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The presidency is a complex topic for study, not least because it defies simple explanations. It is unique and evolving,

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The American Presidency [1 ed.]
 9780748635368, 9780748635351

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16042 eup watts:EUP1811

26/8/09

T H E

Page 1

S T U D Y

A M E R I C A N

G U I D E S

C O L L E C T I O N

Series Editor: Duncan Watts This is a series of well-written, accessible introductions to key areas of Politics courses taught at both A-level/Highers and first-year undergraduate level. Each book is structured in the same way, with each chapter consisting of the following: • A short boxed paragraph of introduction, setting out the broad area to be explored • A brief conclusion summarising what you should have learnt • A glossary of key terms • Sample examination questions • Helpful websites • Suggestions for further reading The emphasis is on responding to student needs by producing up-to-date material written in a user-friendly style. Books in the American Collection section of the series provide overviews of core topics within US Government and Politics.

The American Presidency

Duncan Watts

The American Presidency

P O L I T I C S

14:34

The American Presidency Duncan Watts

The presidency is a complex topic for study defying simple explanations. It is unique and evolving, elastic and changing. Different occupants mould the presidency to suit their own needs and the national requirements of the time. Sometimes, the circumstances have been ripe for an extension of presidential power, for the challenges have called for assertive and dynamic leadership. At others, the notions of separated and shared powers have served to constrain the presidency.

Key Features: • A short, accessible introduction to the presidency and those who have occupied it • Incorporates various theories of and latest research about the nature of presidential power Duncan Watts has been an examiner in History and Politics and currently writes on various aspects of modern British, American and European political development. He is also a part-time tutor at Mander Portman Woodward Sixth Form College.

Duncan Watts

This book is concerned with the role and powers of American presidents and the way in which the office has evolved since it was created by the Founding Fathers. It seeks to show how personality, conception of the office and circumstances have influenced the ability of presidents to chart the direction in which they have wished to travel and their ability to implement their programme.

Cover design: River Design, Edinburgh Edinburgh University Press 22 George Square, Edinburgh EH8 9LF

Edinburgh

www.euppublishing.com ISBN 978 0 7486 3535 1

P O L I T I C S T H E

S T U D Y

A M E R I C A N

G U I D E S

C O L L E C T I O N

The American Presidency

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Books in the Politics Study Guides series

British Government and Politics: A Comparative Guide Duncan Watts International Politics: An Introductory Guide Alasdair Blair US Government and Politics William Storey Britain and the European Union Alistair Jones The Changing Constitution Kevin Harrison and Tony Boyd Democracy in Britain Matt Cole Devolution in the United Kingdom Russell Deacon and Alan Sandry Electoral Systems and Voting in Britain Chris Robinson The Judiciary, Civil Liberties and Human Rights Steven Foster Political Communication Steven Foster Political Parties in Britain Matt Cole The Politics of Northern Ireland Joanne McEvoy Pressure Groups Duncan Watts The Prime Minister and Cabinet Stephen Buckley The UK Parliament Moyra Grant The American Presidency Duncan Watts

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The American Presidency Duncan Watts

Edinburgh University Press

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© Duncan Watts, 2009 Edinburgh University Press Ltd 22 George Square, Edinburgh www.euppublishing.com Typeset in 11/13pt Monotype Baskerville by Servis Filmsetting Ltd, Stockport, Cheshire, and printed and bound in Spain by GraphyCems A CIP record for this book is available from the British Library ISBN 978 0 7486 3535 1 (paperback) The right of Duncan Watts to be identified as author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. Published with the support of the Edinburgh University Scholarly Publishing Initiatives Fund.

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Contents

List of boxes List of tables 1 Introduction The varying extent of presidential power Expectations of the presidency in the ‘modern era’ Interpretations of the presidency The George W. Bush presidency An outline of the organisation of this study 2 The Evolution of the Presidency to 1933 The role of the president as outlined in the Constitution The Constitution in practice: the early presidents, Washington to Buchanan From Lincoln to the turn of the century From Theodore Roosevelt to Hoover The period reviewed: differing approaches to the presidency Conclusion

viii ix 1 2 3 6 8 9 11 12 14 18 20 22 23

3 The Modern Presidency, 1933–2009 The modern presidency The Roosevelt presidency and its impact From Truman to Nixon: the development of an imperial presidency From the 1970s to the end of the Clinton administration The style and approach of George W. Bush Conclusion

27 28 28

4 Electing and Removing the President Winning delegates to the convention Winning support at the national convention Winning the presidential race The method of choosing the president assessed

48 49 53 55 60

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30 34 39 42

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Removing the president Conclusion 5 The President and Domestic Policy The differing roles of the president Constraints upon the president in domestic policy Thoughts on the president’s power in relation to domestic policy Conclusion

69 71 75 76 82 89 92

6 The Presidents and Foreign Policy The Constitution: presidential and congressional roles Crisis management Congressional reactions to presidential dominance The conduct of foreign policy reviewed Conclusion

96 98 102 104 110 113

7 Interpreting Presidential Power The idea of an all-powerful presidency A broad increase in presidential power since the days of the Founding Fathers Interpreting the presidency: the Neustadt analysis Arthur Schlesinger Jr and the imperial presidency The imperial presidency reborn? Recent writings on presidential power Conclusion

117 118

8 Assessing US Presidents Scholarly assessments of presidents General findings in the listed surveys Difficulties with any system of ranking Popular assessments of presidents Scholarly and popular assessments compared Presidential leadership: ‘effectiveness’, ‘greatness’ and ‘success’ Conclusion

140 141 142 145 150 152

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119 121 124 127 133 134

155 158

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Contents

vii

9 Support for the President: The Vice President Choice of the vice president Responsibilities and role The significance of the office since the 1970s Conclusion

161 162 164 165 171

10 Support for the President: The Cabinet and the Executive Office of the President The Cabinet The Executive Office of the President Conclusion

174 175 183 190

11 Conclusion: The Presidency and Presidential Power Reviewed 193 The Constitution in practice 194 The presidency in the twenty-first century 195 How presidential power is constrained 197 Limiting presidential power by constitutional amendment 198 What else might be done? 200 Conclusion 201 Further Reading References Index

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204 208 217

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Boxes

3.1 Some factors in the growth of presidential power to the late 1960s 3.2 Schlesinger’s evidence of an imperial presidency 4.1 The Iowa caucus 4.2 The advantages and disadvantages of presidential primaries 4.3 The importance of television to political leaders 4.4 What sort of qualities make a good presidential candidate? 4.5 What happened in 2000? 4.6 The backgrounds and experience of US presidents 4.7 The background and election of Barack Obama 5.1 The presidential veto 5.2 The George W. Bush presidency and the passing of legislation 5.3 Impeachment: the Clinton experience 6.1 Executive agreements 6.2 Congress, the Judiciary and presidential conduct of foreign policy 6.3 The use of signings by George W. Bush in support of the theory of the unitary executive 7.1 The legal status of the unitary executive theory 7.2 The Yoo Doctrine on the emergency demands of war leadership 7.3 The growing difficulties of the George W. Bush administration 9.1 Jo Biden: the Obama choice 10.1 Leading components of the Executive Office

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33 34 50 52 58 61 65 67 68 80 85 86 100 106 111 129 130 136 164 186

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Tables

2.1 2.2 2.3 3.1 3.2 4.1 4.2 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 9.1 10.1 10.2

US presidents from Washington to Buchanan US presidents from Lincoln to McKinley US presidents from Theodore Roosevelt to Hoover US presidents from Franklin Roosevelt to Nixon US presidents from Ford to Obama Key dates in the 2008 campaign The departure of presidents in the era of the modern presidency 1933–2009 The ‘top-five’ presidents in a series of scholarly rankings The ‘bottom five’ presidents in a series of scholarly rankings Qualities admired by Americans The ‘top-ten’ presidents in a series of popular rankings Popular rankings of post-1945 presidents Approval ratings of George W. Bush in the last weeks of his presidency Vice presidents from the Kennedy era to the Obama era The Obama Cabinet, March 2009 The EOP and White House Office under President Obama

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16 19 21 30 35 59 70 142 143 151 152 153 154 163 179 189

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CHAPTER 1

Introduction Contents The varying extent of presidential power Expectations of the presidency in the ‘modern era’ Interpretations of the presidency The George W. Bush presidency An outline of the organisation of this study

2 3 6 8 9

Overview This introductory chapter discusses American attitudes towards the modern presidency and the growth in presidential power. It notes that broadly there has been an increase in the power exercised by the incumbent of the White House, but that within that gradual trend there have been some periods of presidential dominance and others in which Congress has sought to impose limitations upon the executive branch. It outlines the main academic approaches that have been adopted towards presidential power. In its coverage of these areas, it introduces some of the issues that will be discussed more fully later in the book.

