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The Broken Presidency: How It Has Failed Us and How We Can Fix It

14 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2010 Last revised: 18 Feb 2012

David Orentlicher

UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law

Date Written: 2010


At the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia on June 1st, 1787, James Wilson of Pennsylvania first proposed that the executive powers be rested in a single person. The motion was seconded, and then, as James Madison reported, “a considerable pause” ensued.

The delegates’ hesitation was hardly surprising. Only recently had they freed themselves from the tyranny of King George III, and they were firmly committed to creating a new government that would not abuse its powers and oppress its citizens. It must have seemed preposterous to replace a hereditary monarch with an elected monarch.

To be sure, the framers invoked important reasons in favor of a unitary executive. With the passage of time, however, it has become clear that the founding fathers misjudged the consequences of a single president. They did not anticipate the extent to which executive power would expand and give us an “imperial presidency.” They did not predict the role that political parties would come to play and how battles to capture the White House would greatly aggravate partisan conflict. They did not recognize that single presidents would represent party ideology much more than the overall public good. And they misjudged the advantages and disadvantages of single versus multiple decision makers.

If the presidency is to fulfill the founding fathers’ vision, it needs to be reconceived. This need for constitutional change led me to the proposal for reform that I consider in this paper - the replacement of our single-person presidency with a two-person presidency, in which each of the two presidents would come from a different political party.

A two-person presidency would yield many important benefits - a balancing of power between the executive and legislative branches, a dampening of partisan conflict in Washington, an executive branch more representative of the entire electorate, real opportunities for third-party candidates to win election, and wiser presidential decision making.

A dual executive would be far more faithful to the framers’ views of executive power and constitutional design. They wanted a president with limited authority who would serve as a co-equal with Congress. They also believed that power should be limited by dividing it and requiring it to be shared. A two-person presidency relies on the framers’ structural devices to promote their core values.

Keywords: executive authority, presidential power, partisan conflict, political representation

JEL Classification: K19

Suggested Citation

Orentlicher, David, The Broken Presidency: How It Has Failed Us and How We Can Fix It (2010). APSA 2010 Annual Meeting Paper; U Iowa Legal Studies Research Paper No. 10-32. Available at SSRN:

David Orentlicher (Contact Author)

UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law ( email )

4505 South Maryland Parkway
Box 451003
Las Vegas, NV 89154
United States

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