First, in National Interest, Stephen Knott takes the Cult on directly.
Both Professor Wilson and President Wilson believed that the Constitution was not fit for the complexities of twentieth-century American life. A document written at a time when the horse and buggy was the main mode of transportation was seen as an obstacle to creating an activist government capable of checking big business. Wilson held that it was the responsibility of the president to break the gridlock caused by the Constitution’s separation of powers and unleash the power of the federal government to restrain the barons of industry.Perhaps those Smart People forgot that the British East India Company was a public utility that captured its regulators. The Cult follows immediately.
The president would break this gridlock by serving as his party’s leader, thereby bridging the separation of powers between the executive and the legislature, and would preside over an executive branch composed of experts who would regulate the economy in the interest of the common man. In addition to presiding over this regulatory state, the president would serve as an educator and visionary who would lead the nation through his oratorical skills.Meanwhile, the Wise Experts get Congressional authority to issue regulations consistent with the objectives of the laws. Reality, however, is messy.
Wilson upended the Founding or Constitutional understanding of the role of the president and overturned the expectations of what a president could be expected to achieve. Unfortunately, the Wilsonian conception of the presidency, adopted wholeheartedly by Democrats and eventually by Republicans, produced a massive expectations gap—a long train of heightened expectations followed by dashed hopes.Not that there weren't presidential hopefuls who fancied themselves policy impresarios before Woodrow Wilson. But that's been the default position for national politics all my life. Perhaps "It is actually harder to do some of these things in reality than we thought when we put it down on paper" will become a new watchword for the policy wonks.