Lee Wrights: Presidential candidates should read the job description

by R. Lee Wrights

BURNET, Texas (Nov. 5) – One of the first things you do when you’re applying for a job is to read the job description to find out the qualifications, duties and responsibilities of the office. After listening to years of presidential campaign speeches and debates, it seems to me that most candidates for the office simply haven’t read the job description for President of the United States. The Founding Fathers wrote it some 200 years ago, and despite some wear and tear, it is still perhaps one of the finest job descriptions ever written for the leader of a free republic.

The presidential job description was drafted, refined and honed during the months of the Constitutional Convention held in 1787. The duties of the President of the United States are outlined in Article II. The placement is deliberate. The first article of the Constitution establishes the Congress, the legislative branch, because the Founders believed the legislative was the most important function of government. As if to emphasize that point, the first mention of the President of the United States in the Constitution is in Article I, Section 7. This section says he must sign a bill passed by Congress before it becomes law. If he does not sign it, or he vetoes it, it can only become law if two-thirds of each House vote to approve it.

So what does the presidential job description say? First, there are three simple qualifications: you must be a natural-born citizen, 35 years old, and a United States resident for 14 years. I am all three. The “selection committee” for the job is technically the Electoral College, composed of people chosen by the states.” But in reality, it is the people of the United States who hire the president. The length of service is four years.

The first thing a new president does is to take an oath. It is a plain and simple oath, similar to the one I took many years ago when I enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. The oath states: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” But in those few words lie some very powerful sentiments.

Article II, Sections 2 and 3 of the Constitution lists the specific duties of the president. One of the duties most discussed, and most abused, is his role as “commander-in-chief” of the Army and Navy, and of the state militia “when called into the service of the United States.” That last phrase is usually omitted when anyone speaks of the “commander-in-chief” but it is important. The president only commands the state militia, in modern terms that means the National Guard, under certain circumstances. Nor does this title make the president “commander-in-chief” of the United States, or any of the states, or the people. And it does not give him the authority to declare or wage war.

Alexander Hamilton, even though an advocate of a strong chief executive, made it clear in Federalist No. 69 that the title of commander-in-chief amounted to “nothing more than the supreme command and direction of the military and naval forces” and not to declaring war or raising and recruiting military forces. Such powers were specifically vested in Congress, because the Founders had direct experience of the tyranny that results when the executive, in their case the King of England, can raise and recruit armies and navies, and take the country to war without question.

If you will pardon a civics lesson, here’s a list of the other duties in the job description for President of the United States:

– Nominate and appoint ambassadors, again with the approval of the Senate;

– Appoint other public Ministers and consuls, subject to Senate approval;

– Appoint judges of the Supreme Court, and inferior federal courts, with Senate approval;

– Appoint all other officers of the United States, whose appointments are not otherwise provided for in the Constitution or by law;

– Fill vacancies during Senate recesses, but only until the Senate reconvenes;

– Give to the Congress “information of the State of the Union,” and recommend legislation;

– Convene both House and Senate on “extraordinary Occasions,” or adjourn either or both of them if they can’t agree on adjournment;

– Receive Ambassadors and other public ministers;

– “Take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed,” and;

– Commission all the officers of the United States, that is, military officers.

That’s a very short list. Most of the duties simply have to do with appointing people to office. There is nothing in there about taxes, health care, jobs, education or the myriad of other things presidential candidates make promises about. The key point, however, is that all the power given to the president, all his duties, especially the duty to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed” must be understood in the context of the oath of office. As president, I fully intend to take very, very good care that the laws are faithfully executed.

By that I mean that if a law is not faithful to the original intent of the Constitution — if it in fact does harm to the Constitution — I will not enforce it, nor let anyone in the executive department enforce it. If the Congress sends me a proposed law that does not have a direct basis in any of the specified and enumerated powers granted to the federal government under the Constitution, I will veto it. And even if they pass it over my veto, I will not enforce it.

Anyone I nominate to the Supreme Court or to any federal court will have a clear understanding of the concept of original intent. They will believe, as I do, that the Constitution established a government with specific, enumerated and limited power. Anyone I select for a federal office will be willing to conduct their duties with the understanding, as Thomas Jefferson wrote, that “The equal rights of man and the happiness of every individual are the only legitimate objects of government.” In short, I will conduct the office of President of the United States by heeding the advice of the Founding Fathers, who believed that when it came to power, you should not rely on “confidence in man,” but rather, bind him from mischief ” by the chains of the Constitution.”

R. Lee Wrights

R. Lee Wrights, 53, a libertarian writer and political activist, is seeking the presidential nomination because he believes the Libertarian message in 2012 must be a loud, clear and unequivocal call to stop all war. To that end he has pledged that 10 percent of all donations to his campaign will be spent for ballot access so that the stop all war message can be heard in all 50 states. Wrights is a lifetime member of the Libertarian Party and co-founder and editor of the free speech online magazine Liberty For All. Born in Winston-Salem, N.C., he now lives and works in Texas.

