the diff: What a Prez Does

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what a prez does primer

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What is it, exactly, a president does?

As you know from civics class, the president isn’t in the law-passing business; his main job is to turn laws into reality. But a chief executive can have an imprint on legislation both through his veto-wielding power and, if he has a lot of political capital in the bag, by either shepherding his party or negotiating with the opposition to make some legislative waves (witness Welfare Reform and No Child Left Behind).

Any environmentalist will also glumly tell you that the prez has the power to nudge policy through regulation and enforcement (or non-regulation and non-enforcement), while a pro-life advocate won’t let you forget that perhaps the president’s biggest role is in appointing justices to our highest court.

All in all on the domestic front, though, a president only has so much say on what happens in our day to day lives.

When it comes to foreign policy, however, almost the opposite can be said: the commander-in-chief reigns supreme in decisions about diplomacy and use of our military (in spite of that little constitutional clause about Congress declaring war). Congress can put up stumbling blocks in the president's way (for example, cutting off funds or refusing to okay treaties), but it can't take any foreign policy initiative and, historically at least, it usually just follows the president's lead.