that brought us out of the depression.
    One present Democratic Presidental hopeful, William Blain Richardson, consistently claims he’s created 80,000 job. Phooey.
    Anyhow, a President can do a few things, yet, in most cases, needs the advise and consent of the U.S. Senate. Maybe, just maybe, we might think about going the way of the Brits and others–a parliment, prime minister and hey, a House of Lords(and Ladies).

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  257. Chaotician says:

    The President in and by himself has limited power; but combine with a subservient Congress and a ideological aligned Courts, a powerful media collusion , and a cadre of religious bigots and now you have forces that can change everything! Essentially this regime has dismantled the Constitutional government we once had(?) and replaced it with a Fascist style, corporate owned, aristocracy. The “average” American seems to be ignorant of science, common-sense, and even self-interest; easily manipulated into supporting his/her self-proclaimed leaders to keep the boogy terrorists over there! Frankly, I doubt there is enough America left to make it worth saving…give the whole mess to the televangelists and start burning heretics and witches!

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  258. Chaotician says:

    The President in and by himself has limited power; but combine with a subservient Congress and a ideological aligned Courts, a powerful media collusion , and a cadre of religious bigots and now you have forces that can change everything! Essentially this regime has dismantled the Constitutional government we once had(?) and replaced it with a Fascist style, corporate owned, aristocracy. The “average” American seems to be ignorant of science, common-sense, and even self-interest; easily manipulated into supporting his/her self-proclaimed leaders to keep the boogy terrorists over there! Frankly, I doubt there is enough America left to make it worth saving…give the whole mess to the televangelists and start burning heretics and witches!

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  259. wahoo101 says:

    It depends on who I am, I guess. If I were a small town politician,I could model my grab for all the power I could muster after those currently in leadership, claiming entitlements that have nothing to do with the will of the people.
    I feel the effect of the current leadership when I see a “Look what they’ve done to us!” piece of news. Then I get a sinking notion that they’ll get away with it. (Like Kenneth Lay is really dead!)
    Seeing our President and all his cronies has the same effect as watching Lindsey Lohan and Paris Hilton. Entitled Special People- above the law…if you report it we’ll believe it.

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  260. wahoo101 says:

    It depends on who I am, I guess. If I were a small town politician,I could model my grab for all the power I could muster after those currently in leadership, claiming entitlements that have nothing to do with the will of the people.
    I feel the effect of the current leadership when I see a “Look what they’ve done to us!” piece of news. Then I get a sinking notion that they’ll get away with it. (Like Kenneth Lay is really dead!)
    Seeing our President and all his cronies has the same effect as watching Lindsey Lohan and Paris Hilton. Entitled Special People- above the law…if you report it we’ll believe it.

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  261. Jerry says:

    “Still, I think I’m in the minority. Americans’ widespread belief in the President’s absolute power — love him or hate him — is proof that the Great Man theory is alive and well. My simple argument is that this belief, as emotionally appealing as it may be, is not founded on truth.”

    If that many people believes there’s an effect, then there’s an effect, regardless of whether or not there’s a factual basis for it.

    This is one of those cases where perception becomes its own reality.

    JGH

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  262. Jerry says:

    “Still, I think I’m in the minority. Americans’ widespread belief in the President’s absolute power – love him or hate him – is proof that the Great Man theory is alive and well. My simple argument is that this belief, as emotionally appealing as it may be, is not founded on truth.”

    If that many people believes there’s an effect, then there’s an effect, regardless of whether or not there’s a factual basis for it.

    This is one of those cases where perception becomes its own reality.

    JGH

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  263. Aryeh says:

    The manager/CEO analogy breaks down when you consider that Joe Torre cannot order the Yankees to invade Fenway, depose Terry Francona and install a manager more sympathetic to the Yankees’ wishes, and kill the Red Sox’s pitching rotation.

    We’re in Iraq almost solely because George Bush wanted us to be there. That’s power.

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  264. Aryeh says:

    The manager/CEO analogy breaks down when you consider that Joe Torre cannot order the Yankees to invade Fenway, depose Terry Francona and install a manager more sympathetic to the Yankees’ wishes, and kill the Red Sox’s pitching rotation.

    We’re in Iraq almost solely because George Bush wanted us to be there. That’s power.

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  265. genomegk says:

    I used to think it did not matter. After all, the pundits once warned if you voted for that liberal commie pinko George McGovern there would be record deficits, we would legalize abortion, we would normalize relations with Red China and abandon our allies in S. Vietnam, appoint a woman to the supreme court, etc. And they were right, some people voted for McGovern and all those things happened. However after the current clown was elected I no longer feel this way. On a normal distribution of good to bad we must be at least 3 standard deviations to bad; surely the difference against average is measurable after 8 years.

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  266. genomegk says:

    I used to think it did not matter. After all, the pundits once warned if you voted for that liberal commie pinko George McGovern there would be record deficits, we would legalize abortion, we would normalize relations with Red China and abandon our allies in S. Vietnam, appoint a woman to the supreme court, etc. And they were right, some people voted for McGovern and all those things happened. However after the current clown was elected I no longer feel this way. On a normal distribution of good to bad we must be at least 3 standard deviations to bad; surely the difference against average is measurable after 8 years.

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  267. Sam Hall says:

    It will take generations to repair the damage Bush has done
    to our country. He did it. There are no excuses for his warped mindset. Perhaps we will be able to restore what we have lost, but if we refuse to face reality we will just extend the harm. Clever words will not restore even one life lost for nothing. Now is a time for truth. Stand for it.

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  268. Sam Hall says:

    It will take generations to repair the damage Bush has done
    to our country. He did it. There are no excuses for his warped mindset. Perhaps we will be able to restore what we have lost, but if we refuse to face reality we will just extend the harm. Clever words will not restore even one life lost for nothing. Now is a time for truth. Stand for it.

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  269. Petra Boehm says:

    This is a great hypothetical argument…. On the one hand, we have the president we deserve (this is a democracy, right?).
    On the other hand, the fabulous economic growth in the nineties was not something Bill Clinton brought about (of course, Hillary would love for us to believe differnetly), but rather it was the dot/com rise.
    And yet: Would we be in Iraq with Al Gore as president? I doubt it.
    It seems to me that a president has a hard time doing good, but it is just far too easy for him to cause desaster. And therefore we should better pay attention about who is next.

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  270. Petra Boehm says:

    This is a great hypothetical argument…. On the one hand, we have the president we deserve (this is a democracy, right?).
    On the other hand, the fabulous economic growth in the nineties was not something Bill Clinton brought about (of course, Hillary would love for us to believe differnetly), but rather it was the dot/com rise.
    And yet: Would we be in Iraq with Al Gore as president? I doubt it.
    It seems to me that a president has a hard time doing good, but it is just far too easy for him to cause desaster. And therefore we should better pay attention about who is next.

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  271. Paul Metz says:

    The author is apparently successful with his skills as a writer. He gets published and he is widely read.
    But he uses his skills in this essay in an unfocused manner. OF COURSE IT MATTERS…
    Does it matter who you marry, who your husband or wife is? Does it matter who is pitching and who is in the batter’s box? Does it matter who the quarterback is, who your surgeon is, who your mechanic is, who your builder is, who your lawyer is…I could go on and on. The answer is that it really matters.
    Good decisions lead to fewer bad outcomes than bad decisions. It can matter for our nation who the President is nearly as much as it can matter for an individual who their father or mother were.

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  272. Paul Metz says:

    The author is apparently successful with his skills as a writer. He gets published and he is widely read.
    But he uses his skills in this essay in an unfocused manner. OF COURSE IT MATTERS…
    Does it matter who you marry, who your husband or wife is? Does it matter who is pitching and who is in the batter’s box? Does it matter who the quarterback is, who your surgeon is, who your mechanic is, who your builder is, who your lawyer is…I could go on and on. The answer is that it really matters.
    Good decisions lead to fewer bad outcomes than bad decisions. It can matter for our nation who the President is nearly as much as it can matter for an individual who their father or mother were.

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  273. Sal B says:

    What does Bush matter?

    “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”

    Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

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  274. Sal B says:

    What does Bush matter?

    “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”

    Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

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  275. Jong Yoon says:

    While I generally agree that the power of the president is over-estimated, this does not also mean that his power is low. I would suggest examining this apparent paradox by using a different metric by which we assess the president’s power. This metric is a relative one. That is, the president’s power should be measured relative to the average American’s power. If we agree that the average American has very little power, then the president holds, relative to the average American, a great deal of power.

    Aside from this critique, I also take argument with the basic premise. The previous posts alluding to the fact that untold thousands of lives (Iraqi and American) have been lost in our little escapade into Iraq offers irrefutable evidence of Mr. Bush’s power. Comparing the relatively small number of American fatalities with the number deaths due to motor vehicle accidents misses the point entirely.

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  276. Jong Yoon says:

    While I generally agree that the power of the president is over-estimated, this does not also mean that his power is low. I would suggest examining this apparent paradox by using a different metric by which we assess the president’s power. This metric is a relative one. That is, the president’s power should be measured relative to the average American’s power. If we agree that the average American has very little power, then the president holds, relative to the average American, a great deal of power.

    Aside from this critique, I also take argument with the basic premise. The previous posts alluding to the fact that untold thousands of lives (Iraqi and American) have been lost in our little escapade into Iraq offers irrefutable evidence of Mr. Bush’s power. Comparing the relatively small number of American fatalities with the number deaths due to motor vehicle accidents misses the point entirely.

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  277. Chris O. says:

    Given how many more people would still be alive in the world today if we had Gore instead of Bush as our president, I find this post really ridiculous. Better luck next time, guys. Maybe when there ISN’T a stupid and immoral war going on, for example.

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  278. Chris O. says:

    Given how many more people would still be alive in the world today if we had Gore instead of Bush as our president, I find this post really ridiculous. Better luck next time, guys. Maybe when there ISN’T a stupid and immoral war going on, for example.

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  279. Marc Adin says:

    anyone, such as the president, who has been directly responsible for the deaths of over 100,000 people “really matters.” for you to argue otherwise is ammoral, and advancing an intellectually inane hypothesis so far removed from reality that you bring shame upon yourself for showing blatant disregard for human life.

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  280. Marc Adin says:

    anyone, such as the president, who has been directly responsible for the deaths of over 100,000 people “really matters.” for you to argue otherwise is ammoral, and advancing an intellectually inane hypothesis so far removed from reality that you bring shame upon yourself for showing blatant disregard for human life.

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  281. Appledash says:

    Not sure if anyone touched on this yet, but there is a pleasing irony in how incredibly important it is that the President alone is unimportant. That is, the Presidency is a fundamentally necessary position that allows for a balance and makes American Democracy what it is.

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  282. Appledash says:

    Not sure if anyone touched on this yet, but there is a pleasing irony in how incredibly important it is that the President alone is unimportant. That is, the Presidency is a fundamentally necessary position that allows for a balance and makes American Democracy what it is.

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  283. fatty-bo-batty says:

    In some respects it doesnt matter who the president is in the U.S. because corporate interests will dictate what our government does and does not do. And because we are extremely affected by the federal government, we now live in a society that is largely created and controlled by corporations that seek to make profits in a system they created.

    the president is nothing more than a messanger for the corporate agenda with only some differences between different presidents.

    When it comes down to it, if any democrat wins the next presidency (aside from kucinich who won;t), there won’t be any real healthcare reform, will still be in the mideast, there will still be increased snooping and sureveillance on certain political groups, and the supreme court will still be ruling out of right-wing ideology.

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  284. fatty-bo-batty says:

    In some respects it doesnt matter who the president is in the U.S. because corporate interests will dictate what our government does and does not do. And because we are extremely affected by the federal government, we now live in a society that is largely created and controlled by corporations that seek to make profits in a system they created.

    the president is nothing more than a messanger for the corporate agenda with only some differences between different presidents.

    When it comes down to it, if any democrat wins the next presidency (aside from kucinich who won;t), there won’t be any real healthcare reform, will still be in the mideast, there will still be increased snooping and sureveillance on certain political groups, and the supreme court will still be ruling out of right-wing ideology.