Key issues to be covered in this chapter • • • •

The extent to which presidential power varies between different incumbents of the presidency The expectations Americans have of the presidency Different interpretations of presidential power The experience of the George W. Bush presidency and its implications for presidential power

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The American Presidency

The president is often viewed as the symbol not only of the American federal government in Washington, but of the whole country as well. He is sometimes portrayed as the ‘superstar’ of the American political system. Every four years Americans search the national landscape for a new superstar ‘who is blessed with the judgement of a Washington, the mind of a Jefferson, the steadfastness of a Lincoln, the calm of an Eisenhower and the grace of a John F Kennedy’.1 Americans have an ambivalent attitude towards their presidents. They want to be led, but at the same time are suspicious of forceful leaders who might abuse their position of power. They admire strength, but worry about the possible adverse consequences of that strength. Presidents therefore have to tread carefully, being seen to be active and effective, but not over-powerful and domineering. There must be neither too much nor too little power in the White House. Thomas Cronin and Michael Genovese2 have pointed to a number of paradoxes in the presidency, two of which illustrate the conflicting expectations that people have of their national leader. They ‘demand powerful, popular presidential leadership that solves the nation’s problems. Yet . . . are inherently suspicious of strong centralised leadership.’ They ‘want powerful, self-confident presidential leadership . . . yet are suspicious of leaders who view themselves as infallible and above criticism’. At times, the presidency appears ‘too strong’, at others ‘too weak’.

The varying extent of presidential power Power in the White House has ebbed and flowed. The Founding Fathers never intended that the presidency should be a powerhouse. They both admired and feared leadership, recognising the need for effective direction from a central government yet afraid that any undue use or misuse of power might jeopardise the freedoms for which they had fought in the War of Independence. Similar ambiguities exist at the beginning of the twenty-first century. There remains that ambivalence about whether the presidency should be largely above the politics of the day and respond to the views expressed in Congress and by the electorate, or whether the institution should be politically engaged, providing a lead to congressmen and the people.

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Introduction

3

Since the Founding Fathers did their work, there has been a gradual accretion of presidential power, so that presidents of the post-1945 era have tended to be markedly more active and assertive than their predecessors one hundred years ago. But the increase has not been at a steady or consistent rate. Power has increased at times of grave emergency and tension, whilst in calmer periods Congress has tended to reassert its role and rein in the president. In other words, there has been a waxing and waning of presidential power. Broadly speaking, in the years between 1789 and 1933 presidents took a rather limited view of their responsibilities. There were notably active presidents in period, Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson being the foremost examples. Domestic and foreign upheaval, often war, created the conditions that enabled them to concentrate authority in the White House. Other presidents, such as Taft and Coolidge, attempted to do remarkably little. Given their limited concept of the office they held, they needed to raise or spend little money and had no significant legislative programme that they wished to implement. Some presidents of the first 150 years are very forgettable and indeed have in several cases been long forgotten. There were thirty presidents in those years, few of which made much impact on the presidency. The presidencies of Chester Arthur, Millard Fillmore and Benjamin Harrison today seem inconsequential.

Expectations of the presidency in the ‘modern era’ Franklin Roosevelt’s assumption of the presidency in 1933 is often said to have ushered in the era of the ‘modern presidency’, transforming as it did the role of the federal government and of the president who led it. Since then, people have expected more of their leaders, although some presidents have found that the powers of the office have fallen far short of the scope and range of their responsibilities and the popular expectations of what should be accomplished. The popular image is that the president is in charge of the national government in Washington, but Charles Jones3 has reminded us that America has a ‘separated’ system of government in which constitutional authority and resources are spread across three organs of government, the Legislature, the Judiciary and the Executive. This results

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4

The American Presidency

in the ‘mismatch’ identified by Stephen Skowronek,4 who has distinguished between the popular understanding of the presidency and the authority that attaches to it in the Constitution: Formally, there is no central authority. Governing responsibilities are shared, and assertions of power are contentious. Practically, however, it is the presidency that stands out as the chief point of reference . . . it is the executive office that focuses the eyes and draws out the attachments of the people.

For many citizens, the president is the American government. When things go well, it is because the president is exercising leadership. When they go badly, it is because the president is weak and not up to the job. They applaud presidents for successes and blame them when things go wrong. Disasters as well as triumphs are credited to presidents. Wilson’s inability to gain support for the League of Nations, Hoover’s handling of economic depression, Franklin Roosevelt’s implementation of the New Deal, Johnson’s leadership of his country into increasing involvement in Vietnam, Nixon’s misuse of his authority over Watergate, Carter’s difficulties in the Iran hostage crisis, Reagan’s budget deficits, Clinton’s impeachment and George W Bush’s invasion of Iraq – all are seen as being down to personal presidential performance. When a specific national problem arises, whether it is rising crime rates, illegal immigration, a hurricane disaster or a stalled economy, the president is expected to respond and will be judged on his handling of the issue. Many Americans think that, if only the president mobilises all the forces at his command, then he will be able to resolve any problem. A popular feeling is that, if only the right candidate for office were to be available, all would be well. This is the popular myth of an allpowerful presidency, sometimes referred to as the ‘imagined presidency’ (Louis Koenig5) or the ‘saviour model’ of the presidency (Erwin Hargrove and Michael Nelson6). Such a view, inspired by memories of ‘great presidents’, suggests that all the country’s problems, economic, political, social or international, can be resolved by a display of effective leadership from the president, endowed as he is with immense powers. Sometimes, the observations of presidents have served to feed the myth, as when Jimmy Carter7 contended: ‘The president is the only person who can speak with a clear voice to

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Introduction

5

the American people and set a standard of ethics and morality, excellence and greatness.’ Because of the expectations that presidents can and do make a real difference to the lives of Americans, they are judged harshly when they fail to achieve all that was anticipated of them. For various reasons, as we shall see in Chapters 5 and 7, it has at times become more difficult for presidents to fulfil their best intentions. Michael Genovese8 has written of how, ‘once seen as the great engine of democracy, the presidency now seems to be “the little train that can’t”’ and asks where have all the leaders gone. A system that once enabled Franklin Roosevelt to lead his country out of depression now seems to be ‘characterised by gridlock and deadlock, paralysis and roadblocks. From Lyndon Johnson to Bill Clinton, recent presidents have either failed or performed well below popular and/or academic expectations.’ Thomas Cronin9 too has claimed that ‘presidential frustration is far more the rule than presidential triumph’. Only five of the twelve leaders before Barack Obama completed two or more terms, the rest being assassinated, defeated, or unwilling to run again, or having resigned in disgrace. Compared with the ‘great’ or ‘near-great’ presidents who were tested by war or economic depression and heroically led their country through troubled times, there has seemingly been a lack of similar quality in recent incumbents. Although – as in the case of Truman – today’s ‘near greats’ were not so viewed at the time, it is hard to imagine Ford, Carter, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush as ever being likely to feature at the top end of any ranking of past presidents. Since the days of Franklin Roosevelt, inspirational and/or towering figures have not reached the highest office. Yet in part their difficulties in office may have derived not so much from their personal failings, as from the weakness inherent in the modern presidency, an institution that has been labelled as ‘tethered’ and ‘constrained’. But if, in the separated system that Charles Jones10 has described, those who take a presidency-centred view of government expect too much of the executive, it remains the case that it is the head of the executive who is in the best position to give a lead when leadership is required. The recent and invaluable research of William Howell and others shows us some of ways in which George W. Bush was able to act independently and forcefully.

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6

The American Presidency

It is, as yet, premature to make any observations on the Obama presidency.

Interpretations of the presidency In the era of the modern presidency, the role of the president has been categorised in various ways. When the potential of the office became apparent under Franklin Roosevelt, the extent of presidential power both before and during the Second World War was apparent to all observers. Hence the label often applied to the post-1933 years as an era of ‘modern’ government. Yet, under his successor, Congress was unresponsive to the domestic agenda that Truman advanced. In the case of his successors, Eisenhower and Kennedy, there was a similar gulf between the considerable discretion they were allowed to exercise in foreign policy and the limitations at home. Richard Neustadt11 saw the power of the presidency as being restricted to the ‘power to persuade’, and, at the time the first edition of his book on presidential power appeared, he was concerned to indicate to fellow-Democrat President Kennedy how he might overcome the weaknesses inherent in the office. However, within a few years, Arthur Schlesinger12 – aware of the performance of Johnson over Vietnam and particularly the experiences of the Nixon presidency – was writing of the over-mighty ‘imperial presidency’. Such a view did not last long, for, with the ousting of President Nixon, Congress reasserted itself, so that, in the days of Ford and Carter, Franck13 could portray the office as ineffective, ‘tethered’ or ‘imperilled’. In the early years of Ronald Reagan, it was possible to think in terms of the ‘restored presidency’. Yet, within a few years he had experienced a deadlocked second term, and his successors found it difficult to persuade Congress to respond in the days of the ‘constrained presidency’. Such nomenclatures came and went remarkably quickly, the turnover in part resulting from the tendency of observers to equate the strengths and successes or otherwise of individual presidents with the powers of the presidency as an institution. Such an over-personalisation of the office tends to imply that individual presidents provide genuine national leadership and can make the office respond to their goals. The presidency is in one sense the most powerful office in the

