In one short week, millions of citizens will take the time to place their votes into the ballot box to decide the “Leader of the Free World” for the next four years. The last months have seen the country witness hard-fought debates, political ads and fiery rhetoric aimed at propping one candidate up and tearing the other down, all with the hopes that registered voters will check the box next to their names. These politicians have worked countless hours selling themselves to the American people, making speeches in contested states about how they could shape the country if they were given those four years in the Oval Office.
This nation, though, is not a dictatorship.
There are more complex pieces of machinery at work that are meant at once to limit the power of the Executive Office and provide a function for the creation and definition of laws. These shape our nation more than any individual holder of the presidency, and it is the holders of the legislative and judiciary branches that will check the power of the executive, whoever it may be. In this context, the two candidates offer different possibilities should they be given the chance to act as president.
The reach of Obama’s presidency has been tested over the last four years, and the situation isn’t expected to change come Election Day. The House is still slated to be within Republican control, and the Senate, if it sees any real changes, will be pushing between Democrats and Republicans for whoever can convince one or two seats to vote on their side.
The complications of Obama’s first term would echo into his second, having to deal with a Republican Party unwilling to compromise on any but their own strict terms. The Republican appointees in the Supreme Court would still have enough of the majority to challenge laws that Obama has passed, but not necessarily enough to strike them down, as was seen with the Affordable Care Act.
Taking into account the increased leverage a second-term president has, it’s reasonable to assume that Obama would be more ambitious, and perhaps more forceful, while definitely more experienced with getting his and his party’s ideas through the system.
On the other side, using Romney’s experience as governor for a measure, his presidency would look a bit different. Having control of Congress, with possible challenges from the Senate, the Republicans wouldn’t have to compromise on any legislation unless the Democrats abuse the filibuster the way their opposition has in their last terms. Historically, Democrats have been far less organized, and generally do not function well when they attempt to be obstructive. This would give Romney immense leeway on policy direction and approval of law.
The Supreme Court’s Republican leaning jutices would challenge his laws less, but this isn’t necessarily a good thing. As governor, Romney came up with quite a few very good ideas, but at times his reach turned them from innovative to questionable or even obstructive. Without the heavily Democratic state legislature to check his more destructive policies, he would have left office with a much worse reputation than that of a man with changing opinions.
Adding further importance to the issue of the Presidency is the judiciary, currently the oldest court since the New Deal era. It is all too possible that whoever becomes president could decide who would sit on the Supreme Court.
As it stands, the court is only one seat away from making such drastic decisions as overturning Roe v. Wade and already has the seats capable of making such terrible decisions as Citizens United. Should something happen to the health of the justices, four of whom are over 70, the party allegiance of the next seat would either be a slight re-balance of power, or it could set up the overturn of decades of legal precedent.
Those seem to be the options in this campaign, taking into account a bit of context. Relative status-quo with possible reform or tea party fervor-led reactionary politics. As it’s balanced out, a vote for Obama seems to be a vote for the last four years; a vote for Romney seems to be a vote for the entire Republican Agenda.