Iowa Alumni Magazine | December 2010 | News

Presidential Possibilities

By UIAA STAFF

Why was he in the news?

The 2010 midterm elections revealed at least one thing: partisan ill will in the U.S. political system has only grown more rancorous. For many Americans, this ugly political wrangling is like the weather; it's cyclical, it's unpleasant, and we complain about it bitterly—but feel helpless to do anything.

David Orentlicher, a visiting professor at the UI College of Law, wants to do something. In his new paper and upcoming book, "The Broken Presidency: How It Has Failed Us and How We Can Fix It," he proposes a two-person presidency.

How would a two-person presidency work?

Voters would each have one vote, and then the top two vote-winners would be co-presidents. Each political party would be allowed no more than one representative in the two-person office.

Is he disputing the wisdom of our Founding Fathers?

Not fundamentally, Orentlicher says. "It deviates from the Constitution framers' specific design, but it remains true to their values and the structural devices they used to carry out their vision," he explains. "They wanted the executive and legislative branches to be equal in power, and they wanted a structure for the national government that would discourage partisan conflict and encourage elected officials to promote the overall public good."

Clearly, we're not there yet. But, a dual executive would help defuse partisan conflict by giving members of both major political parties a voice in the Oval Office. "The main reason we see partisan bickering is because the party out of power believes it can gain power by its partisan maneuvering," Orentlicher explains.

This plan would motivate politicians to work together, as well as address the modern phenomenon of the "imperial presidency" by dividing the executive power and requiring that it be shared—just as the House and Senate share a divided legislative power. Orentlicher's proposal also incorporates recent scholarly studies into decision-making, which show that two heads are better than one.

What are the chances?

Although Orentlicher admits that a constitutional amendment would be required for such a major change, he thinks it could happen. Such efforts usually start with Congress, and then go to the states for ratification. Members of Congress should like the idea because it would level the allocation of power between the executive and legislative branches. Plus, if they aspire to be president, a dual presidency doubles their chances of election.

Voters who want more bipartisan governing would probably support the move, too. Orentlicher admits it requires a change in thinking, but Americans have overcome other strongly held notions in the past. And yes, even the Founding Fathers were fallible. As Orentlicher points out, "We know from having to go through the Civil War and pass the 14th Amendment that they didn't get everything right."