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Introduction

7

world, for its incumbent has the power to make massive decisions affecting the peace of the world. The responsibility seems awesome, as Truman realised when – on the death of FDR – he implored journalists: ‘Boys, if you ever pray, pray for me now.’ 14 But some commentators would argue that it is inherently weak in terms of its limited range of powers and the restrictions placed upon the incumbent. Perceptions of presidential power have varied enormously. There has been a long-running debate about whether there ever was an imperial presidency, or whether the notion was an exaggerated response to the circumstances of the time. Similarly, the weakness or strength of the office has been much debated, with two broad views emerging, as represented by Richard Neustadt and William Howell. In Presidential Power (1960) Neustadt15 introduces his major theme, that far from being all-powerful, presidents find that their wishes do not automatically become policy. They cannot depend upon the support of anyone – not even their own appointees. They must rely upon persuasion. In the system of shared powers, they must convince others that what they want is in their interests as well. The invoking of party loyalty, effective lobbying and personal appeal are all potential means of persuasion, but the support of the public is particular useful even though it cannot guarantee presidential success. Howell’s more recent study, Power without Persuasion (2003),16 is a direct attack on the Neustadt argument. He notes the striking ways in which President George W. Bush used presidential powers following the attack on the Twin Towers, often in the absence of congressional legislation. Although the circumstances of late 2001 were extraordinary, Howell argues that Bush’s actions are otherwise typical: in his view, presidents often exercise power without persuasion. A further theory, first advanced by Aaron Wildavsky17 in 1966 and often restated since then, is that there are really ‘two presidencies’. He argued that presidents have a much easier time exercising power in foreign policy than on domestic questions. Indeed, he claimed that for the president ‘foreign policy concerns tend to drive out domestic policy’. Does the argument still hold, after the ending of the cold war? Or have the ‘two presidencies’ become one? In responding to any of these theories, the experience of the presidency of George W. Bush is illuminating. The collapse of the Twin

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8

The American Presidency

Towers gave the President a chance to take a firmer grip upon events than he had previously displayed. Americans were in the mood to accept more assertive presidential leadership. They were unsure of what was happening to them and yearned for a sense of direction. The national mood was carefully exploited by the President, who began to shape the political agenda. War – in this case on terrorism – was the catalyst for change. It demanded personalised control from the man who symbolised the unity of the country. As his plans unfolded, there were discussion and analysis of a ‘revived’ or ‘reimperialised’ presidency.

The George W. Bush presidency The circumstances of the election in November 2000 cast doubt upon the legitimacy of the George W. Bush presidency. However, following the attack on the World Trade Center, President Bush benefited from the spotlight into which he was cast. In the words of a Washington correspondent,18 ‘the sharpest learning curve in the history of the presidency has seen Bush mutate into a figurehead who has the people behind him’. His waging of the War on Terror and his initiation of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 enabled him to run as a selfdescribed ‘war president’ in 2004. Before and after his re-election, matters concerning his administration’s conduct of the Iraq War, the Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse scandals, and the federal response to domestic controversies such as Hurricane Katrina and the deepening economic recession were particularly controversial. Some members of the Bush administration advanced the unitary executive theory (see also pp. 127–138), which addresses aspects of the separation of powers. It argues for strict limits to the power of Congress to deprive the president of control of the executive branch. It relies heavily on the clause of Article II, which states: ‘The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.’ Proponents of the unitary executive19 use this language along with the ‘take-care’ clause to argue that the Constitution creates a hierarchical, unified executive department under the direct control of the president. The ways in which Bush used this broad remit shed an interesting insight into the debate on presidential power.

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Introduction

9

An outline of the organisation of this study An important issue to be discussed is the way in which presidents acquire their position. This also involves consideration of the qualities likely to be found in any successful presidential candidate. Towards the end of the book we examine the support available to the president from the vice president, the Executive Office of the President and the Cabinet to assist him in fulfilling his responsibilities. In between, several key chapters are concerned with the central focus of this survey, an analysis of the nature of presidential power and of the powers granted to the president. In our review of presidential power, we shall explain the conception of executive authority held by the Founding Fathers; outline the development of the ‘traditional’ presidency to 1933; analyse the factors involved in the growth of presidential power; examine the range of his domestic and foreign responsibilities and the ability of the president to influence policy in these areas; assess presidential leadership and power today; distinguish those qualities that make a president successful or otherwise; and finally reflect on the occupants of the White House whom scholars and the American public most admire.

/

Glossary of key terms Hurricane Katrina One of the most destructive hurricane in US history. It caused severe devastation along the Gulf coast from central Florida to Texas in August 2005, resulting in the loss of nearly 2,000 lives in the hurricane itself and subsequent floods, and much property damage. There was much questioning of the federal government’s response, with allegations of mismanagement and lack of leadership. President Bush was criticised for not flying to Louisiana to witness the chaos more personally. Impeachment The process by which Congress can remove officers of the national government, including the president. The House votes on a charge or series of charges and a trial on them is then conducted by the Senate. In the case of President Clinton, four articles of impeachment were laid before the House Judiciary Committee, which in December 1998 voted to approve further action on all of them. The whole House decided to go ahead on two counts, articles 1 (concerning the charge of perjury before the federal grand jury) and 3 (concerning the obstruction of justice in the Paula Jones case involving allegations of sexual harassment). The Senate acquitted him on both charges.

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The American Presidency

Imperial presidency The label applied by Arthur Schlesinger Jr to describe the increased authority and decreased accountability of the presidency at the peak of presidential power in the late 1960s/early 1970s. It signified an era in which there was a high-handed and often secretive handling of foreign policy issues, and in which in domestic policy also presidents were able to evade the usual system of checks and balances. New Deal The name given by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to the series of programmes introduced between 1833 and 1837, with the goal of relief, recovery and reform of the US economy to lift the country out of the Great Depression. ‘Take care’ clause Article II, Section 3, of the Constitution requires that the president ‘take Care that the laws be faithfully executed’. Presidents from Lincoln onwards have interpreted this seemingly innocuous and straightforward requirement as a demand that they both efficiently administer US laws, and also ensure that they are ‘faithfully executed’ by both the government and respected by the citizenry. In extraordinary circumstances (for instance, involving defence of the nation from internal or external threat), the clause may be seen as allowing them to take extraordinary actions even if they are beyond the law and Constitution. Such a view is taken by proponents of unitary executive theory. Unitary executive theory A theory of US constitutional law that asserts presidential control over the entire executive branch of government. Relying on the second article of the Constitution (sections 1 and 3), its supporters claim that executive authority is solely concentrated in presidential hands. The theory was widely quoted by President G. W. Bush (when issuing signing statements, see pp. 45–6) and by other figures in his administration. Vietnam The name used to refer to the Vietnam War. Begun under President Kennedy and escalated under Johnson, this aimed to prevent communist North Vietnam from taking over South Vietnam and to contain the spread of communism in south-east Asia. It ended with an American withdrawal in 1973, America’s first defeat in war. In 1975 Vietnam was unified under communist rule. Watergate The collective label for a series of abuses of power that began with a break-in at the national headquarters of the Democratic Party in the Watergate Building, Washington DC, in June 1972, as part of an attempt to find out the Democrats’ election plans and thereby assist the chances of a Republican victory in that year. As the story unfolded, several members of the Nixon administration were indicted and convicted on charges ranging from burglary and wiretapping to ‘misleading testimony’ and ‘political espionage’. It became apparent that Nixon had been taping conversations in the Oval Office and that he had been tapping the phones of his political enemies. When parts of the tapes were released, many began to become more than ever suspicious that the president had himself been involved. With talk of him being impeached, he resigned in August 1974, the first president to do so.

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CHAPTER 2

The Evolution of the Presidency to 1933 Contents The role of the president as outlined in the Constitution The Constitution in practice: the early presidents, Washington to Buchanan From Lincoln to the turn of the century From Theodore Roosevelt to Hoover The period reviewed: differing approaches to the presidency Conclusion

12 14 18 20 22 23

Overview When George Washington took the oath of office in 1789, the scope of the presidential office and the influence available to presidents were unclear. The office would evolve, and different presidents would interpret its potential in different ways. The character of the modern presidency would develop over time. Between 1787 and 1933 there was a growth in presidential power, but it did not take place in a consistent manner. Long periods of congressional dominance were interspersed with periods of strong presidential leadership. In this chapter we examine the intentions of the Founding Fathers and see how the various presidents used the powers available to them. In the process, we see how individuals were able to make an impact on the office and its evolution.

Key issues to be covered in this chapter • • • • •

The conception of the presidential office held by the Founding Fathers The powers laid out in the Constitution Pre-1933 presidents and their use of the powers available to them The balance of power between the presidency and Congress The different approaches of active and passive presidents

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The American Presidency

The state governors of the pre-revolutionary era were either Crown Governors, who embodied the authority of the monarch in London, or Proprietary Governors, who also had a strong position, in this case by virtue of their appointment by and responsibility to the corporate owners of the colony. When independence enabled states to devise new systems of government, their instincts were to curb executive power and to ensure that governors were dominated by their legislature. When the Articles of Confederation were devised, there was no mention of an executive branch, and all power – including that of control over foreign policy and making war – was handed to Congress. As discussion of new constitutional arrangements got underway in the mid-1780s, men such as Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and George Washington recognised the inadequacy of the existing arrangements. At Philadelphia in 1787, most of the Founding Fathers were convinced of the desirability of having a credible executive equipped with sufficient power to provide direction and stability, so that much of the debate was focused on how to grant power to and yet restrain the conduct of the incumbent of the new office, in order to avoid the threat of tyranny or arbitrary rule. Initially, there was sympathy for the view expressed by Connecticut representative Roger Sherman,1 who proclaimed that ‘the Executive magistracy [w]as nothing more than an instrument for carrying the will of the legislature into effect’. He and like-minded delegates thought in terms of a highly dependent president selected by Congress, for anything more powerful would be too reminiscent of the days of colonial rule. However, others, including Madison, argued for popular election of the chief executive, for this would guarantee his independence and make it acceptable for him to exercise more authority and act as a check on the legislature. The national executives with whom the Founding Fathers were familiar were almost all monarchies possessed of broad powers, which included the right to conduct foreign policy and go to war. There were no obvious role models for a republican executive.

