The Arizona Desert Lamp

Unpacking the cult of the presidency

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 6 May 2009

Augustus CaesarThis had better be the last post on this matter, but today’s Wildcat article does bear further comment:

And as Bruce sits in the library studying for his finals before his presumed graduation, he is left to ponder his legacy and what he has left behind to the incoming class of ASUA executives and senators.

“I haven’t been in the library in a while,” Bruce said, referring to the countless twilight hours he has spent in the ASUA offices.

It’s a little jarring to see any of the usual suspects outside of the formal setting, yet it serves to remind you that, yes, they are students. They have finals to worry about and papers to punch out, house parties to stop in at and friend disputes to resolve. This is no different than seeing Obama sneak in a smoking break, or a weary post-presidency Bush gleam at the idea of time back in Texas. Especially with a story like this, rhetoric can often get out of hand (although citing commenters is kind of an attack on a strawman).

Yet at the same time, these are ostensibly our leaders, a fact that they have not ceased to remind us of over the past two years. Over Bruce’s tenure the power of the executive has consolidated itself so effectively that he was near deified status among the ASUA crew. One can look back on the constant kowtowing of the Senate, who never dared to challenge the executive until that executive was Chris Nagata. One might have observed the tearful paeans of dedication to him at the last Senate meeting.  For a guy who is so normal and just human, he was treated in a rather different light during his tenure.

Ex-Vice President Anderson should be right when she says:

“It didn’t come down to one person,” she said. “If we didn’t try, we couldn’t have done this.”

Bruce denies this, claiming that Anderson’s legacy will not be affected; it’s a cute little pas de deux between friends. The real problem is the absolute refusal – even now – to release any documents, to provide any narrative of exactly who knew what, when. Was the Senate provided with secret reports, updating them on the status? Did they ever sign off on the final deal? If this isn’t just about “one person,” then who are the other people involved? If this is indeed our government, why is the information hidden? If ASUA is all about meeting student demands, why not meet the demand for a little more information on this debacle, so that we may avoid repeating its errors?

Yet of course she isn’t right – it did come down to one person and his trusted janissaries. For the past two years, the de facto motto of ASUA has been, “Tommy says relax.” If Tommy signed off on something, then it was good. This is the way things have worked for two years now, and it is only now, when this mentality is being questioned, that its very existence is being denied by ex-EVP Anderson. It’s a well practiced strategy of this outgoing administration: smile, pretend like everything is fine, occasionally ignore history and facts, and move on.

The lesson here should be that no one man or woman – not Caesar, George W. Bush, Chris Nagata, Evita Peron, Benito Mussolini, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama, and not Tommy Bruce  – can be a government alone. When government becomes not about its laws, but about its rulers (Local Exhibit A), it is a reckless force – hence, the need for checks on the various aspects of authority. This lesson has been forgotten in recent years, and it is a trend that Gene Healy has documented exhaustively in his book The Cult of the Presidency. This should be required reading for the incoming ruling class; they will not read it. Next year’s editors at the Wildcat should read it as well; after all, it was in their opinions board ASUA endorsements that they composed the best distillation of the Bruce administration to date*:

Bruce’s list of projects and accomplishments this year is so long it’s tiring. Childcare, general education reform, campus sustainability, special events, academic advising, tuition, fees and textbook costs – the list of issues Bruce has tried to tackle (mostly successfully) goes on and on. In fact, for the second year in a row, Bruce ran out of time explaining all of his achievements to the editorial board. That’s usually a bad sign, meaning a candidate has tried to take on too much and will usually achieve nothing. But Bruce has done an almost superhuman job single-handedly shouldering most of the burden of student government. [emphasis added – EML]

Never mind the rule of law, though –  as President Bruce never ceased to remind us, he has spent the last two years working diligently on behalf of the students. Shouldn’t they be tripping over each other to write full-throated defenses? We did get one letter to the editor in his defense, but I wouldn’t exactly call it representative of the student body. The signatories read as follows:

Robert N. Shelton

UA President

Chris Nagata

ASUA Student Body President

Dr. Meredith Hay

Executive Vice-President and Provost

Dr. Melissa Vito

Vice President of Student Affairs

Michelle Perez

Director, Center for Student Involvement and Leadership

David Martinez III

Student Regent, Arizona Board of Regents

Michael Slugocki

Chair, Arizona Students’ Association

David Roost

Executive Director, Zona Zoo

J.C. Mutchler

Chair, Arizona Faculties Council

This is the constituency that ASUA now serves; it is their student government, and unlike the students looking in from the outside, they have a vested interest in ensuring ASUA’s legitimacy.

Finally, there’s this:

“Be nice to Tommy,” Anderson said over the phone in a tone that hadn’t been heard since the former executive thanked Bruce for “two amazing years” at the ASUA meeting two weeks ago.

We should be nice to the President who supported the idea of mandatory “sensitivity training” for a paper that dared to exercise its First Amendment rights? And the call comes from the vice president who lashed out at the Senate that dared to exercise its constitutional power to approve stipends?

At the end of all this, we must come to the astounding conclusion that not only does ASUA not represent the student body, but is increasingly fighting a full-fledged battle against it.

* – I was a member of the opinions board when this was written, but did not write this specific endorsement.

One Response

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  1. Connor Mendenhall said, on 6 May 2009 at 12:56 pm

    Yeah, I wonder which O-board tardburger wrote that endorsement. (Protip: it was me)

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