Bush recently declared himself the decision maker. Jon Stewart countered that voters are the decision makers. Obviously a difference of opinion, but was one right? Was one wrong? My train of thought went through the following sequence:
The voting public made their decision and elected Bush. Leaders are elected to make decisions. So there's truth in both points of view, but there is also a sequence to these decisions and a transfer of responsibility that comes with expectations.
A leader is constrained by his mandate, the system of laws and the opposition (or checks and balances).
The mandated authority, and the direction decisions are made, is defined essentially by the party platform and the promises made. If decisions are made outside the mandate then it is up to the opposition to raise the question. In such instances the Leader can ignore, compromise or give in. The voter gets to conclude the question the next time the Leader is up for election.
Party platform: provides a principles-based framework in which decisions are made. Put alternatively, the voter can expect that all decisions made will align with the principles. Some people will vote for a party regardless of who the candidate is, primarily because they support the party principles and/or do not support the principles of the other parties. This is a reasonable basis of voting.
Specific promises: sometime candidates will make specific promises, either at a national or local level, generally driven by some issue. Sometimes people will respond to these promises and cast their vote accordingly. This is also reasonable, especially when the party platforms are indistinguishable in the eyes of the voter (and the promised outcomes are).
Party leader: the role of the party leader is to articulate the platform (principles), and apply them to current issues (thus to some extent is related to the previous point). The leader is also the face of the party, and this is where we get into the charisma and charm; the emotional side of an election. The substantive element of the leader is in the former role: interpreting and applying the principles to current issues. It is up to the voter to determine if the interpretation is acceptable or not and then vote accordingly. Voting by leader is reasonable if the principles of the alternative parties the voter would be willing to support are sufficiently close, in their mind.
Track record: this is essentially a question of whether the party has made decisions consistent with their platform, principles and or promises. Inconsistencies will no doubt be raised by the opposition, and thus are intended to establish a foundation of mistrust: "while you may agree with their principles and promises, you can't actually trust them to carry them out." There certainly is validity in raising questions of trust, especially when it is policy or principles related. When it comes to character flaws or other indirect reasons one must be careful as when all parties are painted as untrustworthy then the whole process is degraded.
During the mandate the government may look to the polls for guidance. A government that makes decisions by poll, and when such decisions conflict with their principles and promises, is abrogating their responsibility. Having said that most platforms are sufficiently vague that in practice they have some level of flexibility.
In the case of Bush, he is in his last term and apparently has little concern for the future of the party for which he stands and therefore is willing to take actions without consideration to their impact on the party. As such he has made decisions, right or wrong, and is executing them. That is his right. If there is a concern over his course of action then it is up to the opposition to fulfill its role and ensure that the leader plays within the legal framework. A government is an organization of laws, not of a man. If the man is unconstrained in undertaking inappropriate actions then it may be a failure in the system of laws. Or it could be the checks and balances put in place are not enforced.