New President: Same as the Old President

I might be wrong; but new presidents don’t really make new eras. They all kind of mush together. And that’s pretty normal—it takes a long time to move a country in a new direction. And most of the time, a country is already moving as it will, and a president is just along for the ride.

The same may be true at the University of Oregon: they have their latest president arriving this summer: number five in seven years? Something like that. I will make one comment on my future boss, without having met him (it’s safe to assume I never will, especially if he skips town as fast as the last few guys did). That is: I can’t believe your name is actually “S(c)hill.” It’s too perfect—it looks like you’re a plant, trying to drum up business for an administration that’s taken shots from all corners in the last couple of years.

Also, degree-wise, I outrank you, Mr. Schill.

Two items, and both of them are petty. But you use what you got! I’m sure Mr. Schill will lead our school for a long, long time. Maybe a couple of years or so.

But what about the bigger Big Brother? The new President of the University of Oregon has a bit less influence than the leader of the free world. And as president-making season begins in earnest, I think it’s time to consider why we’re doing this again after 240 years. You think we’d have learned something from the first 44.

If a king is a father to the land, then a president is the new stepdad: he’s here for awhile, and maybe you get used to him eventually, but then things change and it’s a hasty goodbye. But there’s some relief in this, too: the king will always be looming in the background, but at least there will be a new president along in a few years.

We don’t really need a president. The real work of government is done by the legislative (har har) and judicial branches, anyway. The executive is a figurehead, though a dramatic one, and a useful one at times. So why keep him around?

I think if we woke up one day without a president, we’d feel a bit more adrift. What holds these States united if not the office of the executive branch? We’d wake up a nation of orphans and stepchildren, wondering where our parent went. There would be nothing to keep Oregon from bleeding into Washington, and California from draining Oregon’s wells. The threat of a father’s action—even if it’s ineffectual or just bluster—carries weight, no matter how much independence we profess. Beyond that, I like knowing that there’s somebody up there to complain about, otherwise the cities and states would be responsible for themselves. The president helps us remain children interminably.

That sounds like a negative, like some kind of perpetual childhood. But I don’t think it is. Because we’re the president’s children. Maybe we weren’t born into a royal line. Maybe our father isn’t the king. But if he’s the president—if we all share that itinerant political stepdad—then there’s a small change we could eventually succeed him. When I look at presidents, I see my own royal family. Maybe I won’t make an attempt at the throne, but I have as much claim on it as he did. And that’s why I think we ought to keep these old executives around. We need our presidential fathers.

Oh, and Queen Hillary, too.