Lee Wrights for President
Contact: Brian Irving, press secretary

12 thoughts on “Lee Wrights: Presidential candidates should read the job description

  1. wolfefan

    Hi Lee –

    What role do Supreme Court decisions play in your thinking about what is or is not constitutional? As many of the early SC judges who wrote and/or voted for decisions like McCullouch and Marbury (which greatly expand roles and enumerated powers) were in fact framers and signers of the Constitution, should their opinions in how to interpret the Constitution expressed in these decisions carry more weight than your (or my) opinion today?

    Additionally, the framers chose intentionally to use a Common Law approach to constitutional interpretation. Being British lawyers, they knew that over time this would give power to the courts to establish precedents that would be binding on future generations which may be in tension with what their understanding might have been at the time. Were they wrong in this?

    Finally, I’d ask how you determine the original intent of dozens of different men, from a variety of backgrounds, who were in the midst of compromising about lots of different issues in order to achieve consensus. What if the next President, acting in the same good faith as you, reaches a different determination? Is it your opinion that what the Constitution means and how it is to be applied will change every four years as each new President (assuming good faith on everyone’s part) reaches their own conclusions about what are admittedly controversial decisions and texts?

    Thanks for candidacy, your willingness to serve, and your articulate expression of libertarian views.

  2. Richard Winger

    I guess I’m peculiar, but it bothers me that the candidate and his campaign equivocate on what the candidate’s exact name is. Half the time it is Lee Wrights and half the time it is R. Lee Wrights. Even this message from the campaign is inconsistent. If he gets the Libertarian nomination, the party will be sending certificates to the election officials of all states, telling them the exact names of the two nominees (president & v-p). What form of his name will they show?

  3. wolfefan

    Hi Richard – does the candidate get to pick what form of their name appears on the state ballot or is it required to be their legal name? Would any states require the name on the ballot to be “Richard (or whatever it is) L. Wrights”?

  4. R. Lee Wrights

    @3- I find your confusion odd since we had a discussion about this long ago. I told you then that my name will appear as Lee Wrights on the ballot. Perhaps you have forgotten that conversation?

    I have only one name. My name is Roger Lee Wrights, but folks, particularly my friends, call me Lee.

    R. Lee Wrights is my byline as it always has been since my writing career started over three decades ago. To my knowledge there has been no confusion about this, except with you apparently.

  5. Richard Winger

    It is a foundation of English common law, which applies in the US also, that “a person’s name is what he or she says it is.” In 1976, Jimmy Carter wanted to be listed as “Jimmy Carter” on the ballot of all states. Virginia and South Carolina elections officials said they would only print “James Carter” or “James Earl Carter”. He sued both states and won his lawsuits, and was on the ballot as Jimmy Carter in all 50 states.

    So, Wrights is free to choose whatever form he wishes.

  6. R. Lee Wrights

    Re: #2

    You pose some very good questions. I am not a lawyer, so as President I would rely on the advice of people like Judges Andrew Napolitano and James P. Gray, and Michael Badnarik, who’s done a good deal of reading and study of the Constitution. I would also look to the writings of the framers themselves, in James Madison’s notes on the Constitutional Convention and in the Federalist Papers for guidance. As I said, I would appoint judges who hold to the concept of original intent. Past Supreme Court decisions and court precedents, particularly those of the early justices who as you note were themselves framers, would have some weight in deciding cases. But I would expect the judges I nominate would put more weight on the original intent of the framers.

    I don’t think there is any conflict between this view and the use of the common law approach to Constitutional interpretation. Common law is in many cases common sense. For example, common sense tells me that the power given to the Congress to “regulate” interstate commerce does not extend to giving the legislature the right to tell people what crops they can grow on their own farms to feed their own families.

    As to your last point, I don’t think it’s a difficult as your question implies to determine the Founder’s original intent, especially since they were such prolific writers and Madison notes are excellent. I don’t think “what the Constitution means” changes over time. Yes, two people acting in good faith might reach different conclusions. As president, I will do what I have to do and hopefully the American people will chose future presidents who think the same way.

  7. Jeremy C. Young

    Mr. Wrights, your comments got eaten by the spam monster. I just went in and fished them out, and cleaned up this thread.

    I’m sorry you didn’t get a response from our contact.ipr e-mail. The system is a bit buggy at the moment; the people who have access to the official contact e-mail aren’t posting, and the people who are posting don’t have access to the official contact e-mail. In the future, you’re welcome to e-mail me directly to check the spam folder. Whether or not I’m posting, I’ll be happy to go in and fish out comments that have been unfairly spammed.

  8. Jeremy C. Young

    Actually, I think Brian can do the same thing, right? I think we have the same permissions. But I’ll still be happy to do it, since I have some experience working with WordPress blogs.

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