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  285. Henry R says:

    The late Kurt Vonnegut was way ahead of your analysis, albeit in a fictive way: in one of his freako novels, the title of which I don’t recall, he portrayed the American president of a not-so- distant future not as the Great Man but as an object of derision, a humorous figure whose antics no one paid much attention to. Hmm, come to think of it, we may be there already or, at least, the current incumbent in the White House will some day be seen as having been the precursor of the clown-type of president. I truly hope that Vonnegut will be right in the end, and sooner than later, because the imperial presidency is going to do us all in if we don’t make a radical shift in perception like this. Your analysis could be that butterfly’s wing flap that will set in motion a historical storm that may take generations to build but will hopefully have cleared the air of the Great Man (or Woman) theory of the presidency when it subsides.

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  286. Henry R says:

    The late Kurt Vonnegut was way ahead of your analysis, albeit in a fictive way: in one of his freako novels, the title of which I don’t recall, he portrayed the American president of a not-so- distant future not as the Great Man but as an object of derision, a humorous figure whose antics no one paid much attention to. Hmm, come to think of it, we may be there already or, at least, the current incumbent in the White House will some day be seen as having been the precursor of the clown-type of president. I truly hope that Vonnegut will be right in the end, and sooner than later, because the imperial presidency is going to do us all in if we don’t make a radical shift in perception like this. Your analysis could be that butterfly’s wing flap that will set in motion a historical storm that may take generations to build but will hopefully have cleared the air of the Great Man (or Woman) theory of the presidency when it subsides.

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  287. Alexander Mac Donald says:

    It’s an interesting and hopeful bit of pessimism that your writer has proposed. I am reminded of something said of the presidency (I forget by whom): the office fills the man, not the man the office. I fear, however, that Bush, too small for the office, has reshaped the presidency to his own pathetic dimensions and thereby consigned the other branches of our national government to irrelevance. Will that matter to us in our daily lives? Ask the corporate CEOs, such as those at Time-Warner’s subsidiaries, who have financed, promoted, and legitimized Rapper ideology to the extent that the rule of law has disappeared from large sections of our urban populations. Only the corporate powers and the supranational among them can benefit from the coup the Republicans, under Bush/Rove/Cheney, have accomplished.

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  288. Alexander Mac Donald says:

    It’s an interesting and hopeful bit of pessimism that your writer has proposed. I am reminded of something said of the presidency (I forget by whom): the office fills the man, not the man the office. I fear, however, that Bush, too small for the office, has reshaped the presidency to his own pathetic dimensions and thereby consigned the other branches of our national government to irrelevance. Will that matter to us in our daily lives? Ask the corporate CEOs, such as those at Time-Warner’s subsidiaries, who have financed, promoted, and legitimized Rapper ideology to the extent that the rule of law has disappeared from large sections of our urban populations. Only the corporate powers and the supranational among them can benefit from the coup the Republicans, under Bush/Rove/Cheney, have accomplished.

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  289. Bill Roberts says:

    Well, you can and you did make a very logical argument. But consider this: How many important things WOULD BE DIFFERENT TODAY if the rightful guy had won in 2000? I say quite a bit. I rest my case.

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  290. Bill Roberts says:

    Well, you can and you did make a very logical argument. But consider this: How many important things WOULD BE DIFFERENT TODAY if the rightful guy had won in 2000? I say quite a bit. I rest my case.

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  291. Sean Dulac says:

    The man at the helm does not control the weather, it’s true. But his ability to forsee the coming storm, prepare the ship, and steer her through it will decide whether the passengers live or die.

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  292. Sean Dulac says:

    The man at the helm does not control the weather, it’s true. But his ability to forsee the coming storm, prepare the ship, and steer her through it will decide whether the passengers live or die.

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  293. Martin Mazza says:

    A great deal to frequent travellers, using their USA passport to enter foreign countries whose citizens make no bones about their hatred of Bush, his apologists, and supporters, such as the weasel who posed the question:

    ‘How Much Does the President Really Matter?’

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  294. Martin Mazza says:

    A great deal to frequent travellers, using their USA passport to enter foreign countries whose citizens make no bones about their hatred of Bush, his apologists, and supporters, such as the weasel who posed the question:

    ‘How Much Does the President Really Matter?’

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  295. Osias says:

    Most economists (freaks or not) would agree that Clinton and his team policies corrected rather quickly the huge (current account) deficit left by the previous republican administrations. And that Bush and his war team policies are responsible for rebuilding the current huge deficit. Please Mr Dubner devote another column to explain in a plain way how current account deficit affects our and our children lifes. If you convince me that it does not matter I will believe what you said in this one.

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  296. Osias says:

    Most economists (freaks or not) would agree that Clinton and his team policies corrected rather quickly the huge (current account) deficit left by the previous republican administrations. And that Bush and his war team policies are responsible for rebuilding the current huge deficit. Please Mr Dubner devote another column to explain in a plain way how current account deficit affects our and our children lifes. If you convince me that it does not matter I will believe what you said in this one.

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  297. Lincoln Kennedy says:

    Isn’t it a little ridiculous to say that an evil man of great political power, like Hitler, has a stronger effect as an individual agent or “great man” than one who uses his political power to promote positive and humanistic policies, like Franklin Roosevelt or Washington? Dubner your argument would be stronger (though not necessarily more accurate) if you had simply rejected Great Man Theory altogether than throw the bone you did. For a decent and academically rigorous argument for the power of human agency (particularly in a positive way) read David Hackett Fischer’s Paul Revere’s Ride.

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  298. Lincoln Kennedy says:

    Isn’t it a little ridiculous to say that an evil man of great political power, like Hitler, has a stronger effect as an individual agent or “great man” than one who uses his political power to promote positive and humanistic policies, like Franklin Roosevelt or Washington? Dubner your argument would be stronger (though not necessarily more accurate) if you had simply rejected Great Man Theory altogether than throw the bone you did. For a decent and academically rigorous argument for the power of human agency (particularly in a positive way) read David Hackett Fischer’s Paul Revere’s Ride.

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  299. Way Chow says:

    I kinda agree with floor 32.
    However, I think the “butter-fly” effect doesn’t happen every time, but only in occassions.
    It’s just like George Soros’ idea of “reflexivity” — it works dominantly only in extreme cases.
    In normal situations, I think people tend to overestimate a common group leaders’ influence over the whole group, although sometimes a individual leader does exert more influence that she/he deserves as only one single elected representative out of a majority voting system.

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  300. Way Chow says:

    I kinda agree with floor 32.
    However, I think the “butter-fly” effect doesn’t happen every time, but only in occassions.
    It’s just like George Soros’ idea of “reflexivity” — it works dominantly only in extreme cases.
    In normal situations, I think people tend to overestimate a common group leaders’ influence over the whole group, although sometimes a individual leader does exert more influence that she/he deserves as only one single elected representative out of a majority voting system.

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  301. dm says:

    An addendum to mw’s criticism of this post (#82):

    The NBER articles you link to and the previous Freakonomics post, “Should the Founder’s Son Be the C.E.O.”, don’t in any way support the assertion that CEO’s have less of an impact than we would expect.

    I fully appreciate that these posts aren’t meant for academic journals, and I also recognize the value of a spirited dialogue stimulated by a provocative post. But it certainly doesn’t help your cause to link to “here, here, and here” when the articles, if anything, support exactly the opposite of the point you’re trying to make.

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  302. dm says:

    An addendum to mw’s criticism of this post (#82):

    The NBER articles you link to and the previous Freakonomics post, “Should the Founder’s Son Be the C.E.O.”, don’t in any way support the assertion that CEO’s have less of an impact than we would expect.

    I fully appreciate that these posts aren’t meant for academic journals, and I also recognize the value of a spirited dialogue stimulated by a provocative post. But it certainly doesn’t help your cause to link to “here, here, and here” when the articles, if anything, support exactly the opposite of the point you’re trying to make.

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  303. jack kellner says:

    i do not agree with you at all. i, as many others do, feel that the president steered us into this war. i don’t think al gore, for instance, would have gone to war with iraq. therefore, no bush, no iraq war. we would still have credibilty in the international community to deal with north korea and russia would probably not be claiming land and firing missles everywhere.

    under a competant president, i do feel your argument would hold some weight(comparing george h. with clinton for instance), but i can’t believe you made this post at this point in time, it seems absurd. who is president makes a huge difference not just to us, but to everybody in the world.

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  304. jack kellner says:

    i do not agree with you at all. i, as many others do, feel that the president steered us into this war. i don’t think al gore, for instance, would have gone to war with iraq. therefore, no bush, no iraq war. we would still have credibilty in the international community to deal with north korea and russia would probably not be claiming land and firing missles everywhere.

    under a competant president, i do feel your argument would hold some weight(comparing george h. with clinton for instance), but i can’t believe you made this post at this point in time, it seems absurd. who is president makes a huge difference not just to us, but to everybody in the world.

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  305. Greg Stone says:

    Absolutely correct.

    I felt this way when I was in the administration of a university. What mattered most was what the individual faculty member did in the classroom. But what got the most attention was what the president and deans were doing – or not doing.

    I would go farther and say that not only is the impact of the president over-rated, but so are countries as institutions. The little lines we draw on maps border on the silly. What matters – what really impacts our lives – are things that ignore borders, such as disease, global warming, terrorism, and, of course, economics. If there are power centers today, they are economic centers and they are far from being democratic. But they do respond to market forces.

    In the final analysis, most of the forces that matter are chaotic and – thankfully – self-regulating. Little strutting puppets like George Bush are largely insignificant. Change them and not nearly so much will happen as you may hope.

    Does this mean we have no control of what really matters? Of course not. The simplest, but perhaps most difficult lesson to learn, is that we are responsible for our own happiness. All sorts of nasty things can happen around us, but in the end, we control our response to these things. And our response has a lot to do with shaping market forces.

    This whole hero thing – this business of looking for a white knight – is just plain childish. As a species we need to grow up. We need to start understanding that we are in control of what matters, even when living with dictators, disasters, and pompous little germs like the current president. (Hmmm… writing that last sentence made me feel good. Maybe dum-dum can impact my happiness ;-)

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  306. Greg Stone says:

    Absolutely correct.

    I felt this way when I was in the administration of a university. What mattered most was what the individual faculty member did in the classroom. But what got the most attention was what the president and deans were doing – or not doing.

    I would go farther and say that not only is the impact of the president over-rated, but so are countries as institutions. The little lines we draw on maps border on the silly. What matters – what really impacts our lives – are things that ignore borders, such as disease, global warming, terrorism, and, of course, economics. If there are power centers today, they are economic centers and they are far from being democratic. But they do respond to market forces.

    In the final analysis, most of the forces that matter are chaotic and – thankfully – self-regulating. Little strutting puppets like George Bush are largely insignificant. Change them and not nearly so much will happen as you may hope.

    Does this mean we have no control of what really matters? Of course not. The simplest, but perhaps most difficult lesson to learn, is that we are responsible for our own happiness. All sorts of nasty things can happen around us, but in the end, we control our response to these things. And our response has a lot to do with shaping market forces.

    This whole hero thing – this business of looking for a white knight – is just plain childish. As a species we need to grow up. We need to start understanding that we are in control of what matters, even when living with dictators, disasters, and pompous little germs like the current president. (Hmmm… writing that last sentence made me feel good. Maybe dum-dum can impact my happiness ;-)

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  307. D. Benjamin says:

    The president doesn’t matter? C’mon! Who appointed Rove, Rumsfeld, Gonzales, etc. all of whom either carried out their own agenda or that of Mr. Bush (if he were smart enough to have an agenda). I did not include Cheney because he appointed himself when he chaired the Vice-Presidential selection committee prior to the 2000 elections. All these individuals wielded tremendous power and have clearly changed our lives directly or indirectly – witness our foreign policy, the war in Iraq, the disastrous costs of that war in terms of human and monetary capital, the poor state of our infrastructure, the huge increase in national debt, the need for our most unfortunate citizens to seek medical care in the “emergency room”, etc. etc. etc. YES! The current “Compassionate Conservative, Decider” ignorant, incompetent, and uncaring President has had a tremendous effect on the lives of most citizens – an effect that will take many years to reverse.

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  308. D. Benjamin says:

    The president doesn’t matter? C’mon! Who appointed Rove, Rumsfeld, Gonzales, etc. all of whom either carried out their own agenda or that of Mr. Bush (if he were smart enough to have an agenda). I did not include Cheney because he appointed himself when he chaired the Vice-Presidential selection committee prior to the 2000 elections. All these individuals wielded tremendous power and have clearly changed our lives directly or indirectly – witness our foreign policy, the war in Iraq, the disastrous costs of that war in terms of human and monetary capital, the poor state of our infrastructure, the huge increase in national debt, the need for our most unfortunate citizens to seek medical care in the “emergency room”, etc. etc. etc. YES! The current “Compassionate Conservative, Decider” ignorant, incompetent, and uncaring President has had a tremendous effect on the lives of most citizens – an effect that will take many years to reverse.

