Today, September 17th, is Constitution Day. So I decided to read the Constitution! Go figure.
I was reading through Article 2 (that's the part about the executive branch of government -- the presidency), and all of a sudden I got to the end. I was like "what, that's it?!" Indeed, there's relatively little written about the presidency, and the powers enumerated are quite restrictive.
Here's the abbreviated version of Article 2:
Section 1. There's a President. He gets elected, he gets paid, and he swears to uphold the Constitution.
Section 2. He's in charge of the army, he gets to pardon people and make treaties with Senate consent. He also appoints Senators to fill vacancies.
Section 3. He is a congressional cheerleader: he delivers the State of the Union, and makes policy recommendations. He executes the laws that Congress wrote.
Section 4. He can be impeached.
And that's it!
So during presidential debates, all this talk about this policy and that policy ("here's how I'll fix health care!"), running the economy ("check out my business credentials!"), and starting wars ("I'll make the world safe for democracy!"); all this talk is fluff in light of the actual powers of the Constitution. The president gets to cheerlead Congress on policy, but other than that he only has the right to enforce the laws that already exist.
So like, if you haven't read the Constitution recently, you might give it a read. It's really quite short and accessible.
Edit: Whoops! I forgot article 1, section 7: the president gets to veto laws.