In light of the #Oprah2020 movement, I'm re-posting the following, which I wrote in March 2016. I've highlighted a few items, but the text is exactly the same (including the Oprah reference):
I am starting to wonder, rather seriously, whether we should make a small Constitutional change, to create a purely ceremonial office for someone to act as our head of state.
My distaste for the hereditary monarchy is strong and very long-standing...I am a very pure small-"R" republican. But there is at least a little to be said for having someone available at all times to smash the bottles of champagne against the bows of new ships, and to put a face and a voice to the nation's self-identity, who is not in any way responsible for the actual function of government.
A democracy such as ours could handle this pretty easily -- perhaps the job should come with a single-term limit and a term of only two or three years -- something, perhaps, to offset it slightly from the Presidential electoral cycle.
But the primary role of the job could be to provide an outlet for the popular sentiment of the day -- the zeitgeist. When times are good, perhaps we'd pick a happy figure -- an Oprah Winfrey or a Johnny Carson or a John Elway. And when people are angry, like many are now, we could handle putting a hothead in the spot to express the popular discontent.
Paddy Chayefsky, writer of the movie "Network", was responsible for putting the words into actor Peter Finch's mouth: "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!" Finch, playing network newscaster Howard Beale, held forth in a role that expressed the popular frustration of the times ("Network" was released in 1976) -- times not altogether unlike our own.
But the simple fact is that you don't want a Howard Beale in charge of the country. Today, we have two or three running for the Presidential nominations of the major parties.
There is a difference between effectively tapping into the zeitgeist and being the right person for one of the most complex and demanding jobs in the entire world. When Bill Gates was asked recently why he wasn't running for President, he answered, "I wouldn't be good at doing what you need to do to get elected". He didn't say, "I wouldn't be good at the job" -- he deflected on the basis of the process of getting there.
Looking back on the last four years at least, I strongly believe that we would have been a better country if we had elected Mitt Romney to be President in 2012. I don't dislike President Barack Obama as a human being, but I don't think he's been very good in the operational capacity of President. He is very effective on the campaign trail -- the "what you need to do to get elected" part. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, I think would have been spectacular in the operational role -- but he wasn't very good at campaigning. In a parallel universe somewhere, we put Obama in charge of the ceremonial stuff and put Romney in charge of the nuts and bolts.
Establishing a purely ceremonial head of state would permit us to have that outlet for popular feeling without putting someone who is entirely wrong for the job in charge of things like our nuclear arsenal. We have gone much too far at putting the Executive Branch first among what should be three equal branches of government. The President isn't supposed to be the legislator-in-chief, and that's what we've come to expect of the office. The President shouldn't be the victor in an emotional popularity contest, either, but that's what has emerged, too.
Sometimes we need a release -- someone with a loud megaphone to vent the feelings of the people, or at least many of them. But this very odd Presidential campaign is putting us at grave risk of sending someone to the Oval Office who is utterly unfit for the role. The job is far too important for that.
Sometimes the mood of the people is angry, sometimes it's impulsive, and sometimes it's just plain silly. Other times it is positive, hopeful, or optimistic. But either way, that shouldn't influence the machinery of government -- which is usually best run by calm, cool, level heads that aren't subject to whims or emotional outbursts.
Some years, you want Jimmy Fallon. Other years, you want Lewis Black. But our momentary feelings shouldn't linger over our politics for four years and come with the command authority over the 101st Airborne.
The levers of government needs to be operated by people who are thinking about the long term and the best interests of the people, not about expressing enough popular outrage that they can manage to get reelected for another four years.
That doesn't mean the Executive Branch should be unaccountable or detached from the will of the people. But we've escalated our expectations of our administrations to a fairly unattainable standard. That's partly a function of government bloat, partly a function of the constant exposure provided by the mass media, and partly a function of the other two branches backing down more often than they should. Remember: Article I creates Congress and contains ten sections. The Executive is created via Article II, which only contains four sections. A plain reading of the document should make clear that the legislature isn't intended to take a back seat to the executive.
We may be running ourselves into a lot of trouble if we don't find a way to release some of the pent-up emotions that are out there without doing real damage to the way government is actually done.