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  309. billp says:

    The President as most CEOs has tremendous influence on the direction the country/company moves. This has a similar effect on the rank and file worker/citizen. This is done by who the man at the top selects to run various activities of the country/company. Every company I have ever seen takes onthe (general) personality of the CEO. Military and Government organizations do the same thing. An example that I think makes this point is a small Naval base on the YORK river in Va., Naval Weapons Station. I used to play a lot of golf on that base and it was amazing how the condition of the golf course changed depending on whether the Commanding Officer was a golfer or not.
    I have observed the same thing happen in the civilian world. A failing branch operation is turned around in 6 months. The only change made was a new Branch Manager. The new Manager brought a different attitude with him, one that imbued the exact same sales force that was failing with a different mind set. Success.
    The President and you can use Bush and Clinton as a contrast or case study has the same effect on the government of the country. Clinton was more people oriented, and though he made mistakes he tried to make things better for the people he was serving. Bush isn’t interested in service, he is interested in power. He operates with the best interests of his friends and colleagues and supporters. Bush’s government has affected everyone in the country in negative ways while Clinton’s policies affected every person in the country in much more positive ways.
    I am sorry, but there is nothing that will make GWBush and his administration an outlaw regime that should be prosecuted for crimes against the Constitution, the very same document that he swore to protect and defend but has been doing nothing less than shredding it from the day he took office.

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  310. billp says:

    The President as most CEOs has tremendous influence on the direction the country/company moves. This has a similar effect on the rank and file worker/citizen. This is done by who the man at the top selects to run various activities of the country/company. Every company I have ever seen takes onthe (general) personality of the CEO. Military and Government organizations do the same thing. An example that I think makes this point is a small Naval base on the YORK river in Va., Naval Weapons Station. I used to play a lot of golf on that base and it was amazing how the condition of the golf course changed depending on whether the Commanding Officer was a golfer or not.
    I have observed the same thing happen in the civilian world. A failing branch operation is turned around in 6 months. The only change made was a new Branch Manager. The new Manager brought a different attitude with him, one that imbued the exact same sales force that was failing with a different mind set. Success.
    The President and you can use Bush and Clinton as a contrast or case study has the same effect on the government of the country. Clinton was more people oriented, and though he made mistakes he tried to make things better for the people he was serving. Bush isn’t interested in service, he is interested in power. He operates with the best interests of his friends and colleagues and supporters. Bush’s government has affected everyone in the country in negative ways while Clinton’s policies affected every person in the country in much more positive ways.
    I am sorry, but there is nothing that will make GWBush and his administration an outlaw regime that should be prosecuted for crimes against the Constitution, the very same document that he swore to protect and defend but has been doing nothing less than shredding it from the day he took office.

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  311. hazbin says:

    Moe was right – people are not reading the original post and asking the basic question – how much does what the President does affect me on a daily basis . NOT to be confused with my political outrage or enthusiasm for what is happening. Perhaps some posters are correct – the post could have been made more clear, but the point is still thought-provoking: it is actually hard to imagine how a particular President has impacted me as a person. Look at it this way: if it weren’t for the spectator sport of reading the papers and yelling yay or boo about what the president does, would the President have impacted your life? Suppose you had not read or heard the news during the last 40 years – how much would a particular President have affected your life without your realizing it?

    But that thus begs a key question that most posters didn’t pursue – what do we mean by affect your life? Part of the challenge is to measure the effects – and that is very hard to do. Who knows what my life MIGHT have been if the tax code still taxed me at higher rates? Who knows what my life became because some dope president invaded a country for specious reasons?

    So, you have to turn the tug boat idea around and say – if a President made a decision in a forest that led to a tree falling, would I hear it – i.e. would its falling affect me? I think the problem then becomes clear – there is some equivocating on the word ‘affect’. What the President ‘does’ is sign bills and use a bully pulpit – obviously having little affect on me. But the affects of the Administration, the climate in the country, the little changes in law and policy, in social discourse, in the desire to vote or not vote, protest or not protest – affect us all.

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  312. hazbin says:

    Moe was right – people are not reading the original post and asking the basic question – how much does what the President does affect me on a daily basis . NOT to be confused with my political outrage or enthusiasm for what is happening. Perhaps some posters are correct – the post could have been made more clear, but the point is still thought-provoking: it is actually hard to imagine how a particular President has impacted me as a person. Look at it this way: if it weren’t for the spectator sport of reading the papers and yelling yay or boo about what the president does, would the President have impacted your life? Suppose you had not read or heard the news during the last 40 years – how much would a particular President have affected your life without your realizing it?

    But that thus begs a key question that most posters didn’t pursue – what do we mean by affect your life? Part of the challenge is to measure the effects – and that is very hard to do. Who knows what my life MIGHT have been if the tax code still taxed me at higher rates? Who knows what my life became because some dope president invaded a country for specious reasons?

    So, you have to turn the tug boat idea around and say – if a President made a decision in a forest that led to a tree falling, would I hear it – i.e. would its falling affect me? I think the problem then becomes clear – there is some equivocating on the word ‘affect’. What the President ‘does’ is sign bills and use a bully pulpit – obviously having little affect on me. But the affects of the Administration, the climate in the country, the little changes in law and policy, in social discourse, in the desire to vote or not vote, protest or not protest – affect us all.

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  313. Sebastian says:

    I’m surprised you don’t cite one of the few studies that actually does adress the impact of leadership on growth, a very neat paper Benjamin Jones and Olken of Northwestern and Harvard respectively, titled “Do Leaders Matter” (or “does leadership matter” in a different version).
    They assess the impact of “accidental deaths”, i.e. everything but assasinations, on economic performance and find that it does help the economy quite a bit in autocratic regimes. There is no significant effect in Democratic regimes.
    Olken was one of the hottest Ph.D. candidates on the market a couple of years ago, interested in the same type of clean identifications stuff Levitt got famous for (though very different settings).
    Here’s the paper – as I said it’s really neat.

    http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTCDRC/Resources/Jones_Olken_524042.pdf

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  314. Sebastian says:

    I’m surprised you don’t cite one of the few studies that actually does adress the impact of leadership on growth, a very neat paper Benjamin Jones and Olken of Northwestern and Harvard respectively, titled “Do Leaders Matter” (or “does leadership matter” in a different version).
    They assess the impact of “accidental deaths”, i.e. everything but assasinations, on economic performance and find that it does help the economy quite a bit in autocratic regimes. There is no significant effect in Democratic regimes.
    Olken was one of the hottest Ph.D. candidates on the market a couple of years ago, interested in the same type of clean identifications stuff Levitt got famous for (though very different settings).
    Here’s the paper – as I said it’s really neat.

    http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTCDRC/Resources/Jones_Olken_524042.pdf

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  315. Kay says:

    I saw nothing in your post about the effect of the Bully Pulpit. Just imagine how different the world might look today if President Gore had taken office in 2001…..

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  316. Kay says:

    I saw nothing in your post about the effect of the Bully Pulpit. Just imagine how different the world might look today if President Gore had taken office in 2001…..

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  317. Lauren says:

    Did Hitler have only a “little” effect? Did Stalin? Did FDR? Did Lincoln? Did JFK’s effort to resist hawkish advice to attack Cuba and therefore prevent a nuclear war have only a limited effect? Now, examine the current political landscape and with a straight face ask that question again.

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  318. Lauren says:

    Did Hitler have only a “little” effect? Did Stalin? Did FDR? Did Lincoln? Did JFK’s effort to resist hawkish advice to attack Cuba and therefore prevent a nuclear war have only a limited effect? Now, examine the current political landscape and with a straight face ask that question again.

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  319. Greg says:

    Your theory seems like it could be named the “Leadership Doesn’t Matter” theory. I heard this theory in the months preceeding GW’s 1st election. I thought it was scary then.

    Many family businesses and corporations break down if not completely fail after a founder dies of age or a CEO retires.

    Leadership always matters – because of the decisions leaders make, and because of the emotional impact anticipation of their decisions has.

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  320. Greg says:

    Your theory seems like it could be named the “Leadership Doesn’t Matter” theory. I heard this theory in the months preceeding GW’s 1st election. I thought it was scary then.

    Many family businesses and corporations break down if not completely fail after a founder dies of age or a CEO retires.

    Leadership always matters – because of the decisions leaders make, and because of the emotional impact anticipation of their decisions has.

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  321. Selims says:

    Can a CEO, solely by his own actions, destroy a company? Probably not. If a CEO is surrounded by “yes-men” who benefit as individuals from supporting whatever “half-glass full” policy he want to enact, can he then destroy a company? Most definitely.

    The President of America can affect every aspect of American life if he is surrounded by yes-men whose sole aim is to keep power in the hands of one party, rather than benefit Americans in general (he can affect Justice, Equality, and Fraternity amongst all Americans (rather than Fraternity amongst one small segment of America). There is a direct benefit to his underlings which removes oversight when his party control congress. With no oversight he can extend his power to governmental institutions that are/were intended to be politically neutral (for obvious reasons).

    Apart from the direct benefits of being in the party of power, why would people put party above power? Ask any supporter of a sports team how emotional victory is for them (your theory individualism has huge limitations for a social creature like man).

    If you really do not think that the President does not have substantial power all that you have to do to see otherwise is to go to youtube and watch Cheney discuss why the US did not invade Iraq during Desert-Storm. His analysis of the “quagmire” we would get ourselves in back then is an almost perfect prediction of the mess we are now in. We are at war because one man, and his crony, despite the best available evidence, wanted to change the course of history.

    A more obvious example of why your argument is wrong is provided within your own piece. You contend that the President, no matter how bad he is, cannot really affect the lives of Americans on a daily basis, then you say “There are some notable exceptions to my argument” and go on to talk about Iraq and Hitler: A trillion dollar war, “with no end in sight,” that was predicted to end in a quagmire 15 years earlier by one of its main supporters, that has divided the country and left thousands of Americans and Iraqis dead, and a 6 million man genocide that plunged Europe, and most of the world, into a war that killed millions more (and which led, in attempt to ensure nothing like it happens again, to the creation of Global political institutions that were ignored by the current administration), they are two pretty major counter-examples to your argument.

    I suggest that you google the word “falsifiabilty” the next time that you come up with a theory that includes the statement “There are some notable exceptions to my argument.”

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  322. Selims says:

    Can a CEO, solely by his own actions, destroy a company? Probably not. If a CEO is surrounded by “yes-men” who benefit as individuals from supporting whatever “half-glass full” policy he want to enact, can he then destroy a company? Most definitely.

    The President of America can affect every aspect of American life if he is surrounded by yes-men whose sole aim is to keep power in the hands of one party, rather than benefit Americans in general (he can affect Justice, Equality, and Fraternity amongst all Americans (rather than Fraternity amongst one small segment of America). There is a direct benefit to his underlings which removes oversight when his party control congress. With no oversight he can extend his power to governmental institutions that are/were intended to be politically neutral (for obvious reasons).

    Apart from the direct benefits of being in the party of power, why would people put party above power? Ask any supporter of a sports team how emotional victory is for them (your theory individualism has huge limitations for a social creature like man).

    If you really do not think that the President does not have substantial power all that you have to do to see otherwise is to go to youtube and watch Cheney discuss why the US did not invade Iraq during Desert-Storm. His analysis of the “quagmire” we would get ourselves in back then is an almost perfect prediction of the mess we are now in. We are at war because one man, and his crony, despite the best available evidence, wanted to change the course of history.

    A more obvious example of why your argument is wrong is provided within your own piece. You contend that the President, no matter how bad he is, cannot really affect the lives of Americans on a daily basis, then you say “There are some notable exceptions to my argument” and go on to talk about Iraq and Hitler: A trillion dollar war, “with no end in sight,” that was predicted to end in a quagmire 15 years earlier by one of its main supporters, that has divided the country and left thousands of Americans and Iraqis dead, and a 6 million man genocide that plunged Europe, and most of the world, into a war that killed millions more (and which led, in attempt to ensure nothing like it happens again, to the creation of Global political institutions that were ignored by the current administration), they are two pretty major counter-examples to your argument.