The role of the president as outlined in the Constitution Article II of the American Constitution boldly proclaims: ‘The Executive Power shall be vested in the Presidency of the United

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The Evolution of the Presidency to 1933

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States of America.’ But there was little debate at Philadelphia to clarify what the Founding Fathers intended to be included within the orbit of this Executive Power. The document has relatively little to say about what the American president can and should do. What is said is rather ambiguous and uncertain. Key terms such as the Executive were not clearly defined in what was – in the words of Edward Corwin2 – ‘the most loosely drawn chapter of the Constitution’. Furthermore, the functions set out are subject to legislative and judicial restraints. The actual powers outlined in the document are set out in Article II: • • • • • • • • • •

Article I:7 to veto congressional legislation Article II:2 to act as commander-in-chief of the US armed forces Article II:2 to grant pardons Article II:2 to make treaties Article II:2 to appoint ambassadors Article II:2 to make judges Article II:2 to appoint members of the Executive Article II:3 to comment on the State of the Union Article II:3 to recommend legislation to Congress Article II:3 to summon special sessions of Congress

The Founding Fathers had in mind a presidency of which the holder would stand above the political process and act as a symbol of national unity. He would not depend directly on the people or any political party for his support. This would enable him to act as a kind of gentleman-aristocrat, wise, virtuous and remote from the political arena. Congress was supreme, as far as the actual government of the country was concerned. In the words of Maidment and McGrew,3 the presidency would be ‘the brake, the restraining hand of the federal government; it would provide the balance for the Congress, and the House of Representatives in particular’. In the view of the Founding Fathers, the president would help to provide direction and energy to government, but they did not see him as having a political role. They wanted someone who would share most of his powers and authority with Congress, working with the Legislature and the courts in a framework of law. But there were

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contrasting views of how the office might evolve. Federalists wondered whether the president was being accorded sufficient power. Anti-federalists feared that executive power might expand over time. In their view, assertive and robust leadership in times of crisis might become a habit, allowing for the possibility of potential tyrannical rule. Presidential power has expanded markedly since the days of the Founding Fathers, as people turned to the White House for initiatives to get things done. The office was equipped with sufficient adaptability and room for development to allow for changing conditions and circumstances. Presidents filled the vacuum left by the inertia or inaction of Congress, the states or private enterprise. In the twentieth century, wars and domestic crises provided the opportunity for assertive leadership from the incumbent of the White House, so that there has been a broad, underlying trend towards greater presidential power, with strong presidents stepping in to resolve national problems. For more than 200 years, the combination of weak and strong presidents and variations in the national mood have meant that at different times the presidency has been a powerhouse and a motionless engine. There has been no continuous accumulation of power, more a waxing and waning of the degree of leadership and control.

The Constitution in practice: the early presidents, Washington to Buchanan On assuming office as America’s first president, George Washington (1789–97) was aware of the dignity of his position and that this must be preserved. He understood that he was moulding the evolution of a new institution and that his actions were likely to be viewed by his successors as a precedent. The Constitution provided him with only limited guidance in handling his relationship with Congress, so he was wise to tread carefully. As did the congressmen. Both sides recognised that the balance of initiative and influence between them was unclear. Washington’s wish for dialogue with the Legislature received a setback when he wished to consult with the Senate over details of a treaty then being negotiated with Indian tribes in the South. He

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attended the Senate so that he might talk directly to its members and hear their advice in person. Senators were less enthusiastic, seeing such a presence as intimidatory and preferring to receive a written submission that they could ponder in their own manner and at the time of their choosing. Chastened by the experience, Washington left the building and never attempted to repeat the exercise. Guidance to Congress was provided in the form of detailed written reports and proposals for legislation submitted by Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton. His influence was such that in the early 1790s he was viewed by some White House watchers as in effect the president’s ‘prime minister’, the leading member of the Cabinet and the coordinator of the administration’s supporters in Congress. In his second term, Washington faced resistance to federal authority from the farmers of Western Pennsylvania, who were angered by a tax placed on whiskey. He sent troops to put down the insurrection, the first time under the new US Constitution that the federal government employed military force over the nation’s citizens. His action in the so-called ‘whiskey rebellion’ was later claimed as precedent for a president’s residual powers (sometimes known as inherent ones), those not spelt out in the Constitution but necessary for the president to be able to carry out other responsibilities. As president, Washington adopted a broad interpretation of executive power. He showed that the incumbent could become directly or indirectly involved in formulating legislation, steering a programme through Congress, responding to internal and international threats. His example was influential in two other respects, also. He began the practice of meeting heads of executive departments in a cabinet and he did not seek a third term in office, thereby establishing the precedent of a two-term limit that remained unbroken to 1940. The scale of Hamilton’s programme had inspired Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and James Madison to organise a systematic opposition to what was being proposed. At the end of the Washington era, Jefferson stood against John Adams for the presidency. Although he lost, he became vice president under the existing rules. Adams had been an important figure in the struggle in the American Revolution, in which he was known as the ‘Atlas of Independence’. But as president (1797–1801) he was a lacklustre one-termer, unable to work

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Table 2.1 US presidents from Washington to Buchanan President

Party

Term

1 George Washington (1732–99)

Federalist

1789–97

2 John Adams (1735–1826)

Federalist

1797–1801

3 Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826)

Democratic– Republican

1801–9

4 James Madison (1751–1836)

Democratic– Republican

1809–17

5 James Monroe (1758–1831)

Democratic– Republican

1817–25

6 John Quincy Adams (1767–1848)

Democratic– Republican

1825–9

7 Andrew Jackson (1767–1845)

Democrat

1829–37

8 Martin Van Buren (1782–1862)

Democrat

1837–41

9 William Henry Harrison (1773–1841)

Whig

1841

10 John Tyler (1790–1862)

Whig

1841–5

11 James K. Polk (1795–1849)

Democrat

1845–9

12 Zachary Taylor (1784–1850)

Whig

1849–50

13 Millard Fillmore (1800–74)

Whig

1850–3

14 Franklin Pierce (1804–69)

Democrat

1853–7

15 James Buchanan (1791–1868)

Democrat

1857–61

effectively with his own supporters or the Jeffersonians (the predecessors of the modern Democratic Party). In 1800, Jefferson stood against him again and this time was elected to the White House. Thomas Jefferson had in the past been in favour of restricting the power of the executive in the Constitution, but in office (1801–9) he

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acted in a way that enhanced its role and influence. He did not share Washington’s view of the ‘baneful effects of the spirit of party’ and instead worked to ensure that the party faithful were elected. He saw the value of cooperating closely with those in Congress – led by Madison – who were sympathetic to him. In this way, he could hope to implement his legislative programme. Apart from this party role, Jefferson is also remembered for negotiating and signing the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, an action he took without seeking prior congressional approval and which had the effect of doubling the landmass of his country. Maybe in an era of slow communications, it was inevitable that Congress would hear about what had been done only after agreement had been reached. Once accomplished, Jefferson’s initiative could not easily be undone. After Jefferson’s departure, his successors were relatively unsuccessful as party leaders and there followed twelve years of congressional governance. From the end of his administration until the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, only Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln were so to dominate their parties on Capitol Hill. Andrew Jackson (1829–1837) was a believer in a strong and initiating presidency, based on popular support. He was the first president who could claim to be truly elected by the people. Whereas in the past state legislatures had appointed most members of the Electoral College, by 1828 all but those from Delaware and South Carolina were popularly elected. Moreover, the removal of ownership of property as a criterion for voting extended the franchise. By virtue of his popular mandate, he was able to appeal over the heads of congressmen to the American public. This gave him widespread popular backing in his conflict with Congress. He rejected congressional bills, his action being based not on any feeling that they were unconstitutional but rather upon disagreement with what was being proposed. In the words of influential congressmen Daniel Webster4: ‘The president carries on the government: all the rest are subcontractors.’ In the years between Jackson and Lincoln, presidents were markedly less assertive, often of rather mediocre calibre. Indeed, with the exception of Lincoln, most of the rest of the presidents of the next 100 years remain to most people unknown, sunk in obscurity. James Polk (1845–9) did make an impact in one significant respect. He

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further expanded his country, annexing Texas through war with Mexico and acquiring the Oregon territory from Britain by peaceful means. He left behind a country half as large again as when he had entered White House. James Buchanan (1857–61), the president who immediately preceded Lincoln, believed that he should limit his actions to those expressly set out in the Constitution. Aloof from politics and dependent on leadership from Congress, he is mainly known as the president who refused to end Southern secession by force in 1860. Otherwise, he tends to be mentioned only because he is usually ranked as one of America’s worst presidents. His attitude to the presidential role in time of crisis was perhaps summed up in the remark he is said to have made to his successor on the day of his takeover: ‘My dear sir, if you are as happy on entering the White House as I am on leaving, you are a very happy man indeed.’

