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The Presidency

  • Only 3 formal qualifications for presidency: 35 years old, native-born citizen, resident for past 14 years
  • President's duties include: head of state, commander-in-chief of military, chief executive of federal bureaucracy
So, you think you want to be president. First, you need to make sure you meet the qualifications laid out in the Constitution—there are only three. Are you at least 35 years old? Have you lived in the United States for the past fourteen years? Were you born a citizen of the United States? If you can answer yes to all three of these questions, you can be president.

Of course, voters generally demand that a candidate possess more qualifications than these—some intelligence is useful, some relevant experience can be handy. But every now and then, voters seem willing to accept just the basics.

Perhaps the real question is: are you sure you want to be president? The pay is okay ($400,000 in 2008), you do get to live in the White House, and picking up your friends in Air Force One is pretty cool. Oh, and people play "Hail to the Chief" when you walk into the room.

But the job description is outrageous. For starters, the president is "chief of state"; that means he is the ceremonial head of the government. That sounds easy enough. But he is also chief executive and chief administrator. It is the president's job to execute, or implement, all of the nation's laws and treaties, which means the president runs our enormous federal government (about 4 million people, if you count just civil servants, postal workers, and members of the military, but a whopping 14.6 million if you include everyone else working under federal contract or receiving federal grants).2 And there's more. The president is "chief diplomat," responsible for setting American foreign policy, and "chief legislator"; over the past century, the president has played a bigger and bigger role in laying out a legislative agenda for Congress. Want more? The president is "commander-in-chief," the head of America's armed forces. And the president is traditionally the "chief of his party" and, some would add, America's "chief citizen." The last job means he is supposed to set an example of good citizenship for the rest of the nation.

That's a lot of chiefing. And there's not much job security. Even if you do a great job, you can serve only two four-year terms. (Originally, the Constitution did not limit the number of terms a president could serve. But Franklin Roosevelt got carried away and managed to get himself elected four times in a row in the 1930s and '40s. After that, the 22nd Amendment passed, limiting a president to two terms.) If you don't do a good job, the voters will likely chuck you out of office after just one term. And if you really screw up and commit a "high crime or misdemeanor," you can be impeached—removed from office by Congress. That's not easy for Congress to do; impeachment charges have been brought against a sitting president by the House of Representatives (which acts as the prosecutor in impeachment trials) only twice in our history, and in both cases the Senate (which acts as the jury) voted not to convict or remove. But the threat of impeachment does hang over a president's head. And speaking of the president's head, under the 25th Amendment, the president can be removed from office at any time if judged "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office" by the vice president and the majority of the cabinet.

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