    I suggest that you google the word “falsifiabilty” the next time that you come up with a theory that includes the statement “There are some notable exceptions to my argument.”

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  323. John Taylor says:

    I once taught investing fundamentals and most students wanted to know where to put all their chips. I told them that it was much easier and just as important to avoid disasters than it is to pick winners each year.

    I see parallels with the presidency. Many presidential decisions may not matter a lot, but it’s still crucial to avoid the really bad ones.

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  324. John Taylor says:

    I once taught investing fundamentals and most students wanted to know where to put all their chips. I told them that it was much easier and just as important to avoid disasters than it is to pick winners each year.

    I see parallels with the presidency. Many presidential decisions may not matter a lot, but it’s still crucial to avoid the really bad ones.

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  325. R. Vangala says:

    I do not pretend to be overly familiar with the relevant literature on this subject, but I do have an intuitive objection to the argument under consideration. Let us assume that the person or persons who are responsible for a given event are the ‘proximate cause’ of the event, in the legal sense. Let us further assume that the power of an individual is some measure of the number of events that he would be responsible for were they to come about legally, together with the number of lives whose quality is affected by each event, together with the extent of such changes in the quality of the lives in question. Given these assumptions (which seem to me to be plausible, though perhaps overly simplistic), the power of the US president is extraordinary. This claim varies in force with the way in which ‘power’ is to be understood, but the sketchy definition of ‘power’ given above has much intuitive appeal. Another way of putting this thesis is as follows: The president has the legal authority to intervene in a great number of potential causal chains which, depending on whether or not he chooses to interfere with them, can bring about dramatic consequences for the lives of huge numbers of persons. The question, when it comes to power, is not which particular actions a person is in fact responsible for, but which actions does the person’s position in an institution allow him to sanction. The more consequential those actions are, the more powerful the person in question in fact is. By that measure, the US president is far more powerful than anyone else in the world.

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  326. R. Vangala says:

    I do not pretend to be overly familiar with the relevant literature on this subject, but I do have an intuitive objection to the argument under consideration. Let us assume that the person or persons who are responsible for a given event are the ‘proximate cause’ of the event, in the legal sense. Let us further assume that the power of an individual is some measure of the number of events that he would be responsible for were they to come about legally, together with the number of lives whose quality is affected by each event, together with the extent of such changes in the quality of the lives in question. Given these assumptions (which seem to me to be plausible, though perhaps overly simplistic), the power of the US president is extraordinary. This claim varies in force with the way in which ‘power’ is to be understood, but the sketchy definition of ‘power’ given above has much intuitive appeal. Another way of putting this thesis is as follows: The president has the legal authority to intervene in a great number of potential causal chains which, depending on whether or not he chooses to interfere with them, can bring about dramatic consequences for the lives of huge numbers of persons. The question, when it comes to power, is not which particular actions a person is in fact responsible for, but which actions does the person’s position in an institution allow him to sanction. The more consequential those actions are, the more powerful the person in question in fact is. By that measure, the US president is far more powerful than anyone else in the world.

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  327. JerseyMissouri says:

    Mr. Dubner:

    If only it was true that President’s didn’t matter much. Presidents’ do matter differently to different people. My guess is that Valerie Plame, Scooter Libby and Cindy Sheehan think Presidents matter. As do military families and immigrant families and those without health insurance. It’s those pesky policies, priorities, executive orders, and appointments that make Presidents. matter.

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  328. JerseyMissouri says:

    Mr. Dubner:

    If only it was true that President’s didn’t matter much. Presidents’ do matter differently to different people. My guess is that Valerie Plame, Scooter Libby and Cindy Sheehan think Presidents matter. As do military families and immigrant families and those without health insurance. It’s those pesky policies, priorities, executive orders, and appointments that make Presidents. matter.

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  329. Becks says:

    Of course the President matters precisely because he (historically) builds the team roster that goes out on the field and sets the tone, which matters oh so much to every person from the federal government on down. I for one have been sick at soul since the fiasco of 2000. This tone is reinforced every day and has a serious trickle down effect. Call it a slippery slope if you will, but large decisions greatly impact smaller decisions.

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  330. Becks says:

    Of course the President matters precisely because he (historically) builds the team roster that goes out on the field and sets the tone, which matters oh so much to every person from the federal government on down. I for one have been sick at soul since the fiasco of 2000. This tone is reinforced every day and has a serious trickle down effect. Call it a slippery slope if you will, but large decisions greatly impact smaller decisions.

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  331. Sheila Mc7 says:

    The Presidency DOES matter, a great deal. Case in point, from Bob Herbert’s column today:
    ~~
    “The federal government played a big role in the effort that reduced crime substantially in the 1990s. But much of that federal support has since vanished, in part because of the tremendous attention and resources directed toward anti-terror initiatives, and in part because the Bush administration and much of the Republican Party have held fast to the ideological notion that crime is a local problem.”
    ~~
    That’s the difference between two Presidents — and it effects us all.

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  332. Sheila Mc7 says:

    The Presidency DOES matter, a great deal. Case in point, from Bob Herbert’s column today:
    ~~
    “The federal government played a big role in the effort that reduced crime substantially in the 1990s. But much of that federal support has since vanished, in part because of the tremendous attention and resources directed toward anti-terror initiatives, and in part because the Bush administration and much of the Republican Party have held fast to the ideological notion that crime is a local problem.”
    ~~
    That’s the difference between two Presidents — and it effects us all.

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  333. Molly says:

    I couldn’t agree more. That’s why each person needs to take responsibility for working together to make our communities and our world the place we want it to be. If we don’t do it, it won’t get done. Grassroots peacebuilding movements and the new capabilities that technology makes possible are the best solutions to many of our global problems. One person CAN make a difference, but she is most powerful when she works in concert with others, in partnerships and organizations that share her interests. We’ve GOT to BE the change we wish to see in the world. See http://www.peacexpeace.org for more on how . . .

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  334. Molly says:

    I couldn’t agree more. That’s why each person needs to take responsibility for working together to make our communities and our world the place we want it to be. If we don’t do it, it won’t get done. Grassroots peacebuilding movements and the new capabilities that technology makes possible are the best solutions to many of our global problems. One person CAN make a difference, but she is most powerful when she works in concert with others, in partnerships and organizations that share her interests. We’ve GOT to BE the change we wish to see in the world. See http://www.peacexpeace.org for more on how . . .

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  335. Dave says:

    You are absolutely right as far as the economy is concerned. Presidents get far more credit or blame than they deserve for the ups and downs of the economy.

    But the president can really have a lot of influence in the commander-in-chief role. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq is something that most other presidents would have avoided, and the damage that has been done will last for a long time. The situation is even more extreme with nuclear war. Reagan’s tough talk against the Soviet Union apparently had the (nearly senile) Soviet Politburo convinced that he was planning a first strike nuclear attack. This nearly led to a civilization destroying nuclear war in 1983 when a new Soviet early warning system produced a false alarm of a US nuclear attack. It seems likely that this nuclear war was only averted because the Colonel in charge of the early warning facility was wise enough not to trust his equipment. So, even a few threatening words from a man with his finger on the button can have a huge effect.

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  336. Dave says:

    You are absolutely right as far as the economy is concerned. Presidents get far more credit or blame than they deserve for the ups and downs of the economy.

    But the president can really have a lot of influence in the commander-in-chief role. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq is something that most other presidents would have avoided, and the damage that has been done will last for a long time. The situation is even more extreme with nuclear war. Reagan’s tough talk against the Soviet Union apparently had the (nearly senile) Soviet Politburo convinced that he was planning a first strike nuclear attack. This nearly led to a civilization destroying nuclear war in 1983 when a new Soviet early warning system produced a false alarm of a US nuclear attack. It seems likely that this nuclear war was only averted because the Colonel in charge of the early warning facility was wise enough not to trust his equipment. So, even a few threatening words from a man with his finger on the button can have a huge effect.

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  337. goober says:

    The president is just the face of an administration, he brings with him an organization and an ideology that permeates the executive branch, so while we refer to the president, we are really speaking about the work of hundreds, maybe thousands of political appointees, all lumped together under one name.

    “Bush” and “Clinton” are just the handles we use to refer to the work of these people.

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  338. goober says:

    The president is just the face of an administration, he brings with him an organization and an ideology that permeates the executive branch, so while we refer to the president, we are really speaking about the work of hundreds, maybe thousands of political appointees, all lumped together under one name.

    “Bush” and “Clinton” are just the handles we use to refer to the work of these people.

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  339. Robert says:

    Half a century ago Isiah Berlin wrote “The Hedgehog and the Fox”, a philosophical analysis of Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”. Berlin argued that Tolstoy rejected the Great Man theory of history and made the alternative case that historical events are the product of innumerable forces, factors, events, accidents, and causes. Berlin’s book was the single most important book I read while an undergraduate history student at Hope Colleges in the early 1960s.

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  340. Robert says:

    Half a century ago Isiah Berlin wrote “The Hedgehog and the Fox”, a philosophical analysis of Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”. Berlin argued that Tolstoy rejected the Great Man theory of history and made the alternative case that historical events are the product of innumerable forces, factors, events, accidents, and causes. Berlin’s book was the single most important book I read while an undergraduate history student at Hope Colleges in the early 1960s.

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  341. Robert J Malone says:

    As the vaunted ‘Founders’ feared, the office of the President of the United States has become a de facto king. The recent expansion of the executive powers spearheaded by Rove and Cheney has demonstrated that Congress (and the judiciary) seem almost powerless in the face of the ‘unitary executive’. There are two reasons why Congress does not seem to have any effective response to an assault on the co-equal branches: 1) the process of electing our state representatives has become so ineffective that we send very few nimble and bright people to Congress. The process of politics in the U.S., with few exceptions, excludes the forthright and the courageous. 2) upon entering ‘The Beltway’, most elected officials do not have the tenacity or character to resist becoming ‘one of them’ which includes this irrational belief that the President is all powerful, must be obeyed, and has wisdom beyond the ken of others. When someone stumbles into that office through a civil coup d’etat such as we saw in 2000 in Florida, and that someone would have difficulty making a profit running a downtown hot dog stand, the country still wants to believe that he is possessed of powers and wisdom superior to our own.
    I have tried your experiment and the results our distressing. Americans want a king.

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  342. Robert J Malone says:

    As the vaunted ‘Founders’ feared, the office of the President of the United States has become a de facto king. The recent expansion of the executive powers spearheaded by Rove and Cheney has demonstrated that Congress (and the judiciary) seem almost powerless in the face of the ‘unitary executive’. There are two reasons why Congress does not seem to have any effective response to an assault on the co-equal branches: 1) the process of electing our state representatives has become so ineffective that we send very few nimble and bright people to Congress. The process of politics in the U.S., with few exceptions, excludes the forthright and the courageous. 2) upon entering ‘The Beltway’, most elected officials do not have the tenacity or character to resist becoming ‘one of them’ which includes this irrational belief that the President is all powerful, must be obeyed, and has wisdom beyond the ken of others. When someone stumbles into that office through a civil coup d’etat such as we saw in 2000 in Florida, and that someone would have difficulty making a profit running a downtown hot dog stand, the country still wants to believe that he is possessed of powers and wisdom superior to our own.
    I have tried your experiment and the results our distressing. Americans want a king.

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  343. catull says:

    I am afraid most posters, especially the angry ones, got it wrong. This is mostly because there is a strong irrational urge in humans to find causal relationships, and project the cause of a condition that affects us, unto a person. What Dubner means is not that presidents, team managers or coaches don’t matter. They do, in punctual cases (as amply exemplified in the Iraq war example) but they don’t matter in the STATISTICAL AVERAGE OVER TIME. Simply, coaches and CEOs, and presidents, on average do not matter in improving our conditions. Here is the error in thinking: The causal importance of team coaches, CEOs or presidents is often explained by the notion that if such causative agents would not matter, then the team, company or country would only perform like the average. But any thing that deviates from the average, e.g., the top ranking of a sports team at the end of a saison or rise of a company to the top, is assumed to be evidence that the coach or CEO did matter. This is wrong. The counterintuitive dynamics in complex, mostly non-linear, systems, such as a championship or the market produces enormous spread, becuase of a particular channeling of chance events, such as the phenomenon of the “rich gets richer”, so that random transient and local fluctuations get amplified. Hence, the spread of ranking of teams at the end of saison can almost entirely explained by chance alone (+plus some autocatalytic non-linear such as the rich-get richer dynamics). The intuition that chance alone without a person in charge would equilibrate things, and no one will stand out, is wrong.
    See the work by Eli Ben-Naim, at Los Alamos Natl. Labs, e.g. here: http://cnls.lanl.gov/~ebn/pubs/sports/sports.pdf
    or, I would also like to remind readers of Nassim Taleb’s book “Fooled by randomness”.

