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Why Presidential Manipulation Is Not The Same As Presidential Leadership

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Recently Crane Durham of American Family Radio asked me to answer the President’s charge that by refusing to raise the debt ceiling Congress is failing to do its job. The following transcript addresses this charge and the ridiculous assertion that the systemic and pervasive failures which have accompanied the recent shaky launch of the Obamacare exchanges are analogous to software glitches on iPhone operating systems. Furthermore, we discuss whether the President’s use of his rhetorical skills to attempt to exacerbate, rather than calm, markets is a good example of leadership. You can listen to the whole audio interview here.


Crane: “President Obama explaining the glitches in Obamacare with the exchanges, says, ‘Hey, you don’t have a problem with Apple [launch problems].’ Is the President missing something there?”

Jerry: “The biggest thing he’s missing is that buying an iPhone is a voluntary transaction under the American system of economics. However, health care is no longer a voluntary transaction; it’s now a government-mandated transaction. The other difference, of course, is that a tiny glitch in an operating system is a completely different matter than something that’s as absolutely sensitive as health care. Of course, the president and his party have told us how absolutely important and sacred health care is, so then to sort of demean it by comparing it to having trouble downloading your latest iTunes song kind of works against the very idea of the importance of health care. In my opinion, the real thing that the President is missing — or maybe the real thing that the whole discussion is missing — is whether Congress really is doing its job or not, and in order to figure out whether the House of Representatives is doing its job you have to understand what its job is: why was it created? Why did the United States create a lower house to a legislature? They did it because they believed that there was a tendency for the presidency perhaps to turn into royalty, like what we had left behind in England. They wanted to create an institution that was a guardian of the public purse against the demands of borrowing and spending from royal oligarchs, and even tyrants. That’s why Parliament was formed in the first place: kings always wanted money; they were always taxing — that’s what the Magna Carta was about. Finally the people of England said, “I’ll tell you what, here’s what we’re going to do: we’re going to elect a house that represents us, the taxpayers. And Your Majesty, you have to go to them and ask their permission.” The king hated it and kings have hated it ever since, and what we have [had] in America for really the past hundred years, but a lot more recently, is presidents [who] have tended to become more and more like kings. So, more and more they hate the legislative branch because they don’t want to come cap-in-hand and say, “Please may I have some money?” They just want it to be automatic; they want the money to keep flowing; they want a line of credit that’s infinitely expandable. Now we have a president who complains not only if Congress delays a little to think about it – you know, they’re castigated, they’re insulted, they’re called ‘terrorists’ when they’re simply doing what the constitution gave them the job to do, which is protect the public purse from an overweening executive branch who’s becoming more royalist than democratic in his approach to his own power.”


Crane: “In the fact that the lower branch in Congress — the more direct branch is [more close] to the people and holds the power of the purse as you detailed — then it becomes an issue of these folks [being] impacted every two years. And so then it becomes a debate, a discussion if you will — ostensibly it would be between the two parties, Republican and Democrat, between the lower house and the upper house, the house and senate, respectively. But it seems and it has been from that discussion, remember, in Health Care Summit with the President and members of Congress?”

Jerry: “Yes.”

Crane: “It seems to be 2-on-1 and the person who is the greatest agitator to the debate — the man who is throwing kerosene on the flame — what he’s doing is he’s trying to advance his position by belittling the opposition. And so I’m going to ask you this: here is the President, speaking to the issue of the markets, sloughing off the government-shutdown-slim-down. But he takes it up a notch here in an interview with CNBC, and here is his response with the markets. “Should they worry?” In essence, “Is this like every other time?” And the president said this… [clip rolls in which Obama tells Wall Street that it should be more concerned about default risk] Jerry Bowyer, is the President being a leader by what he’s doing?”


Jerry: “Let me just make a couple of comments about what he said. Let’s get past the idea that this is a disagreement between two coequal branches of government. When it comes to the matter of public spending, it is the legislative branch that has the power – particularly the house. So, if the legislative branch disagrees with the executive branch about a matter of spending that’s not a, “Hey, let’s split the difference.” That is the legislative branch’s purview entirely. The executive is merely a supplicant in our system when it comes to spending. So, this isn’t some, “Hey, let’s split the difference.” [situation] It’s amazing to me that he doesn’t want to meet them in the middle; they’re the ones who are more constitutionally well-based in not wanting to meet him in the middle. But aside from that, there’s also this stoking of fear that’s involved when he’s not getting what he wants. Presidents tend to do this; this is right out of the Edward Bernays playbook — the man who invented spin, the man who invented public relations, was the nephew of Sigmund Freud. He says when you want to get the public to do something, you don’t reason with them, you don’t use logic, you don’t use upper-brain functions; you go to lust or fear. That’s how you manipulate the public, and in this case, it’s fear. When the president wants more power than he’s constitutionally entitled to and when the legislative branch is doing its job as the guardian of the public purse, what you try to do is break their spirit by insulting them. This is from the crowd that was constantly lecturing us about civility in public affairs around the Gabby Giffords shootings, and now they’ve got no problem whatsoever about throwing around words like ‘terrorist’ about the Congress. So [they] belittle congressional republicans who, let’s face it, have shown themselves vulnerable to caving in to this sort of thing in the past, and what you use with the general public is you invoke terror. What he’s trying to do is get markets sort of on his side. He spoke to the business round table [recently], he’s kind of kicking big business in the rear end saying, “Hey, you know, you’ve got ins with the Republicans, you better start saying something or really bad things are going to happen.” If anything bad happens here it’s because the President has not prepared for what the Congress told him to prepare for, which is a limit on debt and on public spending. The President should stop spending all this time trying to figure out how to terrify people about a default, and start working on a plan for actually avoiding a default. Because there are plenty of assets that are available to the executive branch to avoid a default: they own enormous amounts of prime real estate in the downtown of almost every major city in America. The Federal Reserve has $3 trillion on its balance sheet and that’s owned by the federal government. They’ve got $330 billion of gold. There’s mineral rights that can be sold. There’s absolutely nothing that means we’d have to default. There’s plenty the federal government can sell to pay its bills which is what anybody, like you or I at the normal human level, has to do when our debts get out of control. We have to cut back and maybe even sell some assets.”


Crane: “What does a leader do and specifically… what does scripture direct a leader to do in this type of situation, in the President’s position? What would he lean on in the sense of scripture of how to proceed?”

Jerry: “Well, that’s a great question. I guess what comes to mind is in 1 Peter, and also in the more well-known Romans chapter 13, we’re told that rulers are there to promote public peace; not to foment division so they can gain power. The function of the civil ruler is to be a ruler under God for the promotion of public peace, but we’ve got rulers who are troublers of public peace rather than keepers of public peace. Because deep inside — it’s like [what] Jesus says about bad teachers who are wolves in sheep’s clothing — deep inside they have a ravening hunger for something, in this case power, and the only way they can get power is to foment fear rather than peace, which is their job. They have a job under God. They ought to do it and they ought to be calming markets and getting ready for things rather than trying to panic markets and panic the people.”


Mr. Bowyer is the author of "The Free Market Capitalists Survival Guide," published by HarperCollins, and a Forbes contributor. This article originally appeared in


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