From Lincoln to the turn of the century In marked contrast to Buchanan was the 16th president, Abraham Lincoln (1861–5). Lincoln immediately made a significant impact on the office. Yet he was ill-prepared for the task he had undertaken. Unlike Washington and Jackson, he lacked military experience; unlike Jefferson and Monroe (1817–25) he had no diplomatic background. He had never travelled abroad, had no executive experience and had received almost no formal education. Having once criticised executive authority and disapproved of the war with Mexico as an unconstitutional act, in office he used his powers in new and extraordinary ways and with dogged tenacity. He quickly began to make tough and controversial decisions. Without first seeking congressional approval, he spent money, blockaded ports, called up militia, suspended some established rights such as habeas corpus (also closing opposition newspapers, ordering the arrest of suspected traitors and censoring telegraphs and the mail to ‘treasonable correspondence’), issued the Proclamation of Emancipation, an executive order for which he will always be remembered, and lobbied for a thirteenth amendment to end slavery. In the Civil War, he took the view that a crisis situation demanded bold and far-reaching action, irrespective of whether this handed the

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Table 2.2 US presidents from Lincoln to McKinley President

Party

Term

16 Abraham Lincoln (1809–65

Republican

1861–5

17 Andrew Johnson (1808–75)

Union

1865–9

18 Ulysses S. Grant (1822–85)

Republican

1869–77

19 Rutherford B. Hayes (1822–93)

Republican

1877–81

20 James A. Garfield (1831–81)

Republican

1881

21 Chester A. Arthur (1830–86)

Republican

1881–5

22 Grover Cleveland (1837–1908)

Democrat

1885–9

23 Benjamin Harrison (1833–1901)

Republican

1889–93

24 Grover Cleveland (1837–1908)

Democrat

1893–7

25 William McKinley (1843–1901)

Republican

1897–1901

White House almost unlimited powers. He did what he thought was necessary in order to secure victory and thereby preserve the Union. Congress later approved most of his initiatives, but by his approach he showed where the power of initiative lay. According to the Lincoln approach, the president was an active politician who needed to rally Congress and the nation in times of crisis. He was unwilling to interpret narrowly his constitutional role in the manner of his predecessor. For him, the limits of executive power were only those specifically outlined in the Constitution. His power as president was largely dependent on his own personal and political abilities. The circumstances were propitious for a display of national leadership, for Lincoln was presented with the greatest crisis that his young nation had yet faced. He rose to the challenge in difficult times, in the process helping to shape the course of American history. He established a precedent of ‘crisis leadership’ that presidents of 100 years or so later were to follow.

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For almost forty years after Lincoln, the presidency was dominated by Congress. He was followed by a group of presidents sometimes referred to as the ‘bearded presidents’, 14 none of whom made any enduring impact upon the office. It was not until the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt that there was another dominant figure in the White House.

From Theodore Roosevelt to Hoover Two early twentieth-century presidents of the Progressive Era were noted for their vigorous leadership. Aged only 42 when he assumed office in 1901, Theodore Roosevelt became the youngest president in American history. He brought new excitement and power to the presidency, vigorously leading Congress and the American public towards progressive reforms. He used his period in the White House (1901–9) to advance his pro-environmental and anti-monopoly beliefs and turn them into legislative effect. His ‘Square Deal’ programme promised a fair deal for the average citizen. He saw himself as an arbiter between the conflicting economic forces of capital and labour, guaranteeing justice to each and dispensing favours to neither. He is most famous as the ‘trust buster’ who forced the dissolution of a great railroad combination in the north-west. He accepted capitalism and trusts in principle, but railed against their corrupt, illegal practices and the businessmen. Roosevelt’s was the most important presidency since that of Lincoln. Like him, he liberally interpreted the constitutional authority of his office to redress the imbalance between the executive and legislature that had become tilted in favour of Congress after the Civil War. Woodrow Wilson was a liberal by background and inclination. As an academic he had written a study of congressional government in which he showed his disdain for the traditionally limited powers of the presidency. He was attracted by the English parliamentary model of government, in which a powerful prime minister exercised strong influence over his party supporters. As president (1913–21), Wilson soon employed the levers of power effectively as he sought to implement his New Freedom agenda of anti-trust legislation, tariff reduction and measures to shore up the

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Table 2.3 US presidents from Theodore Roosevelt to Hoover President

Party

Term

26 Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919)

Republican

1901–9

27 William Howard Taft (1857–1930)

Republican

1909–13

28 Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924)

Democrat

1913–21

29 Warren G. Harding (1865–1923)

Republican

1921–3

30 Calvin Coolidge (1871–1933)

Republican

1923–9

31 Herbert Hoover (1874–1964)

Republican

1929–33

banking system. He made the Democrats a party of ‘big government’ rather than states’ rights. He was also active in foreign policy, proving to be a liberal interventionist in the Teddy Roosevelt mould. He was active south of the border, where he was keen to see free and well-led republics emerge. However, it was his decision to take America into the First World War and his involvement at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 for which he is most remembered. He bequeathed a powerful legacy of internationalism and idealism. Both Theodore Roosevelt and Wilson believed in vigorous national leadership. By their performance they changed popular expectations of what the presidential office might achieve. Yet their vigorous administrations proved to be only an interruption to the general pattern of congressional government that had proceeded and was to follow their terms in office. They were followed by a series of weak presidents in the 1920s who arguably were responding to a mood in the country conducive to inactivity in the White House. Warren Harding (1921–3), Calvin Coolidge (1923–9) and Herbert Hoover (1929–33) were all less active executives who adopted the Buchanan standpoint. Hoover’s defeat in the 1932 election was caused primarily by his administration’s failure to end America’s downward spiral into deep depression, following the Wall Street Crash in October 1929. His

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lack of charisma in relating to voters and his poor skills in working with politicians were additional problems.

The period reviewed: differing approaches to the presidency In the nineteenth century, the impact of the national government on the lives of Americans was considerably less than it is in the twentyfirst century. The prevailing economic philosophy was laissez-faire, so that, although the country was rapidly industrialising by the end of the century, such development was done via private enterprise and was based on individual initiative. The contribution of government was limited. Neither was America yet a world power. In these circumstances, popular expectations of individual presidents were much less than they are today. But, of course, there were times of crisis when more active and visible leadership was required. In those circumstances, presidents who had been critical of the concept of strong leadership before assuming office – Jackson and Lincoln – found themselves behaving more forcefully when in the White House. Two conceptions of presidential power Presidents in the era we have examined differed in their concept of the presidency. We might distinguish between the outlooks that Lincoln and Buchanan adopted towards their office. Lincoln believed in an active presidency, in which the incumbent submitted a legislative programme, led public opinion and was the major source of the country’s political and social goals. He and others who adopted his vision did not confine themselves to interpreting the Constitution, for in their view they were ‘stewards of the nation’, the only limits to their authority being those specifically outlined in the 1787 document. In the early twentieth century, Theodore Roosevelt5 was a prime exponent of such thinking. For him, the office could be used as a ‘bully pulpit’ to set the national agenda. In his Autobiography (1913), he made clear his view that the executive power was limited only by specific restrictions and prohibitions appearing in the Constitution or imposed by the Congress under its Constitutional powers. My view was that every executive officer in high position was a steward of the people bound actively

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and affirmatively to do all he could for the people. I declined to adopt the view that what was imperatively necessary for the nation could not be done by the President unless he could find some specific authorisation to do it. My belief was that it was not only his right, but his duty to do anything that the needs of the nation demanded unless such action was forbidden by the Constitution or the laws . . . I did not usurp power, but I did greatly broaden the use of executive power.

By contrast, there were those sometimes labelled as Buchanan presidents who believed they should remain largely aloof from politics and look to Congress for leadership. They saw their role as primarily administrative. In the performance of their duties, they confined themselves to those powers expressly granted to them by the Founding Fathers. Among these less active presidents was Roosevelt’s successor in the White House, William Howard Taft (1909–13), who strongly disagreed with the assertive approach of his predecessor. Taft’s more passive view of the office was set out a few years later. He was convinced that a president should exercise no power which cannot be fairly and reasonably traced to some specific grant of power or justly implied . . . Such specific grant must be either in the Federal Constitution or in act of Congress passed in pursuance thereof. There is no undefined residuum of power which he can exercise because it seems to him to be in the public interest . . . his jurisdiction must be justified and vindicated by affirmative constitutional or statutory provision, or it does not exist.6

The same contrasting opinions have been expressed by many other presidents and congressmen before and since. Activists have concurred with the Rooseveltian belief that he should do ‘anything that the needs of the nation demanded’. Several presidents since 1933 would echo such a view. But it was and is not the view of all incumbents, and at the time he was writing America was on the verge of twelve years of Republican rule in which the Taftian approach prevailed.

Conclusion For much of the nineteenth century, Congress was dominant in both foreign and domestic policy. With the rare exceptions of Polk in the

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Mexican War and Lincoln in the Civil War, Congress assumed control of war making. Even the decision to enter the Spanish– American War was initiated in the Legislature. Presidents were not expected to introduce or promote legislation. Congress dealt with issues of the day, such as commerce, tariffs and taxation. Altogether, there were thirty presidents in the years before Franklin Roosevelt assumed power in March 1933. They are mostly long forgotten. At that time, the federal government was not particularly large. Neither was it relevant to Americans in their daily lives. Most administration was still conducted by state government. From 1789 to 1933, the balance of initiative and power moved back and forth between Congress and the White House. The influence and powers of the presidential office were at times exploited, but not in a consistent way. Strong presidents who overcame national problems illustrated the potential for leadership from Washington. However, they alternated with several less assertive ones who adopted a more passive approach to the responsibilities of government.

