Speaking of Democracy discusses executive power

On Nov. 29, the American Democracy Project at CSUSM hosted an academic panel  called, “Speaking of Democracy” in the USU, which allowed students and community members to discuss the role of presidential power.


Assistant history professor Dr. Kimber Quinney hosted the event, along with Dr. Elizabeth Matthews, political science and global studies professor and director of the Civic Learning Initiative in the Division of Community Engagement.


According to Matthews, the purpose of this panel was to openly discuss the current condition of American democracy. Quinney said that the intention of the “Speaking of Democracy” panel was to help strengthen democracy.


The panel focused on the large amount of authority currently surrounding America’s executive branch, particularly the office of the president. Students and faculty debated on whether or not the President of the U.S. held too much power within the nation.


“A vast majority of Americans believe it would be too risky to give the president more power,” said Matthews.


In her historical discussion on the founding of American democracy, Quinney referred to the Founding Fathers and their debates on the responsibilities of the executive branch. “They had to secure power in a central form,” said Quinney.


She said that the Founding Fathers believed that the executive branch should have authority,  but were unsure of what kind of authority to give it. According to Quinney, one thing that the Fathers agreed on was that the president shall make sure the laws of the nation be “faithfully executed,” as mentioned in Article Two, Section Three of the U.S. Constitution.


Quinney said that as time went on, circumstances surrounding the president increased and expanded the executive position. For instance, she referenced the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt, and how events such as the Great Depression expanded the role of the president. “The office itself expanded significantly,” said Quinney. As the office expanded, the president began accepting more and more responsibilities, which made the job more difficult to execute.


When discussing the role of political parties in regards to the presidency, Quinney said that “expansion of the presidency does not fall under one party.”


Quinney said she believes that political parties are “more concerned about the next re-election.”


In addition, Matthews said that being “tied to your party more than serving the nation [is] problematic… Politicians don’t want to deal with anything controversial that might damage their image or their re-election campaign.”


Students and faculty debated on whether or not the nation could function with or without a national Congress, if there were enough checks and balances within the executive branch.


“We need more checks and balances,” said Quinney.


Matthews said that one of the biggest issues in the executive branch is that the president executes powers that are not “constitutionally granted” by Congress. “Maybe we need to restructure the office,” said Quinney.


Quinney and Matthews said they believe that the state of our nation’s government would be detrimental without a congress. Matthews said how having no congress means that all the nation’s power would be solely executed by the president, thus making the executive role appear more like a dictatorship.


Quinney also said that it becomes problematic when the majority of Congress is a part of the president’s political party. “Congress has been weakened by indecision and partisanship,” she said.


“The world demands quick decisions,” said Quinney. She said that because of this, Congress and the executive branch have become indecisive in their decision making.


According to Matthews, democracy is the most important element in U.S. government. “Democracy is a central feature,” said Matthews.


She said she believes that currently, the system of democracy is not “functioning perfectly,” mainly due to the massive amount of partisanship that exists in U.S politics today. “We should listen to each other, even when we disagree,” she said.


For more information, visit the American Democracy Project website at www.csusm.edu/civiclearning/adp.