The Limits of Presidential Power

  • Two fundamental--and related--theorems of modern politics:

    1. Every President inherits the economy from his predecessor, but he soon owns it.

    2. There's a limit to what any President can do about the economy.

    These are naturally related because if you inherit a good economy, you can take credit for it, but if you inherit a lousy one (which may have been what got you elected), you soon get blamed for it--and there's not always a lot you can do to fix it.

    People ask me all the time how I think the economy is doing. Since perception in this case fuels reality, your guess is as good as mine. But you can get a much better sense of what's reliable and what's built on sand from Rana Foroohar's smart cover story, in which she refutes the five biggest myths about the current economy--No. 1 being that somehow we'll get back to where we once were. The reality is, the economy is changing in such fundamental ways that we may have to live with high unemployment for, well, what will feel like forever.

    People always vote on the economy, but unemployment, rather than GDP growth, seems to be what elects and defeats Presidents. However limited their options, Presidents need to appear to be doing everything they can to create jobs, even if that's not a whole lot. I'm all for reducing the debt, but I don't quite understand how doing so will create jobs. And while it's important to have a strong foundation for your house, if your house is burning down you don't worry about the foundation. You put out the fire.

    Richard Stengel, MANAGING EDITOR