D

What you should have learnt from reading this chapter •

The majority of the Founding Fathers recognised the need for a credible president capable of working with and withstanding pressure from the Legislature and the courts. Accordingly, they devised a system of shared power, in which power was divided between the three agencies but in which the presidency would possess significant powers.



For much of the late eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Congress had the upper hand in the relationship. Most presidents were content to follow its lead in domestic politics and were not expected to produce their own legislative programmes. In issues of foreign policy, they were more likely to offer leadership.



Opportunities arose from time to time that provided the opportunity for clear presidential leadership, most obviously in times of emergency such as the Civil War and the First World War. Overall, by the early twentieth century there was a gradual increase in presidential power, as the country became a mature industrial economy in which corporations acquired considerable influence. This placed increased demands on the national government for which Congress was at times ill-equipped or unready to respond.

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25

A few presidents offered decisive leadership and seized the initiative, particularly in times of crisis. They had a different conception of presidential power from many of those who followed and succeeded them. Whereas the majority were passive leaders of the Buchanan or Taft type, others such as Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson preferred to act more assertively.

/

Glossary of key terms Anti-federalists Anti-federalism is the name given to those people who opposed the Constitution proposed at the Philadelphia Convention. Many sought to leave the articles of Confederation intact, whereas others accepted the need for a stronger national government but were wary of the ‘excessive’ powers favoured by the Federalists. Bearded presidents The nine US presidents who sported facial hair, all of whom were in office during the half-century run of the presidents from Lincoln to Taft. During this time only Andrew Johnson and McKinley were clean-shaven. Five US presidents had full beards (all Republican); four more had moustaches (three Republican). (Note that the Democrat Cleveland had two spells in office.) Bully pulpit A term coined by President Theodore Roosevelt, who referred to the American presidency as a ‘bully pulpit’, by which he meant a useful and unique platform from which the incumbent could persuasively advocate an agenda. Roosevelt frequently used the word ‘bully’ as an adjective meaning ‘superb’, ‘terrific’ or ‘wonderful’. Executive order A regulation or rule issued by the president that has the effect of law. Such orders must either be derived from the president’s constitutional powers or based on laws passed by Congress. Many have far-reaching importance – e.g. Kennedy’s instruction in 1963 prohibiting racial discrimination in housing subsidised by the federal government. Federalists Federalists were supporters of a stronger national government than that existing under the Articles of Confederation. They wished to see the Constitution proposed at Philadelphia ratified. James Madison, who was alarmed at the fragility of the articles, favoured a strong central government that could overrule the states if the circumstances so required. Proclamation of Emancipation An executive order issued in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War, which declared the freedom of all slaves in those areas of the rebellious Confederate States of America that had not already returned to Union control. Progressive Era A broadly based reform movement that reached its height early in the early twentieth century, before the First World War. Initially, the Progressive movement gained momentum in local politics, but

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it then progressed to state and national level. Its largely middle-class members were to be found in both main parties, as well as in third parties. The emphasis of many progressives was on curbing the power of party bosses by introducing measures to democratise many aspects of political life – e.g. the use of direct democracy. Trusts Large business monopolies formed in the late nineteenth century by large national companies who sought to eliminate their prime competitors and dominate the market in their sectors. Examples were Andrew Carnegie’s giant Steel Corporation and the huge railroad conglomerate, the Northern Securities Company.

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Likely examination questions In what respects did the Founding Fathers reject previous American thinking and experience about executive power? How did they seek to limit the powers that they placed upon the president? Examine the different conceptions of the presidency held by its incumbents in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries? To what extent did individual presidents differ in their exercise of presidential power?

¡

Helpful websites www.whitehouse.gov The official White House site, with information relating to past presidents www.presidency.ucsb.edu The American Presidency Project, an archive of more than 85,000 documents relating to the study of the presidency, University of California www.millercenter.org/academic/americanpresident The Miller Center for the study of the role and history of the presidency, University of Virginia

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CHAPTER 3

The Modern Presidency, 1933–2009 Contents The modern presidency The Roosevelt presidency and its impact From Truman to Nixon: the development of an imperial presidency From the 1970s to the end of the Clinton administration The style and approach of George W. Bush Conclusion

28 28 30 34 39 42

Overview Modern presidents impose themselves with far greater effect on the political environment than their counterparts of the nineteenth century. However, the power that any incumbent of the White House has been able to wield has depended on his ability to use his political skills to overcome the various constraints imposed upon him. Some presidents have had a strong personality and have adopted an approach to leadership that helped them overcome the limitations placed upon them. Others have been less dominant and less assertive. Of course, in any presidency, circumstance is important. The handling of critical events can make or break a president’s reputation. In this chapter, we review the concept of the modern presidency; examine the presidencies of Franklin Roosevelt and his eleven successors to January 2009; and note the impact of each incumbent on the presidential office.

Key issues to be covered in this chapter • • • • • •

The origins and character of the modern presidency The impact of FDR on the development of the presidency How and why presidential power has increased The rise and decline of the so-called imperial presidency The reassertion of Congress and its implications for presidential power The George W. Bush presidency and unitary executive theory

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The modern presidency According to Fred Greenstein,1 the modern presidency can be dated from March 1933, when Franklin Roosevelt entered the White House. He has argued that the presidency underwent a fundamental change at that time, to the extent that all who have followed him have been ‘modern’ rather than ‘traditional’ presidents. He acknowledges the occasional eras of strong leadership in the presidencies between Washington and Hoover, but claims that since 1933 the office has differed in four key respects: 1. The president has acquired a regular role in the legislative process. 2. The president has made increased use of unilateral powers such as executive orders. 3. The presidential staff has significantly increased in number. 4. The modern president is very much in the public eye and is the symbol of government. Greenstein’s view has been widely accepted and few would disagree about the importance he attaches to the prolonged and momentous Roosevelt era, 1933–45. Claims have been made that earlier presidents were the first modern incumbents of the White House, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson among them. Some of the trends Greenstein highlighted can certainly be dated to earlier presidencies. But few would deny that the impact of FDR’s presidency was to accelerate the pace of any existing developments and to add more of his own. He was operating at a time of economic and military crisis that enabled him to provide a new dimension to the notion of national leadership. More than anyone else, he influenced the shape and character of the presidency over the following decades.

The Roosevelt presidency and its impact Roosevelt’s accession to office in 1933 in the midst of serious economic depression resulted in his assumption of almost complete responsibility for the development and implementation of a new approach to domestic and foreign policy. In his first One Hundred Days he introduced fifteen major items of legislation, Congress

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willingly acquiescing in these emergency measures and passing his banking bill within seven hours. Thereafter, his bold programme of relief, recovery and reform, known as the New Deal, took the national government into areas such as banking regulation, agricultural price support, job creation schemes and social security, a massive expansion in the range of federal tasks. The sheer scale of economic dislocation and hardship had overwhelmed the states, whose inadequacy was revealed. The public and the special interests turned to the federal government to promote measures of recovery. The administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt was not reluctant to respond. Roosevelt’s leadership of his country in the international role it played during and after the Second World War set the pattern for the strong presidential leadership that – according to some observers – reached its zenith in the 1960s. The mobilisation effort needed to fight a major war again involved a dramatic growth in governmental power, Congress looking to the White House for action. For most Americans, the Roosevelt’s willingness to provide strong executive leadership was welcome. He was not a threat to democracy, but a problem-solver who could make things happen – in the words of Michael Nelson,2 ‘democracy’s saviour’. He transformed the presidency and congressional, state and public attitudes to it. He raised expectations of what it might achieve. As Americans looked back upon the era, they perhaps saw it through rose-tinted lenses and created an enduring image of dynamic and brave leadership. Franklin Roosevelt established a precedent for executive leadership that remained popular as the national government became more involved in everyday life. His successors would be influenced by the pattern he established, via which the president proposed legislation, lobbied to get it passed into law and rallied public opinion behind his plans, using the radio to help him create popular support. By his performance, people’s expectations of what could be achieved were changed. The ‘Roosevelt Revolution’ was assisted by a significant extraconstitutional development, the emergence of new means of mass communication. His ‘fireside chats’ via the radio enabled him to convey his message to the voters in a way they found deeply reassuring. Over the coming decades, television was to assume a new importance in political life. In the post-war politics of the Cold War, it was

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Table 3.1 Presidents from Franklin Roosevelt to Nixon President

Party

Term

32 Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882–1945)

Democrat

1933–45

33 Harry S. Truman (1884–1972)

Democrat

1945–53

34 Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890–1969)

Republican

1953–61

35 John F. Kennedy (1917–63)

Democrat

1961–3

36 Lyndon B. Johnson (1908–73)

Democrat

1963–9

37 Richard Nixon (1913–94)

Republican

1969–74

easy for broadcasters to focus on the single national figure who was fighting to preserve national interests.

