Is Bush a figurehead? And does it matter?

I know the answer to that question may seem obvious to some lefties, but now I think even conservatives are catching on.

I notice that the cover story of the US News and World Report last week was entitled: Cheney: The Man Behind the Curtain. The reference is clear enough, and then the text of the article, citing White House sources, describes how Bush defers to Cheney in matters of policy. Indeed, Bush was made to seem like an awkwardly silent teenager in Cheney’s presence.

(US News is a conservative-leaning news weekly.)

Then on Meet the Press yesterday, Republican Senator Dick Lugar showed up (along with Democrat Joe Biden), and urged Bush to take charge of his White House, citing the mixed signals being sent by his VP and his cabinet officers (notably Rice and Powell) as to official policy in Iraq. (With Powell sending an internationalist message, and Cheney sending a “screw-Europe” message.)

What gives?

Is Bush simply a figurehead, unable to take charge of his cabinet? Is Cheney the de facto President?

If so, does this situation give lie to the idea that it’s OK to have a figurehead President, as long as he has a strong cabinet? What happens when different members of the cabinet have different ideas? Is a figurehead President going to be strong enough to call the shots?

On the other hand, if you contend that Bush is not a mere figurehead, is there any evidence (including anecdotal evidence) that would support your view? An instance where Bush challenged Cheney, or even broke a tie in a cabinet meeting?

I do not wish this to turn into another “Is Bush stupid?” thread. For the record, he is clearly not stupid. He scored over 1200 on his SATs if I recall correctly, and stupid people don’t do that. He is above average - maybe not by a whole lot, but still reasonably bright.

(Bush does strike me as an intellectually incurious fellow though- perhaps one who never had any interest in world affairs before taking office? And perhaps that is the reason he is deferential?)

Thoughts on the matter, anyone?

Well even if Bush is not a total figurehead… he certainly is surrounded by strong people who seem intent on getting things their own way. His relative weakness allows for this rampaging power struggle that an otherwise strong president wouldnt allow.

Rummy thou was the most loud until now. He has been pretty quiet lately. Power struggle lost ? Powell has always been sidetracked by the neo-cons for example and allowed no leeway. 

 Iraq becoming a mess they might want to avoid being associated with the governing of Iraq.

Personally, I never understood why anyone would support this idea in the first place. The notion that a figurehead leader is acceptable sounds like a pathetic attempt by those pulling the strings that having a dimbulb in front is not a problem – which contradicts the very fundamental idea of what constitutes leadership.

He’s no more of a figurehead than he wants to be. He’s the one who has the power to say, ‘You…you’re fired.’

He always struck me as less a figurehead and more of a CEO. You delegate tasks, you allow your subordinates to scream at each other and present their viewpoints, then you set policy with whatever amount of consensus you feel is necessary.

When I think “figurehead”, I think of someone who has no power. Bush certainly has power, as Jonathan Chance points out.

Bush has very good advisors and he uses them effectively. The comments in this thread so far about Bush the “awkwardly silent teenager”, his “His relative weakness” is just thinly veiled Bush bashing.

Here’s a pertinent article. It’s about Condi Rice, but focuses on some of the infighting in the Bush cabinet. Reading this article, I wouldn’t say Bush is a figurehead, but he doesn’t seem to be managing his staff very well.


I can’t speak for others, but if I were to describe Fearless Leader as an awkward teenager, it wouldn’t be from a desire to “bash” him, but because the guy actually strikes me as acting like an awkward teenager. (And he does.)

The proposition of Bush-as-figurehead is easy to buy. After all, his only known “success” in the business world was his stint at front guy for the Texas Rangers.

Figureheads probably work best when run by one person, instead of several; so having a strong cabinet behind a figurehead president doesn’t work well. (Think of Lincoln, who was rather more than a figurehead, and all the problems he had trying to keep his iron-willed cabinet in line.)

Stray thought: wouldn’t the ideal figurehead be *unaware * of being a figurehead?

QUOTE]*Originally posted by Debaser *
**The comments in this thread so far about Bush the “awkwardly silent teenager”, his “His relative weakness” is just thinly veiled Bush bashing. **

“Bush bashing?” Well. It’s Bush criticism, to be sure. (I don’t claim to be a neutral moderator of this debate.)

When I think of “bashing,” I think of unwarranted criticism. I’m not interested in that, which is why I asked that this not turn into another “Is Bush stupid?” thread.

To illustrate the point in the OP, here’s a quote from the US News article:

Bush sounds pretty deferential to me. Calling him a “CEO” flatters him, I think.

squeegee, that article on Rice actually seems to reinforce what I’m saying. The business about Bush “valuing vigorous debate” sounds to me like a White House spin on Bush’s inability to take charge and guide policy.

figurehead - a head or chief in name only.

The POTUS is the Commander-in-Chief of ALL of the U.S. military. That title alone would imply years, in terms of decades, of military service across all branches of the military to solely direct and command it. The actual job of directing the military would be the job of several people with cummalative decades of military experience. Therefore, the POTUS must be the “head” of the military - implying the control center - in name only. Similarly, at any given moment there are a multitude of foreign and domestic issues that need to be addressed simultaneously that could not be handled by any one individual. On many of these issues the POTUS would not even be the most qualified individual to make a final descision on the matter. Therefore, the POTUS must be the “head” of his administration - again, implying the control center - in name only.

Does it matter?

No. The People only ELECT a president and Vice-President. The People DO NOT elect the cabinet. Attaining the office of the POTUS cannot be attained with out the financial and political support of many people who fully expect to be rewarded for their efforts and generosity. This supporting cast is where the ideological direction of the presidential administration is defined. The cabinet is representative of this group in the specific areas of their assignment (i.e. Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State, etc.) This is not to say that the office of the president does not have power, but that power cannot and will not be displayed or projected without careful deliberation on the desired result (i.e. political impact, financial impact, military impact, etc) by members of the cabinet and other requisite presidential advisors. Therefore, the images that we see, the actions we read, and the words that we hear of and from the POTUS is only representative of the ideological means and ends of the cabinet and the administration as a collective.

What are you saying ? That figure heads are institutionalized in the US presidency ?

Of course no president can deal with everything… we aren’t discussing his ability to multi task or if a cabinet is necessary or not. The fact is that Bush seems to be getting towed along while his supposed subordinates order stuff and the president himself around.

Yes, and yes.

Maybe he’s not a figurehead exactly. Maybe it’s just that there are too many cooks in the kitchen. And (apparently) no head chef.

(Or if you prefer, Bush is a CEO, but a weak one not properly trained for the job. A CEO who doesn’t have the gravitas to control his staff.)

Hmm…How plausible is that? That would mean that the office of POTUS shapes and directs the person that occupies the position, not the other way around. Impromptu public appearances and speaking would have to be avoided. Dialogue with other public figures would have to be scripted, sequestered, and edited. Most direct interaction with the public would have to be conducted through an intermediary or spokesperson. These measures would have to be structured and formalized into the system of access to the President in order to insure that the office of POTUS was being accurately represented by the person holding the office. Is such a system possible in our democracy?