Opinion » Bill Cope

President Boner?

God forbid!

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Another example of why the United States Constitution could use some fine tuning is how—God forbid!—John Boehner could become president of the United States.

Makes the blood curdle to contemplate, doesn't it? But it could happen. At least, it could happen at any time up until Boehner officially steps down as speaker of the House. I trust most of you already know how it could happen. But if my generally low opinion of the average American's civic consciousness is anywhere near to being accurate, there are still enough of you unaware of the line of presidential succession that you must think I'm nuts to even suggest John Boehner—God forbid!—could end up in the Oval Office in any capacity other than to behave like a snotty prick to Barack Obama.

Here's how: A) Obama dies or is otherwise incapacitated, B) simultaneously, Vice President Joe Biden dies or is otherwise incapacitated and C—God forbid!) John Boehner is installed as president. Voilá!

That's right, the speaker of the House of Representatives is second in the line of presidential succession. A lot of people have thought that spot belongs to the secretary of state, including the secretary of state during the Reagan administration, Alexander Haig. When Reagan was shot in 1981, Vice President George H.W. Bush was out of town, on a plane over Texas in fact, and Haig, a four-star general and chief of staff under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford—someone you would expect to know a simple little thing like who's next—assumed command, telling reporters, "Constitutionally, gentlemen, you have the president, the vice president and the secretary of state in that order... As of now, I am in control here..."

(A few years ago, I personally made a gentleman I was standing behind in a post office queue so angry, simply because I corrected him when he insisted second in line was the secretary of state, that he was ready to fight. In front of a good 20 other people, he was screaming about what an idiot California transplant I was who had brought my idiot California education system ignorance with me when I'd moved to Idaho.)

I don't expect Obama or Biden to leave us any time soon, especially so closely together that the presidency would have to be filled by whoever is behind door No. 3. I wouldn't even have brought it up if it weren't for Boehner's resignation and the quality of the specimens scrambling to fill his sweaty shoes as the House ringmaster.

Given the pathetic caliber of those specimens—and as I write this, it is safe to say any names that have been provided as possible nominees are of a pathetic caliber—I feel the whole issue of succession could stand some serious thought. The general consensus seems to be that, as miserably as Boehner has performed in this high office, it will almost certainly get worse. And to me, the most galling aspect to it is that the choice of who gets control of the speaker's gavel will happen entirely in-House, with no consideration whatsoever of who the American people might select if given a say in the matter.

Out of the entire list of 17 officials in line to assume the presidency should worse come to worst (come to worst come to worst, etc.), only two are not chosen directly by the person chosen directly by a majority to lead the nation. Though we may not give it a lot of thought at the time, it is one of the privileges we bequeath him (or her) when we vote for him (or her): the prerogative to pick his (or her) own successors to complete the term should he (or she) be unable to. Yet inexplicably, the Constitution allows for two of those possible successors—the speaker of the House (second in line) and the president pro tempore of the Senate (third in line)—to be out of the president's control and, by extension, out of any control whatsoever of American voters. All the rest are members of the cabinet, chosen by the man (or woman) we chose.

What kind of democracy would allow the executive branch to fall into the hands of a guy who holds his office by virtue of a relative handful of voters in southwest Ohio—Boehner—or a senator elected by another relative handful in Utah—current Senate pro tem Orrin Hatch?

If you think this is nothing but a partisan Democrat whine, consider this: Had Reagan actually died back in 1981, and at the same time George H.W. Bush's plane gone down in Texas, then in spite of what Alexander Haig thought, Tip O'Neill would have been president and, presumably, would have served the remaining three and a half years of Reagan's first term. Tell me how that would have reflected in any way the will of the majority that chose Reagan the year before?

This is not due to any failings on the part of the gentlemen who put the Constitution together. At the time they signed off on that document, there were no political parties in the United States. It's likely they assumed men of good will and competent reasoning skills would always ascend to high office, and they could not foresee the House being held hostage by a clot of radical morons who would squelch any choice for speaker they did not approve of.

Why? Perhaps it's because even the radical morons realize it's the only way one of their kind could ever become president—God forbid!