From Truman to Nixon: the development of an imperial presidency The era of the modern presidency survived in its original Rooseveltian form through to the late 1960s. The political process seemed to function well on the basis of a continued sequence of presidential initiatives in foreign policy and in the domestic arena. A broad spectrum of commentators welcomed the expansion of presidential power, for post-1945 there was a consensus about domestic and foreign policy that encouraged a delegation of power to the president. There was a greater degree of agreement about the fundamentals of policymaking than in the past, the level and extent of debate over public policy being less intense and robust than at some other times. Of course, there were disputes and divisions. Truman (1945–53), Eisenhower (1953–61) and Kennedy (1961–3) had problems in fulfilling their domestic agenda, because of congressional opposition. But there were many areas of government on which the basics were

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agreed. The legacy of the New Deal, the great post-war economic expansion, the growing confidence over the management of the economy, the belief in the solubility of problems and the increasing claims on the federal government combined to create a feeling of well-being. It was felt to be prudent to allow the president a relatively free hand to lead his country. There was broad agreement that the federal government should have a significant role in the nation’s economy and in creating and maintaining a welfare system. The early 1960s saw the peak of enthusiasm for presidential power. The era of Lyndon Johnson (1963–9) was the high point of the post-war domestic consensus that was about to crumble. Till then, there had been a belief that social ailments were amenable to the application of money. This confidence in the power of economic growth and social engineering enormously enhanced the presidency. It seemed to be the only institution that could solve problems. It had the expertise to devise new policies. Congress did not, and looked to the president for a lead. The situation inspired Clinton Rossiter,3 in his classic study of the presidency first published in the 1950s, to portray the office as ‘one of the few truly successful institutions created by men in their endless quest for the blessings of free government’. He felt that there was virtually nothing that the president could not do. He not only symbolised the people, but ran their government, acting rather like ‘a kind of magnificent lion who can roam widely and do great deeds so long as he does not try to break loose from his broad reservation’. Johnson’s period in the White House (1963–9) seemed at first to confirm that the presidency had the power to produce notable achievements. A honeymoon period after the death of Kennedy and re-election in 1964 gave him the opportunity to pass much-needed legislation as part of his Great Society programme. His skills in the art of political persuasion (political arm-twisting) enabled him to persuade congressional leaders of the importance of working with him, his position helped by the massive majority that his Democrat Party had in both chambers. The power of the presidency to achieve massive social change was at a peak. In foreign policy, the post-war consensus aroused even less dissent than its domestic counterpart. Few raised a voice against the direction of American policy after Harry Truman had laid down the

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‘Truman Doctrine’, which outlined a clear view of America’s place in the world and was to become the foundation of foreign policy to the late 1960s. America was the world’s policeman and had abandoned its pre-war isolationism, stationed troops abroad and played an increasingly interventionist role. Congress had willingly accepted presidential leadership, and gave Truman and his successors, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, more or less carte blanche in matters of national security. The nation was united. Congressmen had no desire to create an impression of disunity. A bipartisan coalition acquiesced in most presidential initiatives. Foreign policy was the president’s policy, which received the almost automatic ratification of Congress. It was an unsatisfactory position, which opened up the possibility of the abuse of power. Such abuses of presidential power did occur. Johnson and Nixon (1969–74) used their power to prosecute the increasingly unpopular and seemingly unwinnable war in Vietnam, extending hostilities by engaging in secret bombing of Cambodia. The Watergate scandal and the obstruction of justice that was involved in its unfolding added to the disenchantment. In 1974, many Americans became aware for the first time of the tremendous accumulation of power in the hands of the president. The principle of the separation of powers had been incorporated into the Constitution to prevent a concentration of power in one part of the government. Watergate and the revelations of the misuse of power by the executive branch by several past presidents reminded people of the message spelt out by the Founding Fathers – a system that placed too much responsibility in the hands of one man must offer temptations for wrong doing. This growth of executive power did not happen suddenly under Richard Nixon. Arthur Schlesinger Jr5 argued that the concept of the constitutional presidency had given way by the 1970s to an imperial presidency, a revolutionary use of power very different from what had originally been intended. The presidency no longer seemed to be controllable via the constitutional checks and balances. The American public was uneasy, and popular attitudes to the presidency changed for the worse. There were calls to rein in an institution that had overreached itself. Schlesinger was but one of the scholars who wanted to tame what one of them6 called the ‘frankenstein monster’. Indeed,

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Box 3.1 Some factors in the growth of presidential power to the late 1960s 1. The growth of ‘big government’. This developed in the years after 1933, as Roosevelt became identified with increased federal intervention in the Depression. 2. The importance of foreign policy. With the development of an American world role after the Second World War, the country became the leader of the free West and the world’s policeman. The constitutional role of being commander-in-chief enabled the president to send American troops across the world, even though Congress has only formally declared war on five occasions. Successive presidents have made executive agreements with foreign governments that have enabled them to circumvent the need for Senate ratification (see Chapter 6). 3. The personality and conception of the office held by the incumbent. Individual presidents have by their performance enlarged the scope of the office and changed expectations of what it can achieve. Sometimes, a passive president has seemed appropriate for the times, as in the1920s, whilst at other times an active presidency has been required. 4. The inertia of Congress and erosion of balance. At times, Congress surrendered much influence and allowed strong ‘liberal’ presidents to pursue and achieve reform, as part of what Stephen Weissman4 called ‘a culture of deference’. 5. Supreme Court judgments. We shall see in Chapter 6 that judgments have on occasion enlarged the scope of the presidential office – e.g. the United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corporation (1936) 6. The development of an administrative apparatus to serve the president. For details of the Executive Office of the President and the White House Office, see Chapter 10. 7. The mass media. The media can easily focus on one national office and on the person of the president. Telegenic leaders used the medium of television to their advantage, notably Kennedy, Reagan and Clinton.

some of the same writers who had glorified the Roosevelt presidency and written eloquently of the expanded presidency and the opportunities for leadership it provided were now in the forefront of the move to restrain its dominance.

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Box 3.2 Schlesinger’s evidence of an imperial presidency The imperial presidency was a label applied by Schlesinger for the increased authority and decreased accountability of the presidency. Referring to the era of the late 1960s/early 1970s, it signified an era in which there was a high-handed and often secretive handling of foreign-policy issues and in which in domestic policy too presidents were able to evade the usual system of checks and balances. The study looked back into aspects of the Johnson era and in particular noted that, in spite of the intensity and prolonged nature of the conflict, war had never been declared against Vietnam. But the principal focus of its attack was on the Nixon presidency. Several specific charges were made against the Nixon’s handling of domestic as well as overseas issues, among them that: 1. the policy of impoundment meant that funds allocated by Congress for particular purposes were not being spent; 2. executive privilege was being employed to prevent effective scrutiny of presidential actions by the Legislature; 3. aspects of civil-rights legislation were not being implemented, such as the clause in the 1964 Civil Rights Act that cut off federal funding to school districts that discriminated against minority students; 4. the President was surrounding himself with a set of over-mighty aides (notably John Erhlichman and Bob Haldeman) who were accumulating much power and ensuring that other voices were denied access to him; 5. the administration was pursuing personal vendettas against those viewed as opponents, efforts being made to silence them; 6. the President no longer made himself available to reporters for questioning, preferring to use television addresses to the nation rather than the traditional press conferences.

From the 1970s to the end of the Clinton administration In the aftermath of these concerns, power passed to two presidents, Gerald Ford (1974–7) and Jimmy Carter (1977–81), who were widely perceived as anything but ‘imperial’. Neither projected the image of

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Table 3.2 US Presidents from Ford to Obama President

Party

Term

38 Gerald R. Ford (1913–2006)

Republican

1974–7

39 Jimmy Carter (b. 1924)

Democrat

1977–81

40 Ronald Reagan (1911–2004)

Republican

1981–9

41 George H. W. Bush (b. 1924)

Republican

1989–93

42 William Jefferson Clinton (b. 1946)

Democrat

1993–2001

43 George W. Bush (b. 1946)

Republican

2001–9

44 Barack Obama (b. 1961)

Democrat

2009–

an assertive leader, each being rejected by the voters after one period in office. Even if they had been highly skilled political leaders, they were operating in a climate when the public had turned against the national government in Washington, the press was critical and probing and Congress was beginning to reassert its authority. There was little opportunity for presidential leadership. Neither Ford nor Carter was an effective president. Ford lacked the authority that derived from popular election. He was content to operate at a low key, having little by way of a domestic programme that he was keen to see implemented. He had no wish to exploit the potential of the office, assuring the voters that he was ‘a Ford, not a Lincoln’. In matters of foreign policy, Carter often seemed keen on downplaying expectations of what America could achieve in the world, seeking to educate the public in the realities of the position. In home policy, he was little versed in the methods of Washington politics and failed to understand the rudimentary facts about the policy-making process. A congressman7 produced his impression of the exchanges between the President and Speaker Tip O’Neill, which went as follows:

