Monday, December 1, 2008

My Darling, My Tautology

I have, in previous posts, made much of the argument that the presidency is bound by "institutional constraints" and that while it does matter who occupies the office, it matters less than one might think, given the imperatives of the office and the pathways carved out by previous presidents. (See here and here.)

The problem: isn't my insistence on the salience of these constraints tautological? If Mr. Obama does something similar to what Bush has done, I can call it a legacy of institutional constraints whereas if Mr. Obama differs, I can say he has "worked within" those constraints (unless, of course, he unilaterally--and successfully--abolishes the presidency and the constitution (and constitutional arrangements that have evolved since 1789) altogether....a move that is unlikely).

To my eyes and ears, this all sounds tautological because all conceivable evidence proves my argument about institutional constraints and therefore no evidence really disproves it. In that sense, it's like the theory of evolution (no matter the petitions signed by "progressive" religionists that say evolution is an "established, scientific fact.") But like evolution (to borrow from an article I read by an undergrad, even though I forget the author and title of that article), my argument about institutional constraints is a useful tautology. It demystifies the dangerous hero worship of Mr. Obama, who, I'm convinced, is an actual human being with the strengths and frailties of a human being. It also helps put in perspective and calms down the self-righteous and not entirely consistent denunciations of Mr. Bush as the "Rove-incarnate."

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