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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

The Left Nut: Legacies

Quick, name one thing John Adams did that changed the course of the United States forever.

If you said the Midnight Appointments, congratulations! You studied way too hard for the AP US History exam. You also happen to be correct.

When Adams appointed John Marshall to be the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, he probably had no idea how much of an impact his decision would have hundreds of years later. When Marshall’s ruling in Marbury v. Madison established judicial review and thereby strengthened the power of the Supreme Court, it set a precedent for years to come.

Although Adams himself had no part in this ruling, we can give him credit for vicariously influencing the decision through his nomination of Marshall, despite the fact that the ruling took place long after Adams left office.

One hundred and fifty years later, another monumental nomination was made when President Eisenhower chose Earl Warren to be Chief Justice. As you may know, the Warren Court made some of the most important liberal rulings in United States history. We can thank Eisenhower for this, as he appointed Warren.

Although Eisenhower supposedly called this appointment “the worst damn fool mistake” he ever made, he made it nonetheless. The Warren Court’s decisions live on as an extension of Ike’s decision to name Warren Chief Justice, whether he intended for them to turn out as they did or not.

The president’s power to choose who fills important positions can come back to bite him in the rear, as he must also take the blame when a nominee screws up. Look at Antonin Scalia. One of the longest-tenured members of the Court, Scalia has gained notoriety for spewing homophobic vitriol. Who appointed him? Ronald Reagan did. That’s right: Reagan indirectly continues to screw America over 10 years after his death.

While new Supreme Court Justices usually make headlines, not all nominations gain as much media coverage. If you’ve watched any news at all in the last month, you probably know about the government shutdown. It seems pretty important: tons of government employees losing their paychecks, the economy losing approximately $24 billion in activity, veterans locked out of their own memorials, et cetera.

Meanwhile, President Obama made perhaps the single most important economic decision of his presidency, and it flew almost totally under the radar. A couple weeks ago, he announced that he would nominate Janet Yellen to become the chairwoman of the Federal Reserve.

Were Washington not in the midst of a crisis, this decision may have turned a few more heads than it did. Still, too many people overlook the importance of this appointment. If Yellen happens to be the chairwoman 10 years from now and the economy collapses, the president then will undoubtedly bear more of the blame than he or she deserves.

One can, of course, trace economic collapses to plenty of different sources, but the Chairman of the Fed usually takes some due heat. Though people could argue all day over how much fault the Fed Chair has in the event of an economic recession, Ben Bernanke deserves a good chunk of the blame for the 2008 crash.

During the crash, the uninformed masses desperately needed a face on which to pin the crisis. Naturally, they chose the easiest target: the president. Yet it was Bernanke, not Obama, who had the power to hike interest rates on loans which could have softened the blow of the housing bubble. He chose not to do so.

In fact, Obama had no say in the monetary policies that led to the bubble, as Bush elected Bernanke in 2006 (although, to be fair, Obama did re-nominate him in 2009 after the crash). Bernanke, who will serve officially as Fed Chairman until Yellen is sworn in, can be considered part of Bush’s legacy.

Now we can consider Yellen part of Obama’s legacy, and if she mismanages the Fed, we can blame Obama for nominating her, even after his presidency.

The above examples highlight a truth about our political system that too often goes unnoticed: presidential appointments to any position, whether it be the Fed Chair, Supreme Court Justice, Director of the CIA or anything else, have some of the strongest and farthest-reaching effects of a president’s tenure. For better or for worse, presidents are accountable for the actions of their appointees, and we must hold them as such.

If you would like to share your fond memories of the AP US History test with ZACH MOORE, you can reach him at zcmoore@ucdavis.edu. 

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