President Bush is his own president

| | Comments (2)

In a discussion on the Trinity, Trent Dougherty at Prosblogion rasies the question of whether President Bush is his own president. There's a sense in which Bush is the president of those who voted for him, i.e. they (at least at one point) identified with him as the person they wanted to be president. There's a broader sense in which he's the president of every U.S. citizen, i.e. he's the president who governs over them. That's the sense Trent has in mind. In that sense he is Ralph Nader's president as much as he is James Dobson's.

But is he his own president? Trent thinks yes, and I agree. Mike and Dale in the comments say no, and they offer two reasons. First, he can't pardon himself, which means he doesn't have that particular authority over himself. Second, he's not under his own authority, because as the top executive he's not under anyone's authority. I've adapted what follows from my comment on that post.

I think it's helpful to compare the president's authority with authority in other branches of government. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi obviously has limited authority, She needs on her side either (1) the president, at least 50% of the House, and at least 51 senators (and in the event of a filibuster at least 60 senators) or (2) at least 67 senators and 2/3 of the House. It's fairly easy to see how her authority is fairly limited. But is she her own speaker? She speaks for the House. She leads a body of which she is a member. In the UK system of government, there's a similar position held by someone who isn't a member of the body in question, but she actually is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. She votes for the speaker along with the other members, and if she sets up rules she then has to abide by them or go through the normal process of changing them. So I'd say that we should consider her to be her own speaker.

The Supreme Court doesn't have to treat its precedents as binding in the same way that lower courts have to (but all of the justices except Thomas treat precedent as having some relevance for any case before them, differing only in terms of the degree of importance they place on precedent). Still, if Justice Breyer as a private citizen breaks a law that the Supreme Court declared binding he has broken the law. He is in this sense a member of the final judicial panel that is over him. In many cases directly bearing on him, he might recuse himself from the decision-making process, but lots of cases will come up that could have a future effect on him as a private citizen (including a famous decision not too long ago that would have changed the outcome of a presidential election had things gone his way). In that sense he is one of the Supreme Court justices whose authority does count in some ways as being over him as a private citizen.

The only difference with the executive branch is that the president is one person. If he issues an executive order about a certain practice, he does have the authority to remove the order or replace it with a contrary one. However, while the order is in place it is binding on him. He is thus under the president's authority, although he is also the president who can change dictates issued by that authority.

It's even more clear that he's under his own authority with things he can't later change as easily, e.g. laws Congress passes that he signs. He can't later unsign them or veto them. He'd have to introduce further legislation and get Congress to approve it before it could take effect. He also has to submit to decisions that judges or Supreme Court justices he's appointed may have been the deciding vote(s) on, and the only thing he can do about that is wait for further opportunities to appoint further judges and hope that a higher court or later ruling will overturn it.

As for pardoning, there are lots of powers someone might have that are limited. The fact that he can't pardon himself isn't evidence that he's not his own president. He also can't appoint himself vice-president if the vice-president dies or resigns, but I don't see how being exempt or prohibited from being the recipient of a certain power of the president means he's not his own president. It just means he doesn't have a president who can do that one thing for him (e.g. pardoning him, appointing him vice-president, etc.). I don't have a president who could appoint me vice-president (I'm not old enough), and neither does my wife (she's a naturalized citizen), but it doesn't mean Bush isn't my president or hers. The same goes for residents of Texas who can't be appointed vice-president because that would mean the president and vice-president would be from the same state. It means there's a certain presidential power that we can't be beneficiaries of, not that he's not our president. Why, then, does the fact that he can't be the beneficiary of the pardon count as anything more than the limiting of a power? It doesn't mean he has no authority over himself.

Bush presumably did vote for himself for president, and therefore he presumably got the president he voted for. Thus he has the president representing him whom he wanted representing him. I think that's a good enough reason to consider him his own president.


Perhaps you might like to claim that he is the president of every American who is not their own president. Then think about the logic of that one! ;-) But seriously, the line of reasoning you are taking can get you into that kind of paradox.

I think it does follow that he's the president of every American who is not their own president. That just says he's president of all the non-presidents and then is silent on whether he's his own president. He may or may not be, as far as the sentence says. My conclusion is stronger, that he's also the president of the one American who is his own president.

There's no paradox in that, though. This doesn't generate any Russell paradoxes that I can see, if that's what you're thinking. A Russell paradox deals with the set of all sets that don't contain themselves, and it turns out that there can't be such a set, because it both does contain and doesn't contain itself. I see nothing like that here.

There are lots of relationships that are like this, by the way, where one can stand in the same relationship with oneself that one also stands in with others. Many of these are symmetrical relationships, e.g. "is the same height as". Of course I'm the same height as myself. Some are not, such as "likes". Some people might not like themselves, even if I like myself. I also might like people who don't like me back (or vice versa). There's no logical problem with any of this, and likewise there's no logical problem with someone being one's own president just because one is usually someone else's president.

Leave a comment


    The Parablemen are: , , and .



Books I'm Reading

Fiction I've Finished Recently

Non-Fiction I've Finished Recently

Books I've Been Referring To

I've Been Listening To

Games I've Been Playing

Other Stuff


    thinking blogger
    thinking blogger

    Dr. Seuss Pro

    Search or read the Bible

    Example: John 1 or love one another (ESV)

  • Link Policy
Powered by Movable Type 5.04