The founding fathers said there would be days like this. On the eve of the 2016 Iowa caucuses — which will plunge America into a maelstrom of election contests sweeping us dizzyingly toward actually choosing a new president — the understated warning from the chief author of our Constitution clangs like a fire bell.
Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.
Yet even if these appetites produce a Sanders or a Trump presidency, the [Jesse] Ventura precedent suggests it might deliver another surprise, and a welcome one. In his official acts (as opposed to his celebrity antics), Gov. Ventura largely steered a mainstream course, delegating vigorously to decent public servants he placed in key jobs. A President Trump or Sanders might adjust to reality, too.
That’s likely, because America’s complex and cumbersome system of government constrains every office holder, making it improbable that even a champion demagogue could enact destabilizing innovations, at least not without major compromise.
This is why debates over the proper boundaries on a president’s executive orders matter. It’s why the much-criticized Senate filibuster, which makes passing controversial laws difficult, shouldn’t be carelessly discarded. It’s why limits should be enforced on a president’s war powers and on the government’s right to spy on citizens. It’s even why we must question tough-on-crime measures like the psychiatric commitment of sex offenders after they’ve served their prison terms.