A President for All Americans

Pundits often ask about how a President will be a “President for all Americans.” They mean something like: “Given that you have strong views on things, how will you be President for everyone when people have strong views that disagree with yours?” And a politician’s typical response to this might be something about how all Americans want more opportunity, better jobs, a strong military, etc., and just disagree some on means.

Both the question and the typical response to it are bad.

People have different ideas about what policies the government should enact. Democracy is about providing a peaceful means for people to get their competing ideas enacted. Since people disagree, one political side winning and the other side losing means that some people won’t have their preferences enacted (at least not right away). This is because the differing sides have different worldviews and different explanations of the right policy regarding some particular issue, and so their policy solutions clash in ways that cannot be resolved.

What’s a “President for all Americans” look like on immigration, given that some Americans want open borders and some want a wall?

What’s a “President for all Americans” look like on economic issues, given that some Americans want socialism and some are Objectivists?

What’s a “President for all Americans’ look like on self-defense rights, given that some people think you should be able to carry guns openly in public places, and others want to ban guns?

You get the idea.

Americans don’t all want the same things while disagreeing about means. Some might claim we all want to find ways to increase government revenue while lowering taxes. Who could be opposed? But Obama was famously unmoved by “raising taxes will lower revenue” arguments regarding raising the capital gains tax because of his moral views on what’s fair.

A “President for all Americans” doesn’t make much sense as a concept, nor is it laudable as a goal. Trying to be a President to all Americans would mean trying to reconcile that which can’t be reconciled. A President should try to strongly enact the ideas that he told voters he believes in (which is, presumably, what they voted him into office to do). And if some voters decide his ideas are wrong, there’s always the next election.

 

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