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  344. catull says:

    I am afraid most posters, especially the angry ones, got it wrong. This is mostly because there is a strong irrational urge in humans to find causal relationships, and project the cause of a condition that affects us, unto a person. What Dubner means is not that presidents, team managers or coaches don’t matter. They do, in punctual cases (as amply exemplified in the Iraq war example) but they don’t matter in the STATISTICAL AVERAGE OVER TIME. Simply, coaches and CEOs, and presidents, on average do not matter in improving our conditions. Here is the error in thinking: The causal importance of team coaches, CEOs or presidents is often explained by the notion that if such causative agents would not matter, then the team, company or country would only perform like the average. But any thing that deviates from the average, e.g., the top ranking of a sports team at the end of a saison or rise of a company to the top, is assumed to be evidence that the coach or CEO did matter. This is wrong. The counterintuitive dynamics in complex, mostly non-linear, systems, such as a championship or the market produces enormous spread, becuase of a particular channeling of chance events, such as the phenomenon of the “rich gets richer”, so that random transient and local fluctuations get amplified. Hence, the spread of ranking of teams at the end of saison can almost entirely explained by chance alone (+plus some autocatalytic non-linear such as the rich-get richer dynamics). The intuition that chance alone without a person in charge would equilibrate things, and no one will stand out, is wrong.
    See the work by Eli Ben-Naim, at Los Alamos Natl. Labs, e.g. here: http://cnls.lanl.gov/~ebn/pubs/sports/sports.pdf
    or, I would also like to remind readers of Nassim Taleb’s book “Fooled by randomness”.

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  345. nyckate says:

    Of course the President matters – a good one makes beneficial contributions to the country that in the long run if not in the short run do affect this country – i.e., CLinton’s Welfare Reform, Bush’s Tax Cuts for the Wealthy. CLinton’s Welfare Reform was the beginning of a new train of thought – that people must become more responsible cause the state is no longer going to be supporting 16 year old girls who get preggers cause they want their own apartments! Bush’s tax cuts that have benefited only the upper echelon in US have had a cause and affect – he promised that money was going to be used to prop up economy – instead we’re still too heavily reliant on the poor and working middle class to get out there and shop-till-we-drop or at least till the credit cards says ‘no more’! Wall Street relies on the middle class who go shopping in June and July for vacation wear and then again in August and September for back-to-school.

    Presidents set the agenda for legislature – they work congress towards the end goals they want.

    They also set foreign policy – which is some cases is extremely unfortunate as the current president was not mature enough to grasp international politics or the affect his “kick-all cowboy” attitude was going to have on this nation and others. We watched Clinton order troops into Bosnia to stop a geonocide and not one US SOldier was killed. We are still watching Bush screw up Iraq and we are afraid it might be beyond repair. Some Presidents foreign policy increase the stature of the nation – others (well, one anyway) have what they call is foreign policy that harms this nation in many ways.

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  346. nyckate says:

    Of course the President matters – a good one makes beneficial contributions to the country that in the long run if not in the short run do affect this country – i.e., CLinton’s Welfare Reform, Bush’s Tax Cuts for the Wealthy. CLinton’s Welfare Reform was the beginning of a new train of thought – that people must become more responsible cause the state is no longer going to be supporting 16 year old girls who get preggers cause they want their own apartments! Bush’s tax cuts that have benefited only the upper echelon in US have had a cause and affect – he promised that money was going to be used to prop up economy – instead we’re still too heavily reliant on the poor and working middle class to get out there and shop-till-we-drop or at least till the credit cards says ‘no more’! Wall Street relies on the middle class who go shopping in June and July for vacation wear and then again in August and September for back-to-school.

    Presidents set the agenda for legislature – they work congress towards the end goals they want.

    They also set foreign policy – which is some cases is extremely unfortunate as the current president was not mature enough to grasp international politics or the affect his “kick-all cowboy” attitude was going to have on this nation and others. We watched Clinton order troops into Bosnia to stop a geonocide and not one US SOldier was killed. We are still watching Bush screw up Iraq and we are afraid it might be beyond repair. Some Presidents foreign policy increase the stature of the nation – others (well, one anyway) have what they call is foreign policy that harms this nation in many ways.

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  347. John Andrews says:

    Interesting that Tolstoy made a very similar point in his appendix to War and Peace.

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  348. John Andrews says:

    Interesting that Tolstoy made a very similar point in his appendix to War and Peace.

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  349. Gary says:

    The administration as a whole has a tremendous impact on national life. It is much larger than anything conceived by the founding fathers, and just keeping that working right is a huge task. It’s not the president so much as the senior white house members as a whole who decide whether to have a competent administration or let the whole thing slide. In retrospect it now looks like the previous several presidents all did a decent job at this – even if Reagan had no idea what was going on, he had people who did – and Bush 1 and Clinton were almost identical in terms of ability to run the government. An administration can also seize power far in excess of constitutional limits and get away with it. That seems like it should be a top priority of the next administration to rebalance – if you can get anyone willing to rein in the power of their own offices. It’s nothing to do with great men really – the president and administration can on their own destroy much of the government that has taken decades to get working right.

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  350. Gary says:

    The administration as a whole has a tremendous impact on national life. It is much larger than anything conceived by the founding fathers, and just keeping that working right is a huge task. It’s not the president so much as the senior white house members as a whole who decide whether to have a competent administration or let the whole thing slide. In retrospect it now looks like the previous several presidents all did a decent job at this – even if Reagan had no idea what was going on, he had people who did – and Bush 1 and Clinton were almost identical in terms of ability to run the government. An administration can also seize power far in excess of constitutional limits and get away with it. That seems like it should be a top priority of the next administration to rebalance – if you can get anyone willing to rein in the power of their own offices. It’s nothing to do with great men really – the president and administration can on their own destroy much of the government that has taken decades to get working right.

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  351. meech says:

    A new president will not fix “everything” but he (or she) will have a substantial impact on at least one-third of the functioning of the government. In addition to the cabinet (which sits at the request of the president and controls everything from health to roads to the military) the president also chooses the head of the Judicial Branch and its prosecutors and Supreme Court judges (whe the opportunity arises), and sets the budget priorities that congress votes on. The president also has the power to appoint our overseas representatives — of whom only a few ever some into the news but all are equally important for our international relations. The president also is the only member of government that can make foreign treaties and select the head of the nation’s bank, the Federal Reserve. If you add it all up, the president’s reach covers not just the Executive branch (one-third of the power) but also leeches deeply into the Judicial and Legistative branches.

    I think the proper analogy is not a CEO, but a CEO/CFO/COO of a global conglomerate. The parts of the machine, the companies, may not have direct connections to eachother but all are heavily influenced by the goals of the parent company.

    In the elections that our founding fathers knew, the person with the most electoral votes became president. The runner-up became vice-president.

    What a different system of government we would have today if we had continued that tradition — with the president’s primary political nemesis only a heart-beat away from power, constantly reminding the commander in chief of the other side of things.

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  352. meech says:

    A new president will not fix “everything” but he (or she) will have a substantial impact on at least one-third of the functioning of the government. In addition to the cabinet (which sits at the request of the president and controls everything from health to roads to the military) the president also chooses the head of the Judicial Branch and its prosecutors and Supreme Court judges (whe the opportunity arises), and sets the budget priorities that congress votes on. The president also has the power to appoint our overseas representatives — of whom only a few ever some into the news but all are equally important for our international relations. The president also is the only member of government that can make foreign treaties and select the head of the nation’s bank, the Federal Reserve. If you add it all up, the president’s reach covers not just the Executive branch (one-third of the power) but also leeches deeply into the Judicial and Legistative branches.

    I think the proper analogy is not a CEO, but a CEO/CFO/COO of a global conglomerate. The parts of the machine, the companies, may not have direct connections to eachother but all are heavily influenced by the goals of the parent company.

    In the elections that our founding fathers knew, the person with the most electoral votes became president. The runner-up became vice-president.

    What a different system of government we would have today if we had continued that tradition — with the president’s primary political nemesis only a heart-beat away from power, constantly reminding the commander in chief of the other side of things.

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  353. konnie says:

    I agree. No single person controls these things, rather a small group say .1% (power elite) have tremendous influence.

    Almost all of Bush’s decisions have been supported by a powerful constituency. Even the disaster and moral atrocities in Iraq does not appear to unsettle the rich and powerful.

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  354. konnie says:

    I agree. No single person controls these things, rather a small group say .1% (power elite) have tremendous influence.

    Almost all of Bush’s decisions have been supported by a powerful constituency. Even the disaster and moral atrocities in Iraq does not appear to unsettle the rich and powerful.

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  355. pattibar says:

    Amen! The President is not supposed to matter. It is the foundational system that must survive no matter who is calling the shots. Presidents come and go. Checks and balances, and oversight must be vigilant. If our leaders are selfish people who impose their own narrow agenda for the few rather than speaking for and listening to all of the people, we get what we have now. It is a simple matter. Politics is a calling meant to make the country a better place. It is not about feathering the nest in Crawford, Texas.

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  356. pattibar says:

    Amen! The President is not supposed to matter. It is the foundational system that must survive no matter who is calling the shots. Presidents come and go. Checks and balances, and oversight must be vigilant. If our leaders are selfish people who impose their own narrow agenda for the few rather than speaking for and listening to all of the people, we get what we have now. It is a simple matter. Politics is a calling meant to make the country a better place. It is not about feathering the nest in Crawford, Texas.

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  357. Timothy Platt says:

    The Bush administration has (successfully):
    1. Actively impeded dealing with climate change (and other environmental problems),
    2. Put the US outside the Geneva Conventions,
    3. Empowered and encouraged Ahmadinijad in Iran to seek nuclear weapons (Rumsfeld: Give me a plan to nuke ‘em.),
    4. Actively and purposely damaged the standing of the International War Crimes Tribunal,
    5. Actively weakened the authority of the United Nations,
    6. Actively combatted all police-recommended restrictions on handguns (60,000 shootings per year in the US),
    7. Turned a federal surplus into a titanic deficit,
    8. Invaded Iraq.

    If the Florida recount in 2000 had not been stopped, these things would not have happened.

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  358. Timothy Platt says:

    The Bush administration has (successfully):
    1. Actively impeded dealing with climate change (and other environmental problems),
    2. Put the US outside the Geneva Conventions,
    3. Empowered and encouraged Ahmadinijad in Iran to seek nuclear weapons (Rumsfeld: Give me a plan to nuke ‘em.),
    4. Actively and purposely damaged the standing of the International War Crimes Tribunal,
    5. Actively weakened the authority of the United Nations,
    6. Actively combatted all police-recommended restrictions on handguns (60,000 shootings per year in the US),
    7. Turned a federal surplus into a titanic deficit,
    8. Invaded Iraq.

    If the Florida recount in 2000 had not been stopped, these things would not have happened.

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  359. Penny says:

    You are partly right. e.g. polls often ask people their opinion on how the President is “managing the economy”, which is of course a stupid question, since his influence is both small and indirect. But people are poorly educated in economics and simply do not understand that a president doesn’t determine either the rate of unemployment of the advent of a recession or a boom.
    Where a President does have great power is foreign affairs. He can get us into a war that few people want; the most notorious examples are Roosevelt maneuvering us into WW II, Truman deciding to defend South Korea, Kennedy and Johnson involving us in Vietnam, and Bush invading Iraq. Conversely, a President can choose NOT to fight when he should; the most notorious example being Clnton’s failure to get tough with Al Quaeda.

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  360. Penny says:

    You are partly right. e.g. polls often ask people their opinion on how the President is “managing the economy”, which is of course a stupid question, since his influence is both small and indirect. But people are poorly educated in economics and simply do not understand that a president doesn’t determine either the rate of unemployment of the advent of a recession or a boom.
    Where a President does have great power is foreign affairs. He can get us into a war that few people want; the most notorious examples are Roosevelt maneuvering us into WW II, Truman deciding to defend South Korea, Kennedy and Johnson involving us in Vietnam, and Bush invading Iraq. Conversely, a President can choose NOT to fight when he should; the most notorious example being Clnton’s failure to get tough with Al Quaeda.

