Random Ephemera

5 Things People Hate About the President (Which Are Bullshit)

If you spend even a modicum of time on the Internet, you will discover that the President is very, very much disliked by a very large group of people. I don't mean Barack Obama, by the way. I just mean the President.

Since America in general has the collective attention span and memory of a goldfish that has run out of Adderall, it's easy to look at the ridiculous collection of increasingly weak puns on Obama's name (Obamafail? Seriously?) and assume that this is particular to the current sitting executive. Those of us with access to Google can find you any number of equally lame charges directed at George W. Bush from his day.

The fact is that the President is a big target no matter what majestic butt cheeks warm the chair in the Oval Office. Much of what people dislike about the President is well-founded, but even more of it is just ignorant bullshit masquerading as righteous indignation. Things like...

5. The Cost of the President's Vacation One of the best stories that the news media love is to trumpet the cost of a presidential vacation. Here's Fox News frothing with rage over the Obamas' $16 million Hawaiian holiday with Oprah Winfrey in Maui, followed by trips to Africa. If you're not sporting an outrage-boner yet, consider that George W. Bush and his wife spent at least four times that on goodwill missions to Africa and $20 million flying to their Texas ranch.

That seems like an ungodly amount to spend on a vacation, but those numbers are highly misleading. Here's a breakdown on presidential travel standards that makes for some fun reading, but I'll sum it up for you. If the President is on official business, then, yes, the taxpayers pick up the tab. If he's on vacation, as much as any President is ever really on vacation, then the chief pays for everything except for travel. That last bit is the most important.

The President and First Lady always fly military aircraft for security purposes, and always within guidelines set by the Secret Service and the Air Force. Those guidelines are not determined by the President and he has no control over their costs. If the travel is for personal or unofficial reasons, the President must pay the equivalent of an airline ticket price as reimbursement for the ride. There's a complicated formula that divvies it up if travel is a combination of state business and personal pleasure, but in the end, the "million" part of the price of travel is nothing the President can do anything about.

Stories like those are meant to spark a nice, wet round of "You should be working on the economy instead of wasting millions of dollars on travel!" Funny thing about the President and the economy...

4. The Economy If you're like me, you've spent the Great Recession feeling like someone shot you in the unmentionables and cackling madmen have been trying to stop the bleeding with every dollar in your wallet. Or maybe you're a well-off person who suddenly can afford only one gold-dusted panda fur coat unlike that bastard Johansson in marketing, who has two. I'm not here to judge, unless you're part of the second group, in which case I hope someone replaces your underwear with fire ants. Back on topic: Why can't the President fix the economy?

Being mad at the President over the economy is kind of like being pissed off at a frozen iPhone and dealing with it by throwing rocks at Steve Jobs's grave. Most presidents can't do much about the economy at all. First of all, when it comes to the economy, the way we measure it means that it takes months or years to understand what is even going on at any given moment. Sure, we get a jobs report every month, but the next month it's going to be immediately updated or changed to reflect a more in-depth review of the data.

Take a look at unemployment under Bush and then Obama over here. Everything literally looks fine until one day you're suddenly dropping 100,000 jobs a month. Then, while everyone's running around like Chicken Little, things start getting better...then a little worse...then a lot better...then a little meh...and so on.

What exactly is a President supposed to do with the economy in a capitalist system? He can raise the minimum wage for federal employees, maybe install a new Federal Reserve chairman if the previous one feels like leaving (most Presidents inherit a Fed chair rather than appoint a new one), but aside from that, there is little he can do even indirectly.

The best thing the government can really accomplish in this regard is to measure it, hope to see a positive trend and try to figure out why that happened. On the other hand, if you're talking about the Russian economy, the President can apparently get a lot more done.

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3. Living High on the Hog A popular anger-based viewpoint on the Prez is that he is an elected king living like a Caesar in an ivory palace, feasting upon rare delicacies while we common folk put in overtime to afford a Son of Baconator. How can such a decadent figure ever identify with the common man that he's robbing in order to swim in America's money bin?

