Garry Wills: Two Presidents Are Worse Than One





[arry Wills, a professor emeritus of history at Northwestern, is the author, most recently, of “Head and Heart: American Christianities.”]

SENATOR Hillary Clinton has based her campaign on experience — 35 years of it by her count. That must include her eight years in the White House.

Some may debate whether those years count as executive experience. But there can be no doubt that her husband had the presidential experience, fully. He has shown during his wife’s campaign that he is a person of initiative and energy. Does anyone expect him not to use his experience in an energetic way if he re-enters the White House as the first spouse?

Mrs. Clinton claims that her time in that role was an active one. He can hardly be expected to show less involvement when he returns to the scene of his time in power as the resident expert. He is not the kind to be a potted plant in the White House.

Which raises an important matter. Do we really want a plural presidency?

This is not a new question. It was intensely debated in the convention that formulated our Constitution. The Virginia Plan for the new document submitted by Edmund Randolph and the New Jersey Plan submitted by William Paterson left open the number of officers to hold the executive power.

Some (like Hugh Williamson of North Carolina) argued for a three-person executive, each member coming from a different region of the country. More people argued (like George Mason of Virginia) for a multiple-member executive council.

The objection to giving executive power to a single person came from the framers’ experience with the British monarchy and the royal governors of the colonies. They did not want another monarch.

But as the debate went forward a consensus formed that republican rule would check the single initiative of a president. In fact, accountability to the legislature demanded that responsibility be lodged where it could be called to account. A plural presidency would leave it uncertain whom to check. How, for instance, would Congress decide which part of the executive should be impeached in case of high crimes and misdemeanors? One member of the plural executive could hide behind the other members....

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