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  361. Mark says:

    Baseball managers “have substantially less effect on a firm or a team’s outcome than we suspect.”?
    See, Grady Little, 2003 ALCS.

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  362. Mark says:

    Baseball managers “have substantially less effect on a firm or a team’s outcome than we suspect.”?
    See, Grady Little, 2003 ALCS.

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  363. Bill says:

    If you don’t think that a president matters all that much, please do not vote. Leave the decision making then to the rest of us who don’t want an idiot leading our country, selectively enforcing the law, manipulating public opinion and Congress into a disastrous war, mortgaging our future with failed fiscal policies and ill-conceived tax cuts, appointing Supreme Court Plutocrats and corrupt public officials, failing to address global warming at the 11th hour, allowing Americans to drown in New Orleans, and not rebuilding the Gulf Coast.

    #172: Who cares whether or not over the long run in sports, statistically speaking, leaders don’t matter that much. The Presidency is not a sports team. Over the longer run, stocks do better. However, don’t retire in that 15 year trench when they are doing poorly in the short run.

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  364. Bill says:

    If you don’t think that a president matters all that much, please do not vote. Leave the decision making then to the rest of us who don’t want an idiot leading our country, selectively enforcing the law, manipulating public opinion and Congress into a disastrous war, mortgaging our future with failed fiscal policies and ill-conceived tax cuts, appointing Supreme Court Plutocrats and corrupt public officials, failing to address global warming at the 11th hour, allowing Americans to drown in New Orleans, and not rebuilding the Gulf Coast.

    #172: Who cares whether or not over the long run in sports, statistically speaking, leaders don’t matter that much. The Presidency is not a sports team. Over the longer run, stocks do better. However, don’t retire in that 15 year trench when they are doing poorly in the short run.

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  365. zbicyclist says:

    After re-reading all 177 comments, I think the “great man” theory is unsupported, but the “messup man” theory is in good shape.

    A person who gets into power and is able to implement bad policies can have a great negative effect. [Bush in Iraq and other examples].

    One might liken this to automobile drivers. Both a good driver and an excellent driver may have no accidents and be indistinguishable, but a bad driver, such as a drunk driver, can have a substantial negative impact.

    In terms of scientific advances, it’s clear that many great advances by great scientists would have been made anyway. Newton invented calculus, but so did Leibnitz. Darwin came up with evolutionary theory, but Wallace was right there too. Salk came up with a polio vaccine — but only shortly before others did [etc.]

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  366. zbicyclist says:

    After re-reading all 177 comments, I think the “great man” theory is unsupported, but the “messup man” theory is in good shape.

    A person who gets into power and is able to implement bad policies can have a great negative effect. [Bush in Iraq and other examples].

    One might liken this to automobile drivers. Both a good driver and an excellent driver may have no accidents and be indistinguishable, but a bad driver, such as a drunk driver, can have a substantial negative impact.

    In terms of scientific advances, it’s clear that many great advances by great scientists would have been made anyway. Newton invented calculus, but so did Leibnitz. Darwin came up with evolutionary theory, but Wallace was right there too. Salk came up with a polio vaccine — but only shortly before others did [etc.]

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  367. Philip Weingrow says:

    Think KATRINA!
    Bush didn’t cause it. Could he have done something more to ease the suffering of all those victims in the Gulf Coast? Could he have done it sooner? Would some other President have stepped in more quickly? More decisively?
    This “intellectualized wondering” portrayed as creative outside the box thinking, will take us straight to hell.

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  368. Philip Weingrow says:

    Think KATRINA!
    Bush didn’t cause it. Could he have done something more to ease the suffering of all those victims in the Gulf Coast? Could he have done it sooner? Would some other President have stepped in more quickly? More decisively?
    This “intellectualized wondering” portrayed as creative outside the box thinking, will take us straight to hell.

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  369. Victor says:

    If the ‘big man’ theory is still held, and is held by humans writ large (not just Americans, but people all over the globe)…then isn’t it self-fulfilling?

    I would be curious for the author to respond.

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  370. Victor says:

    If the ‘big man’ theory is still held, and is held by humans writ large (not just Americans, but people all over the globe)…then isn’t it self-fulfilling?

    I would be curious for the author to respond.

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  371. Vincent says:

    The question “does the president matter” is absurd, since the author has reduced GW to a position, a square box at the top of a flow chart. Flow charts do not clear brush in Crawford Texas or order “surges” in foreign lands, comfort the bereaved or drive an SUV which pumps pollutants innto the atmosphere and causes the ice caps to melt. The real question is does George Bush matter, or John Smith or Mary Doe across the street matter, for that matter. We all interact and are part of a physical, spiritual and emotional environment which is inclusive of everything. Is George Bush part of this environment? Yes. Does George Bush Matter? Yes. He just happens to be president. The author is concerned with how systems work, which is interesting, I admit. However, it is only a small part in a larger equation.

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  372. Vincent says:

    The question “does the president matter” is absurd, since the author has reduced GW to a position, a square box at the top of a flow chart. Flow charts do not clear brush in Crawford Texas or order “surges” in foreign lands, comfort the bereaved or drive an SUV which pumps pollutants innto the atmosphere and causes the ice caps to melt. The real question is does George Bush matter, or John Smith or Mary Doe across the street matter, for that matter. We all interact and are part of a physical, spiritual and emotional environment which is inclusive of everything. Is George Bush part of this environment? Yes. Does George Bush Matter? Yes. He just happens to be president. The author is concerned with how systems work, which is interesting, I admit. However, it is only a small part in a larger equation.

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  373. Tom Baker says:

    When will the world finally wake up to the fact that Steven Levitt’s freakonomics is a fraud? I can’t believe that the NY Times is featuring this pap. There is no substance to it whatsoever. It’s just another example of the Britney-ization of our culture. Levitt and Malcolm Gladwell, another who has received fawning reviews by the Times for his “insights,” are at best hucksters and at worse who knows. Please – just ignore both of them and maybe they will both just go away.

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  374. Tom Baker says:

    When will the world finally wake up to the fact that Steven Levitt’s freakonomics is a fraud? I can’t believe that the NY Times is featuring this pap. There is no substance to it whatsoever. It’s just another example of the Britney-ization of our culture. Levitt and Malcolm Gladwell, another who has received fawning reviews by the Times for his “insights,” are at best hucksters and at worse who knows. Please – just ignore both of them and maybe they will both just go away.

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  375. Jeff V in Iowa says:

    Unfortunately, the current administration and it’s legally and illegally appointed judges (see the recent Gonzalez Congressional Hearings) have been using the historic practice of Presidential Signing Statements to give even more power to the Presidents office. See Senate Bill 3731 (Specter) for the fact that government has noticed this fact, but which has evidently been missed by the general public, as well as Economics professors in Chicago. Between this, the effective “war powers” operation of the last 6 years, and the fact that the Executive Branch is responsible for the enforcement or non-enforcement of Legislature-generated laws, the Office of the President has never been more powerful. Possibly even moreso than FDR, who also stacked the courts.

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  376. Jeff V in Iowa says:

    Unfortunately, the current administration and it’s legally and illegally appointed judges (see the recent Gonzalez Congressional Hearings) have been using the historic practice of Presidential Signing Statements to give even more power to the Presidents office. See Senate Bill 3731 (Specter) for the fact that government has noticed this fact, but which has evidently been missed by the general public, as well as Economics professors in Chicago. Between this, the effective “war powers” operation of the last 6 years, and the fact that the Executive Branch is responsible for the enforcement or non-enforcement of Legislature-generated laws, the Office of the President has never been more powerful. Possibly even moreso than FDR, who also stacked the courts.

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  377. Steve C says:

    This is pure nonsense parading as iconoclasm. The entire article hinges on the definition of “matter.” Dubner reduces the definition to things that affect us personally. But to people of conviction — those who possess a core of values — many things may “matter” without personally affecting us. By his reasoning, the fact that I am white and that segregation would not have affected me personally would suggest that the civil rights movement would/ should not have mattered to me. But opposing segregation would have “mattered” to me simply because discrimination clashed with my sense of what a just society should be, what kind of world I want to live in and want my children raised in. Likewise, I may not be serving in Iraq, but the war matters to me because I care about the future of this country. The deficit matters to me because I want my children to have a secure financial future.

    The simple fact is, were Gore president rather than Bush, we would not be in Iraq and not running a deficit. And that matters.

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  378. Steve C says:

    This is pure nonsense parading as iconoclasm. The entire article hinges on the definition of “matter.” Dubner reduces the definition to things that affect us personally. But to people of conviction — those who possess a core of values — many things may “matter” without personally affecting us. By his reasoning, the fact that I am white and that segregation would not have affected me personally would suggest that the civil rights movement would/ should not have mattered to me. But opposing segregation would have “mattered” to me simply because discrimination clashed with my sense of what a just society should be, what kind of world I want to live in and want my children raised in. Likewise, I may not be serving in Iraq, but the war matters to me because I care about the future of this country. The deficit matters to me because I want my children to have a secure financial future.

    The simple fact is, were Gore president rather than Bush, we would not be in Iraq and not running a deficit. And that matters.

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  379. David says:

    I think the analogy to a baseball manager is incorrect. The better analogy would be to the general manager, who makes the staffing decisions (i.e. cabinet positions, supreme court, etc.) under the constraints of the budget given by the owner (i.e. “We the People”).

    In both the baseball and the politics example, the press plays a crucial role. The bigger question is the press asks baseball managers and general managers tougher questions about pitching changes than this president has been asked about his miserable decisions?

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  380. David says:

    I think the analogy to a baseball manager is incorrect. The better analogy would be to the general manager, who makes the staffing decisions (i.e. cabinet positions, supreme court, etc.) under the constraints of the budget given by the owner (i.e. “We the People”).

    In both the baseball and the politics example, the press plays a crucial role. The bigger question is the press asks baseball managers and general managers tougher questions about pitching changes than this president has been asked about his miserable decisions?

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  381. Jason Betke says:

    This kind of argument, that turns everything into a System devoid of responsibility, is deconstructionist nonsense.

    Yes, actions spur countless reactions, many of which are unforseen and usually quite unpredictable. Which is why we need thoughtful leaders, who will at least attempt to predict the “unknown unkowns.”

    Great leaders usually have a goal in mind, and exceptional leaders accomplish them. Bush has shown he is neither great nor exceptional.

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  382. Jason Betke says:

    This kind of argument, that turns everything into a System devoid of responsibility, is deconstructionist nonsense.

    Yes, actions spur countless reactions, many of which are unforseen and usually quite unpredictable. Which is why we need thoughtful leaders, who will at least attempt to predict the “unknown unkowns.”

    Great leaders usually have a goal in mind, and exceptional leaders accomplish them. Bush has shown he is neither great nor exceptional.

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  383. narcissa Smith-Harris says:

    Your view that leaders are over-rated and the people matter was very popular when I went to college 20 (or so) years ago, so I’ve had some time to mull over this issue. What I’ve seen is that leadership matters, especially in a democracy, I think.

    Yes, most insitutions will barrell along no matter who is leader but the ability to influence the people within in them changes how they behave. It is a subtle power but a pervasive one.

    One might equate it to the difference between a marriage where there is love and one where there is only freindship or respect. Love is not enough to make a marriage if other behaviors aren’t present and if a marriage has all the other positives but not love, it can still be healthy. But for true success you need both.

    Leaders pull a group together, affect their behaviors, choices,etc. I don’t find it depressing but natural. We are social creatures and groups need leaders to jell.

    FDR mattered. Lincoln mattered. Martin Luther KIng Jr. mattered.

    How might the Cuban Missle Crisis have ended had it been Stalin and George Bush, instead of Kruschev and Kennedy? Not well.

    Or if we had Robspierre not Washington? Or how would France have changed if they had Washington not Napoleon.

    These differences are vast, and overwhelming in how they affect our lives. I think Mr. Dunbar, that you make an economists classic mistake, because an effect can not be quanitfied that is neglible.

    But in the matter of leadership, the fact that it’s effects can not be quantified, is exactly the proof that they are overarching.