Look, I'm not here to tell you that the President doesn't get sweet perks. He totally does. For instance, there's his personal chef that you might have heard about...and every month that chef submits a bill that comes right out of the President's salary. Nancy Reagan was famously shocked when the bill first came, though she grew to enjoy it. Unless the occasion is a state dinner, the President gets virtually nothing for free. In essence, staying in the White House is like staying in the world's nicest hotel...with the bill to match.

The salary that a President receives is $400,000 a year, which is ten times the average household income in America, true. On the other hand, it's also below minimum wage for a Major League Baseball player. Oh, hey, do you know how many times in our history that office has received a raise? Five. Total. Whether you dislike Barack Obama or George Bush or any other President, it is always sobering to know that they are paid less to run the country than Lucas Harrell was paid to pitch for the Astros last season, and even if Barack Obama personally slays the Lord of Vampires tomorrow, he will draw the same salary.

So the President lives better than 99 percent of us, but at least he isn't the chief executive of an electronics company dropping $15,000 in corporate funds on an umbrella stand while his company tries to get out of billions of tax dollars that the IRS says it owes. You can claim that what a private company does with its money isn't our business all you want, but that's a few billion in money owed to us the people that is literally being spent on the stupidest, most conspicuous item ever created.

2. Executive Orders It sounds scary, I know. You might remember this chain email from your dad claiming that Obama has signed more than a thousand executive orders, most of them aiming to confiscate your guns, install the United Nations as overlords and force good Christian girls to have abortions so as to free up jobs for illegal immigrant Muslims. How dare the President use something that sounds vaguely like a command to massacre the Jedi? It's unconstitutional!

No, it isn't.

You may disagree with the intention of an executive order, but their usage goes all the way back to George Washington. True, modern usage utterly eclipses the first century of this country's history, but then again so does the scope of the federal government. There's a lot more to manage now and way more laws and that is actually what the President does. He is the head of the executive branch, and he issues orders to execute his office. That's the President's job, and he actually faces impeachment if he fails to do that.

When a President issues an executive order, he cites the law that he is attempting to execute. If he's not working within the framework of that law, he might indeed find the order judged unconstitutional, as Harry Truman found out when he placed steel mills in the country under federal control. Are you getting that? The people up at the top actually do know what is and is not within the power of their office, and when they move outside it, they usually get called on it.

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1. Working with Congress Of course, the reason that people blow gaskets is because an executive order sounds like it's circumventing Congress (Since they're based on existing laws, it's actually the opposite of that, but whatever). Why can't we get a President of either party who can work with Democrats and Republicans? We need a leader who can unite us, dammit, not divide us!

Good luck with that. Here's the problem. Once upon a time, the word "conservative" didn't mean Republican, nor did the word "liberal" mean Democrat. They were two separate concepts. One was the sort of person you were, and the other was the team you played on. Parties actually had to cater to both sides of the political spectrum to get things done.

That's why Ronald Reagan, who dealt with Democratic majorities in the House of Representatives his entire presidency, got so much accomplished. The so-called Reagan Democrats were staunch fiscal conservatives who had defected from voting for Democrats because they felt that they no longer represented their interests. They didn't become Republicans; they just voted for them.

Now, unfortunately, there's little room for a President to enable the sort of nuance Reagan or even Bill Clinton was capable of. Reagan, despite all his antigovernment rhetoric, kept taxes higher than they are now under the alleged Commie Pinko in Chief. Or look at Clinton, who people think of as this raging liberal. Clinton vowed to gut Franklin Roosevelt's welfare state and happily signed the Defense of Marriage Act, something you can't imagine a Democratic President doing now.

Agree or disagree with the accomplishments of Reagan and Clinton, you can't deny that they managed to act outside the box we imagine Presidents of their respective parties being in today. There's a reason that the current Congress is the least productive in the legislative body's history. It has little to do with the President and everything to do with the fact that we keep electing representatives who have less ideological flexibility than Rorschach and like to hear themselves rant twice as much.

Is it really fair to denounce a President for not being able to keep these people in line? I know politics is like herding cats, but it's not supposed to be radioactive saber-tooth tigers with nutzoid corporate sponsors.

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Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner