Presidential regimes invite executive dominance by combining the roles of “head of state” and “head of government” in one figure. “As heads of government,” Buckley writes, “presidents are the most powerful officials in their countries. As heads of state, they are also their countries’ ceremonial leaders,” and claim “the loyalty and respect of all patriots.” Where parliamentary systems cleave off power from ceremony, presidential ones make the chief executive the living symbol of nationhood: the focal point of national hopes, dreams, fears—and occasionally fantasies. In February 2009, author Judith Warner took to her New York Times blog to confess that “The other night I dreamt of Barack Obama. He was taking a shower right when I needed to get into the bathroom to shave my legs.” Warner’s email inquiries revealed that “many women—not too surprisingly—were dreaming about sex with the president.”
Buckley notes that “Britons tend not to chat with David Cameron in their dreams,” which presumably rules out soapy frolicking as well. Nor do Brits tend to look to the PM for a sense of national purpose or as a cure for spiritual “malaise.” Prime ministers are “more likely to be figures of fun…or the butt of slanging matches during Question Period in the House of Commons.” Indeed, the parliamentary practice of Prime Minister’s Questions, in which the chief executive is regularly and ruthlessly grilled by the opposition, goes a long way toward explaining why there’s no such thing as the Cult of the Prime Minister.