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  384. narcissa Smith-Harris says:

    Your view that leaders are over-rated and the people matter was very popular when I went to college 20 (or so) years ago, so I’ve had some time to mull over this issue. What I’ve seen is that leadership matters, especially in a democracy, I think.

    Yes, most insitutions will barrell along no matter who is leader but the ability to influence the people within in them changes how they behave. It is a subtle power but a pervasive one.

    One might equate it to the difference between a marriage where there is love and one where there is only freindship or respect. Love is not enough to make a marriage if other behaviors aren’t present and if a marriage has all the other positives but not love, it can still be healthy. But for true success you need both.

    Leaders pull a group together, affect their behaviors, choices,etc. I don’t find it depressing but natural. We are social creatures and groups need leaders to jell.

    FDR mattered. Lincoln mattered. Martin Luther KIng Jr. mattered.

    How might the Cuban Missle Crisis have ended had it been Stalin and George Bush, instead of Kruschev and Kennedy? Not well.

    Or if we had Robspierre not Washington? Or how would France have changed if they had Washington not Napoleon.

    These differences are vast, and overwhelming in how they affect our lives. I think Mr. Dunbar, that you make an economists classic mistake, because an effect can not be quanitfied that is neglible.

    But in the matter of leadership, the fact that it’s effects can not be quantified, is exactly the proof that they are overarching.

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  385. Stellaa says:

    Why the President matters? It’s very simple. He chooses the people who run the government. They hate government, but yet they want to run it. You cannot have people in government who hate it and are driven by greed. All you get is public policy that is corrupt to the core. People who are motivated by self interest. People who have no interest in public policy or social justice, rather private gain and privelage.

    It’s that simple, from Rumsfeld, Condi, Gonzalez, Bolton the whole gang. If you think they don’t matter then you need to wake up.

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  386. Stellaa says:

    Why the President matters? It’s very simple. He chooses the people who run the government. They hate government, but yet they want to run it. You cannot have people in government who hate it and are driven by greed. All you get is public policy that is corrupt to the core. People who are motivated by self interest. People who have no interest in public policy or social justice, rather private gain and privelage.

    It’s that simple, from Rumsfeld, Condi, Gonzalez, Bolton the whole gang. If you think they don’t matter then you need to wake up.

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  387. A. H. Jessup says:

    The heroic central figure of a group or of an era is not the one who actually makes the biggest impact in real terms; but the one who is elected to iconically represent the group, or is seen to best speak with the voice of the times.

    Bush, as such an icon, is constantly fed to the world as the icon of a collective meme called “the United States” and of course this is not the actuality of the geophysical or even the social nation, but a sort of placemarker. That’s what icons do.

    As a citizen of the United States, I don’t much care for having his homey, incurious, often dictatorial, elective ignorance and crassness fed to me as iconic of my nation. It makes me feel I have woken up suddenly demoted to membership in a monkey tribe, rather than a nation striving for new heights of civilization.

    Whether he simply represents the Dark Side or actually generates it makes little difference; his broadcast iconic nature is depressing, and adulterates the national ideals.

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  388. A. H. Jessup says:

    The heroic central figure of a group or of an era is not the one who actually makes the biggest impact in real terms; but the one who is elected to iconically represent the group, or is seen to best speak with the voice of the times.

    Bush, as such an icon, is constantly fed to the world as the icon of a collective meme called “the United States” and of course this is not the actuality of the geophysical or even the social nation, but a sort of placemarker. That’s what icons do.

    As a citizen of the United States, I don’t much care for having his homey, incurious, often dictatorial, elective ignorance and crassness fed to me as iconic of my nation. It makes me feel I have woken up suddenly demoted to membership in a monkey tribe, rather than a nation striving for new heights of civilization.

    Whether he simply represents the Dark Side or actually generates it makes little difference; his broadcast iconic nature is depressing, and adulterates the national ideals.

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  389. JIm H. says:

    Nothing angers me more, since the sordid arrival of BushCo, then for people to say it makes no difference who you elect. After witnessing the shambles made by this incompetent president how can anyone say it makes no difference. The man has done massive damage everywhere you turn. Nothing in his government is for the people. All is for his agenda and that of his friends. When every single decision is measured on the scale of politics, we are chopped liver. He and his crew have bled this country of hope, trust, a sense of fairness, and has sapped the life out of our children’s future. A president has global impact, to the point of destroying our planet. A CEO or sports manager — be serious.

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  390. JIm H. says:

    Nothing angers me more, since the sordid arrival of BushCo, then for people to say it makes no difference who you elect. After witnessing the shambles made by this incompetent president how can anyone say it makes no difference. The man has done massive damage everywhere you turn. Nothing in his government is for the people. All is for his agenda and that of his friends. When every single decision is measured on the scale of politics, we are chopped liver. He and his crew have bled this country of hope, trust, a sense of fairness, and has sapped the life out of our children’s future. A president has global impact, to the point of destroying our planet. A CEO or sports manager — be serious.

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  391. Joseph Glass says:

    The President, in spite of what he is able to do specifically, represents our country. When he stands before the USA citizens and the world and stumbles over his own rhetoric, preaches to the masses leaning on his own scientific or religious beliefs, he is ignoring the fact that he was elcted to represent The People, all the people. If, indead, he does represent the people, his personal ideologies should be irrelevent. When his decisions get people killed, it’s no longer irrelevent.

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  392. Joseph Glass says:

    The President, in spite of what he is able to do specifically, represents our country. When he stands before the USA citizens and the world and stumbles over his own rhetoric, preaches to the masses leaning on his own scientific or religious beliefs, he is ignoring the fact that he was elcted to represent The People, all the people. If, indead, he does represent the people, his personal ideologies should be irrelevent. When his decisions get people killed, it’s no longer irrelevent.

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  393. Bill says:

    Political scientists have studied the American presidency for years. Few if any of them have come to the conclusion that the president is completely impotent or inconsequential. Richard E. Neustadt, in “Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents” (which is quite boring but also quite brilliant), provides a compelling but incomplete notion of presidential power, as he argues that the power of the presidency is the power to persuade and bargain with powerful entities like Congress and the executive branch. Presidents have used their elevated positions, political strategy, and Beltway reputations to exert their will over many powerful players in DC and nationwide. The POTUS is uniquely positioned to spend political capital in order to get things done.

    I favor this idea, but also agree with Ms. Smith-Harris that individuals matter. Bush favors this view too. The unique personalities and agendas of presidents can set the tone for what comes out of DC, especially if the president bargains well with other leaders. The problem is that this view can be taken too far. I believe Bush takes this view too far. He seems to think that it is his own strong will, religious faith and “good intentions” that have led to his past position of influence. I think he just found himself as part of a system engineered by Tom Delay, Karl Rove, and the others who tried to build the “permanent Republican majority.” This system was perfectly designed for Bush to get just about anything he wanted…if he bargained well and didn’t waste political capital. He ended up failing on both counts.

    The highly polarizing initiatives that this administration has undertaken since 2001 might have seemed politically profitable, but they were poorly bargained wastes of political capital. They backfired on the Republicans in 2006. I think they will also lead to a Democratic 44th president. Hopefully, he or she will make better use of the presidency than our current president.

    Finally, I agree with Penny: Dubner might argue that the president doesn’t have a lot of power because he’s looking at it from an economic standpoint, and the president does not have a lot of power over the economy. However, the president can set the tone for things like taxes, social and corporate welfare, labor, regulation of industries, and all kinds of things that do impact the economy.

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  394. Bill says:

    Political scientists have studied the American presidency for years. Few if any of them have come to the conclusion that the president is completely impotent or inconsequential. Richard E. Neustadt, in “Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents” (which is quite boring but also quite brilliant), provides a compelling but incomplete notion of presidential power, as he argues that the power of the presidency is the power to persuade and bargain with powerful entities like Congress and the executive branch. Presidents have used their elevated positions, political strategy, and Beltway reputations to exert their will over many powerful players in DC and nationwide. The POTUS is uniquely positioned to spend political capital in order to get things done.

    I favor this idea, but also agree with Ms. Smith-Harris that individuals matter. Bush favors this view too. The unique personalities and agendas of presidents can set the tone for what comes out of DC, especially if the president bargains well with other leaders. The problem is that this view can be taken too far. I believe Bush takes this view too far. He seems to think that it is his own strong will, religious faith and “good intentions” that have led to his past position of influence. I think he just found himself as part of a system engineered by Tom Delay, Karl Rove, and the others who tried to build the “permanent Republican majority.” This system was perfectly designed for Bush to get just about anything he wanted…if he bargained well and didn’t waste political capital. He ended up failing on both counts.

    The highly polarizing initiatives that this administration has undertaken since 2001 might have seemed politically profitable, but they were poorly bargained wastes of political capital. They backfired on the Republicans in 2006. I think they will also lead to a Democratic 44th president. Hopefully, he or she will make better use of the presidency than our current president.

    Finally, I agree with Penny: Dubner might argue that the president doesn’t have a lot of power because he’s looking at it from an economic standpoint, and the president does not have a lot of power over the economy. However, the president can set the tone for things like taxes, social and corporate welfare, labor, regulation of industries, and all kinds of things that do impact the economy.

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  395. Jon Webb says:

    I was hoping this blog would be data-based, like the book “Freakonomics”. Speculation about whether people attribute too much power to the Presidency is a waste of time. How about comparing Presidential economic policies with results in some new and interesting way?

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  396. Jon Webb says:

    I was hoping this blog would be data-based, like the book “Freakonomics”. Speculation about whether people attribute too much power to the Presidency is a waste of time. How about comparing Presidential economic policies with results in some new and interesting way?

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  397. Alan Wolf says:

    What a disappointment. You’ve moved to the NY Times web site, so you feel compelled to echo their far left politics and adopt their snide tone. Please stick to economics…

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  398. Alan Wolf says:

    What a disappointment. You’ve moved to the NY Times web site, so you feel compelled to echo their far left politics and adopt their snide tone. Please stick to economics…

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  399. A. C. says:

    The fact that Rice ignored a memo affects me every time I go to the airport.

    Your way of thinking is very destructive. Should injustice affect our everyday lives? Of course. The fact that some people are dying in Iraq, while Halliburton’s profit is increasing, should be a problem for all of us not just the few affected. At least in a society of solidarity.

    Pastor Martin Niemöller:
    “First they came for the Jews
    and I did not speak out
    because I was not a Jew.
    Then they came for the Communists
    and I did not speak out
    because I was not a Communist.
    Then they came for the trade unionists
    and I did not speak out
    because I was not a trade unionist.
    Then they came for me
    and there was no one left
    to speak out for me.”

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  400. A. C. says:

    The fact that Rice ignored a memo affects me every time I go to the airport.

    Your way of thinking is very destructive. Should injustice affect our everyday lives? Of course. The fact that some people are dying in Iraq, while Halliburton’s profit is increasing, should be a problem for all of us not just the few affected. At least in a society of solidarity.

    Pastor Martin Niemöller:
    “First they came for the Jews
    and I did not speak out
    because I was not a Jew.
    Then they came for the Communists
    and I did not speak out
    because I was not a Communist.
    Then they came for the trade unionists
    and I did not speak out
    because I was not a trade unionist.
    Then they came for me
    and there was no one left
    to speak out for me.”

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  401. Robert Plamondon says:

    Calvin Coolidge was the last President who felt the the Presidency wasn’t all that important — at least, it wasn’t if you did it right. The concept was that the President can do a lot more harm than good, so the sweet spot lies in doing no more than what must be done, and to do that well.

    It would be interesting to come up with experiments to measure this. It’s hard with the presidency, since you get only one president at at time. Governors and mayors would probably work pretty well, since you can match up states and cities with tolerable accuracies, just as you can CEOs and their companies.

    The Hero Theory is obviously true only intermittently. Hitler, Churchill, and Stalin had a profoundly individual effect on WWII– but this was not so obvious with Kaiser Wilhelm, Asquith, or Czar Nicolas in WWI.

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  402. Robert Plamondon says:

    Calvin Coolidge was the last President who felt the the Presidency wasn’t all that important — at least, it wasn’t if you did it right. The concept was that the President can do a lot more harm than good, so the sweet spot lies in doing no more than what must be done, and to do that well.

    It would be interesting to come up with experiments to measure this. It’s hard with the presidency, since you get only one president at at time. Governors and mayors would probably work pretty well, since you can match up states and cities with tolerable accuracies, just as you can CEOs and their companies.

