Let’s talk politics: Who are we voting for?

Brooklyn Dippo | The USD Vista | News Editor

With the 2016 Presidential Race in full swing and a wide range of candidates to choose from, first time voters might feel a little overwhelmed at the polls. To help our fellow Toreros become  educated voters, we are going to break down the election process, analyze the candidates, discuss relevant issues, and highlight important events in the months leading up to the election. This week, we interviewed Casey Dominguez, PhD and an American Politics professor at USD. She helped set up a basis of understanding the role of the president, who the ideal candidate is, and to what capacity debates are important for the process.


  1. What is the specific role of the president? What is he/she capable of doing? How is his/her power limited?


The president has a number of roles. First, as chief executive, the president’s job is to appoint upper level managers in the executive branch, to oversee the execution of the laws, and to sign off on new regulations to enforce the laws. Second, as a legislative leader, he or she is responsible for proposing a budget to Congress and for signing and vetoing laws. Third, as “chief diplomat,” he or she is responsible for managing relations with other countries around the world. Finally, as “commander in chief,” the president is ultimately responsible for overseeing the armed forces and defending the nation and its citizens against sudden attacks.


  1. Based on that role, what characteristics should we be looking for in a presidential candidate? How important is experience? How important is personality?

Presidents have usually had some experience in elective office, either in Congress, where they have had the opportunity to develop some knowledge about the complexities of public policy and lawmaking, or as a state governor, where they have had the opportunity to learn about executive orders and law enforcement. It is hard to say how “important” experience is, except that experience in elective office gives voters reliable and comparable information about how the candidate will actually behave once in office.

Again, with personality, it is hard to say how “much” it matters, or perhaps what aspects of personality matter most in the presidency. It is a job where it is usually necessary to work with others to get things done, where it is possible to make big decisions all on your own, and one where all of the decisions you make can have enormous consequences for other people’s lives.


  1. How does that role align (or misalign) with the questions that are being asked in debates?


Many of the questions about policy are good questions, in that they allow candidates to state what policies they support, and therefore give voters an ability to understand what kinds of bills might become law, or what kinds of executive actions might be taken if a candidate were to win the presidency. However, they and the candidates’ answers are often misleading when they imply that presidents can “make laws” or by themselves have a big effect on world events. Presidents can, at best, sign or veto laws, not make them. On the world stage, they can use diplomatic and (with Congress’ permission) military might to try to affect world events, but only to try. Events around the world are often (appropriately) out of the United States’ control.


  1. What questions do you think we should actually be asking presidential candidates?


I worry most about the unilateral expansion of executive power, which is the tendency of presidents in recent decades (in both parties) to assert the power to make law or to change existing law without going through Congress. It is too bad that the moderators have not asked candidates questions about this, because a president’s approach can have dangerous consequences for the long term accumulation of power in the president’s hands.

For more comprehensive answers to these complex questions Dr. Dominguez recommends taking a semester-long American Politics course.