    The Hero Theory is obviously true only intermittently. Hitler, Churchill, and Stalin had a profoundly individual effect on WWII– but this was not so obvious with Kaiser Wilhelm, Asquith, or Czar Nicolas in WWI.

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  403. Thomas Carlyle says:

    How can it matter when every President for decades has come from the same dark brotherhood at Yale, Skull and Bones. They are under oath to each other a long time before they swear any oath to the American people. In front of the cameras they may be political adversaries, but behind the scenes they pull each others strings to engineer a New World Order. Clinton may have been popular but he paved the way for the Patriot act by promoting legislation that allowed using the Army for domestic law enforcement, monitoring our bank accounts and cell phone whereabouts, building databases of our medical records, and issuing Executive Orders that centralised powers away from States. Our freedom and independence are at stake. Within a decade, after some real or fabricated horror, the then President (doesn’t matter if he or she is Republican or Democrat) will be suggesting we all get micro-chipped in the name of national security. After that happens the world will never be able to go back.
    The question does the President matter? The answer is absolutely yes, or the power hungry vipers would not be interested in putting their guy in the job. When will we wake up to see the mess we have allowed to happen?
    BTW – Hillary might be a popular choice, but don’t think for a second she will be any different to Bill or his brothers George and George Junior.

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  404. Thomas Carlyle says:

    How can it matter when every President for decades has come from the same dark brotherhood at Yale, Skull and Bones. They are under oath to each other a long time before they swear any oath to the American people. In front of the cameras they may be political adversaries, but behind the scenes they pull each others strings to engineer a New World Order. Clinton may have been popular but he paved the way for the Patriot act by promoting legislation that allowed using the Army for domestic law enforcement, monitoring our bank accounts and cell phone whereabouts, building databases of our medical records, and issuing Executive Orders that centralised powers away from States. Our freedom and independence are at stake. Within a decade, after some real or fabricated horror, the then President (doesn’t matter if he or she is Republican or Democrat) will be suggesting we all get micro-chipped in the name of national security. After that happens the world will never be able to go back.
    The question does the President matter? The answer is absolutely yes, or the power hungry vipers would not be interested in putting their guy in the job. When will we wake up to see the mess we have allowed to happen?
    BTW – Hillary might be a popular choice, but don’t think for a second she will be any different to Bill or his brothers George and George Junior.

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  405. Comment Planet says:

    The president’s influence is primarily in the people s/he appoints, and the views and support given to them while in office. Judges, Justices, Commissioners (FCC, FEC, and so on), Federal Reserve board, U.S. attorneys, Generals, and so on. And those few hundred in the Old Executive Office building that are part of the Executive office of President. It is through all of them the president has influence. Who is chosen makes a difference. The support of Bush for Gonzales’s non-responsiveness in Congress is a small case in point, for an example of an administration’s influence, power, and the difference particular people make.

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  406. Comment Planet says:

    The president’s influence is primarily in the people s/he appoints, and the views and support given to them while in office. Judges, Justices, Commissioners (FCC, FEC, and so on), Federal Reserve board, U.S. attorneys, Generals, and so on. And those few hundred in the Old Executive Office building that are part of the Executive office of President. It is through all of them the president has influence. Who is chosen makes a difference. The support of Bush for Gonzales’s non-responsiveness in Congress is a small case in point, for an example of an administration’s influence, power, and the difference particular people make.

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  407. David says:

    To follow up on #3, #44 and #61, I want to reiterate my agreement with the Freakonomics post. The president is a RESULT of an election system. The person who becomes president and what he/she does is a RESULT. He/she has power, but this power is constrained.

    I ask whether in a world without George W. Bush, would not Ken Lay or his equivalent have become our president?

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  408. David says:

    To follow up on #3, #44 and #61, I want to reiterate my agreement with the Freakonomics post. The president is a RESULT of an election system. The person who becomes president and what he/she does is a RESULT. He/she has power, but this power is constrained.

    I ask whether in a world without George W. Bush, would not Ken Lay or his equivalent have become our president?

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  409. Nicholas Mulligan says:

    Steven:

    That question is a sneaky intellectual device to trip up plodding little minds. Those of us who don’t listen or read carefully, and don’t do nuance, well, we’re going to fall right into your trap aren’t we?

    Sure, the query “How much does the President really matter?” can be easily misunderstood as: “Does the President really matter?” Be careful who you ask, though. Some reactionary citizens may challenge your patriotism…

    “Oh, clever Steven, why do you really hate freedom?”

    Thanks for making us stop and think.

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  410. Nicholas Mulligan says:

    Steven:

    That question is a sneaky intellectual device to trip up plodding little minds. Those of us who don’t listen or read carefully, and don’t do nuance, well, we’re going to fall right into your trap aren’t we?

    Sure, the query “How much does the President really matter?” can be easily misunderstood as: “Does the President really matter?” Be careful who you ask, though. Some reactionary citizens may challenge your patriotism…

    “Oh, clever Steven, why do you really hate freedom?”

    Thanks for making us stop and think.

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  411. dea says:

    If you think the president doesn’t matter and outcomes remain pretty much the same then imagine Gore had won. Would we have the same sense of safeness (maybe), receive the same worldly respect (very doubtful), ignore climate change issues as scientifically unfounded (certainly not), and declare that addressing climate change will be economically disastrous? Would we as a nation be creating the same national karma if we actually had a humble instead of arrogant foreign policy? Puh..leeezze! I hold this truth to be self-evident that all presidents are not equal and differences are not the same, they’re differences. If you can consider God/Life as an all encompassing universal computer then every decision leads down a different logic path, personally, locally, nationally, globally and in certain instances such as the crucified and resurrected Jesus, cosmically. So the dot com bubble evolved from the birth seeds of the web. Who really wants to reap the fruit of this guy’s disastrous policies? And how about the theory that a way to cut social spending is to bankrupt the country. This guy gives credence to those who think that’s the real agenda. Do you think the right-wingers would have stood for Gore being the biggest spender since LBJ? Maybe only you, your ilk and Nader believe that there’s not a dimes worth of difference between this guy’s world and a hypothetical one in which Gore was president. Some of us think there would have been a world of difference. Why channel random chance when you can choose the Spirit.

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  412. dea says:

    If you think the president doesn’t matter and outcomes remain pretty much the same then imagine Gore had won. Would we have the same sense of safeness (maybe), receive the same worldly respect (very doubtful), ignore climate change issues as scientifically unfounded (certainly not), and declare that addressing climate change will be economically disastrous? Would we as a nation be creating the same national karma if we actually had a humble instead of arrogant foreign policy? Puh..leeezze! I hold this truth to be self-evident that all presidents are not equal and differences are not the same, they’re differences. If you can consider God/Life as an all encompassing universal computer then every decision leads down a different logic path, personally, locally, nationally, globally and in certain instances such as the crucified and resurrected Jesus, cosmically. So the dot com bubble evolved from the birth seeds of the web. Who really wants to reap the fruit of this guy’s disastrous policies? And how about the theory that a way to cut social spending is to bankrupt the country. This guy gives credence to those who think that’s the real agenda. Do you think the right-wingers would have stood for Gore being the biggest spender since LBJ? Maybe only you, your ilk and Nader believe that there’s not a dimes worth of difference between this guy’s world and a hypothetical one in which Gore was president. Some of us think there would have been a world of difference. Why channel random chance when you can choose the Spirit.

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  413. Bill says:

    #205: The posts are the same whether or not you ask either question. As others have said more eloquently, and as political scientists have shown, the president matters a great deal, EVEN if there are areas where he has less control or only influence.

    Not very clever, but very anti-Democratic and very laissez-faire.

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  414. Bill says:

    #205: The posts are the same whether or not you ask either question. As others have said more eloquently, and as political scientists have shown, the president matters a great deal, EVEN if there are areas where he has less control or only influence.

    Not very clever, but very anti-Democratic and very laissez-faire.

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  415. Darren D. says:

    Sorry, Stephen, but this is the same kind of myopic reasoning that helped Dubya get elected in the first place. There were a lot of progressives in 2000 who went around spreading the same ill-conceived notion: It doesn’t matter if the President is Gore or Bush because both parties are corrupt. Many of them voted for Nader.

    Yes, both parties are corrupt to an extent. But don’t you think the two most important decisions the White House made in the last eight years–going to war in Iraq (which Gore opposed from the beginning) and the response to the Gulf Coast region in the wake of Katrina–might have been handled differently if there was a different President.

    So if you’re saying that the President hasn’t had much effect on the country apart from the catastrophes in Iraq and in the Gulf Coast, which resulted in the death and displacement of countless thousands of people, you may be right. But exactly what kind of point is that?

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  416. Darren D. says:

    Sorry, Stephen, but this is the same kind of myopic reasoning that helped Dubya get elected in the first place. There were a lot of progressives in 2000 who went around spreading the same ill-conceived notion: It doesn’t matter if the President is Gore or Bush because both parties are corrupt. Many of them voted for Nader.

    Yes, both parties are corrupt to an extent. But don’t you think the two most important decisions the White House made in the last eight years–going to war in Iraq (which Gore opposed from the beginning) and the response to the Gulf Coast region in the wake of Katrina–might have been handled differently if there was a different President.

    So if you’re saying that the President hasn’t had much effect on the country apart from the catastrophes in Iraq and in the Gulf Coast, which resulted in the death and displacement of countless thousands of people, you may be right. But exactly what kind of point is that?

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  417. Anne says:

    While the President may not affect everything that happens in this country, they do drive the direction and policy a great deal. Under Bush, our lives really have gotten worse, except for the wealthiest. He has gutted our environmental protection laws by executive order (i.e., behind closed doors). He has done the bidding of the religious right and chipped away at a woman’s right to chose; and has given fetuses the same civil rights as their mothers (or even more than their mothers).

    Oh, and let’s not forget Texas. Remember how quickly it fell apart when Bush became Governer? Remember how, in 2000, Democratic leaders pointed out that the “Texas Miracle” was a lie? So, here we are in 2007, with a country that is hovering on the brink of that “miracle.” So, yeah, I think the President does matter. He didn’t do it all by himself for sure, but it helps that we have a nation of scared sheeple who question nothing. I can’t wait to see how “the no child left behind” policy will turn out.

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  418. Anne says:

    While the President may not affect everything that happens in this country, they do drive the direction and policy a great deal. Under Bush, our lives really have gotten worse, except for the wealthiest. He has gutted our environmental protection laws by executive order (i.e., behind closed doors). He has done the bidding of the religious right and chipped away at a woman’s right to chose; and has given fetuses the same civil rights as their mothers (or even more than their mothers).

    Oh, and let’s not forget Texas. Remember how quickly it fell apart when Bush became Governer? Remember how, in 2000, Democratic leaders pointed out that the “Texas Miracle” was a lie? So, here we are in 2007, with a country that is hovering on the brink of that “miracle.” So, yeah, I think the President does matter. He didn’t do it all by himself for sure, but it helps that we have a nation of scared sheeple who question nothing. I can’t wait to see how “the no child left behind” policy will turn out.

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  419. Bill says:

    The President, particularly a two-termer, does make a difference, I think, through his ability to change the culture of the employees of the executive branch. George Bush’s administration has systematically made a change in the professionalism and attitude of these employees. This weakens the federal bureaucracy, which is one of the unwritten but important checks on the power of the president. Now, this will be countered if a president of a different party and with different loyalties comes in.

    I think that and the ability to change the composition of the Supreme Court are the most important effects of the president.

    The foreign policy decisions do have an impact, particularly when you promulgate an expensive, unpopular, war in a culture of ideologically inspired contempt for knowledge and professionalism. Would Gore have gone into Iraq (presuming September 11th did happen)? Would he have gone after al Qaeda during the summer of 2001? These are policy decisions that might have made an impact, but I agree that whoever was president, we would have been dealing with the Islamic terrorist threat. Would not invading Iraq have meant that the credit market would still have crashed in 2007 (likely, but perhaps not)?

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  420. Bill says:

    The President, particularly a two-termer, does make a difference, I think, through his ability to change the culture of the employees of the executive branch. George Bush’s administration has systematically made a change in the professionalism and attitude of these employees. This weakens the federal bureaucracy, which is one of the unwritten but important checks on the power of the president. Now, this will be countered if a president of a different party and with different loyalties comes in.

    I think that and the ability to change the composition of the Supreme Court are the most important effects of the president.

    The foreign policy decisions do h