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O’Neill. A fine speech, Mr President. Now here’s a list of members you should call, you know, to keep the pressure on. We need their votes. Carter. Tip, I outlined the problem to the people of the United States of America. It was rational, and my presentation was also rational. Now the American people are the most intelligent people in the world, Tip, and I am sure that when they see their Representatives think my program over, they will see that I was right. O’Neill. Lookit, Mr President. We need you to push this bill through. This is politics we are talking here, not physics. Carter. It is not politics, Tip, not to me. It’s what is right and rational and necessary and practical and urgent that we do . . . Say, do you like my sweater? O’Neill [later to a congressional colleague]. That guy is hopeless. It’s gonna be a long winter. Unsurprisingly, Carter soon ran into difficulties with Congress, finding it unresponsive to his requests. Observers began to refer to the limitations of the presidency rather than to the strength of the office, with Franck8 writing of the ‘tethered presidency’, one too constrained to be effective of providing the leadership America required. Yet within a few years there were again demands for more decisive and assertive leadership Ronald Reagan was the first post-war president since Eisenhower to complete two terms in office, and, despite the lapses that occurred (in particular, Irangate), he is widely perceived as having achieved much of what he wished to accomplish. Reagan’s style of leadership was relaxed and detached. He did not involve himself in anything but the broad generalities of policy. His aloofness from day-to-day activities had the advantage that people tended to blame the administration rather than him personally for what went wrong, but it carried the disadvantage that he was sometimes ill-informed and out of touch with events occurring in his presidency. The Reagan years (1981–9) were eventful in foreign and in domestic policy. In external relations, Reagan began with a reputation as a cold-war warrior, deeply suspicious of the ‘evil empire’ of the Soviet Union. Yet, in the second term, the unyielding attitude was softened,

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and his close working relationship with the Soviet leader Gorbachev helped to bring about an easing of international tension and an end to the cold war. By 1988, the thaw in relations was well underway, and the most anti-communist president of recent years had reached an accommodation with the regime he had long detested. At home, his agenda was to reduce the role of government in the lives of ordinary Americans, and he wished to return power to the states and downplay the influence of the federal government in Washington. His economic programme included a commitment to tax cuts, and the Reagan years witnessed an era of economic growth. There was also a huge expansion of the federal deficit, for lower taxes and increased military expenditure were not matched by cuts elsewhere of a proportionate nature. The USA, the largest creditor nation in 1981, was the world’s largest debtor eight years later. The goal of substantially rolling back the sphere of influence of the federal government was not achieved. Federal expenditure actually increased marginally in the early years, though non-defence spending – such as that on education – suffered sizeable cuts. But what Reagan was able to do was to make many Americans feel good about themselves and their country. After years in which its reputation had taken a severe blow over episodes such as Vietnam and Watergate, he was able to restore morale and there was a resurgence of patriotic feeling and confidence about the future. Cronin and Genovese9 make the point that Reagan quickly exploited the opportunity that confronted him when he took over. He ‘had an attractive personality, a compelling television presence, a vision that he ably shared, and a clear focus on a few ideas’. During his transition, his key advisers put together, with little involvement from the president-elect, a narrow, focused agenda and initiated a public-relations and legislative blitzkrieg that ended in the president gaining much of his early legislative agenda. This in turn added to the aura of power surrounding Reagan, and made it easier for him to win subsequent contests because the Congress ‘feared’ him. After the setbacks of the 1970s, there was talk of a ‘restored presidency’. Many Americans seemed to warm to the Reaganite style, which is why he has been immortalised in numerous ways, with an airport, an aircraft carrier and highways being named in his honour.

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George H. W. Bush was a Republican of a different kind from Reagan, uncommitted to the economic doctrines of the New Right. In the 1988 election, he was unable to articulate a sense of direction, for, as he once admitted, he ‘lacked the vision thing’. There was never going to be an inspirational slogan to epitomise the goals he wanted to achieve, for he had no great sense of mission. He was a man who reacted to events. The Bush presidency (1989–93) got off to a slow start, but the circumstances were not encouraging. He was confronted with the vast budget deficit, and, contrary to his election promises, he was forced to introduce increased taxation. He was not deeply interested in domestic problems, but found himself in office when many Americans began to worry about stagnation at home in domestic policy. His neglect of this area left him vulnerable to his political critics, and, despite his successful conduct of the Gulf War abroad, he was unable to arouse popular enthusiasm when faced by the challenge of Bill Clinton and Ross Perot in 1992. Unlike Bush, Bill Clinton (1993–2001) was not initially faced by a Congress dominated by his political opponents, but the advantage was more apparent than real, and his initiatives were rebuffed on several occasions. After the November 1994 elections, he was confronted by two Republican-dominated chambers, a situation that lasted throughout the rest of his presidency. Relations with Congress were often strained, the more so as the President became more deeply immersed in the problems that led to his impeachment. For many Americans, much of the Clinton presidency was a serious disappointment. His political opponents claimed to disapprove of both him and his lifestyle. But many fellow progressives also felt disappointment. A universal scheme of health coverage had not been achieved, and some of the hopes he engendered of a fairer society seemed to evaporate early on as he embraced the Republican agenda in a modified way to win a second term. Even sympathisers saw the second administration as a time of missed opportunities, and felt that, if months had not been wasted on the long investigations into tales of dissembling, lying and sexual/financial misconduct, then more could have been achieved. In the later years in office, he proved to be a lame-duck president, bereft of bold, significant achievement. The frustration was all the greater for Democrats to

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bear, as they had not been in control of the White House for most of the previous thirty years. There were many Americans who continued to like him, as an individual and a president. They acknowledged that he lied and obstructed justice and that this was reprehensible, but they were also unattracted by the behaviour of the moral puritans who assailed him. The witch-hunting and venom of some of his adversaries rallied people to his corner. Moreover, they were willing to praise aspects of his presidency. They looked at the Clinton years and knew that, as America entered the new millennium, it was enjoying an era of general economic prosperity and social peace for which the President could – and did – take some credit. Clinton was and remains a resourceful politician, with a deft political touch. He is a fine election campaigner who possesses a rare facility for relating to ordinary people. As a communicator, he scores particularly highly. But his legacy will always be controversial, for his presidency was dogged by the character issue. He behaved surprisingly imprudently for a man equipped with such astute political skills. His affairs and his evasiveness with the truth may be seen as character flaws. More seriously, they damaged his presidency and, some would say, the institution as well. In a recent survey of American presidential leadership styles, Fred Greenstein10 has effectively summed up the mixed, paradoxical Clinton performance in this way: ‘It is a tribute to Clinton’s resiliency and political prowess that he has succeeded in serving two presidential terms. It is a commentary on his weaknesses that this talented political leader has not had more to show for his time in office.’

The style and approach of George W. Bush From his earliest days in the White House, it was obvious that George W. Bush was intent on re-establishing the presidency as a powerhouse of the kind that it had been in the days before Watergate. He believed that much damage had been done to the office in the late 1960s–early 1970s and that the impact of the Clinton years had worsened its reputation. He wanted to revive respect for both the president and the presidency. He believed that the executive should be better able to exploit the powers that he felt already existed but could be used more effectively.

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Bush assumed the presidency in difficult circumstances, for there were many Americans who doubted the legitimacy of his election victory in 2000 (see p. 65). His critics were quick to caricature the new president as a know-nothing, verbally challenged and not-veryindustrious politician who had risen well beyond his abilities. Yet events were soon to create a ‘crisis’ presidency in which the country would rally to the ‘man in the White House’. A more assertive presidency The terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001 jolted the Bush presidency into uncharacteristic vigour. It moved into a higher gear, and the President became more focused and purposeful. Washington reorganised itself around the executive branch, and Bush reorganised his administration around the struggle against terrorism. Almost at once, he persuaded Congress to approve a substantial recovery package, which also made additional provision to allow for strengthening of the intelligence and security services. It also quickly passed an anti-terrorism bill that greatly increased the potential of executive power. Having long been suspicious of the power exercised by ‘big government’ in Washington, many Americans rallied behind President Bush. They were in a mood to accept more assertive presidential leadership. They were unsure of what was happening to them and yearned for a sense of direction. This gave the President a chance to take a firmer grip upon events. He began to shape the political agenda, and his early actions were accepted with little dissent. Some commentators began to use phrases such as ‘the revived presidency’ or ‘the re-imperialised presidency’. War – in this case on terrorism – was the catalyst for change. It demanded personalised control from the man who symbolised the unity of the country. In seeking to wage war on terrorism, the President engaged on a daunting task, but for which he had overwhelming support. However, the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan proved to be the first stage of a wider war on terror. A ‘coalition of the willing’ was assembled to fight in Iraq (see pp. 108–9), consisting primarily of American and British forces. On this occasion, world opinion was much less united behind the President, and at home the war soon generated

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opposition. After the early fall and capture of President Saddam Hussein, things began to go wrong. Many early supporters of military action against Iraq later became alarmed at the seeming lack of a plan for peacekeeping after the cessation of hostilities. The failure to find weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the excesses of some American troops and the continuation of insurgency against the occupation caused continuing disquiet. The President faced internal criticism not just over Iraq. Many Americans were concerned that the administration was undermining the constitutional rights and liberties of US citizens. The passage of the Patriot Act enabled the government to imprison citizens without charge and clamp down on a range of established freedoms. Conditions at Guantánamo Bay were a regular cause of criticism. Yet, in November 2004, George Bush was re-elected, in the process winning more votes than any other presidential candidate had done before. His victory was decisive, not just in the battle for the White House but also in the congressional elections in which Republicans tightened their grip. The Bush presidency and presidential power As part of his determination to use the powers of the presidency to their fullest extent, Bush • • • • • •

used his tightly knit team of close advisers to focus carefully on what he wanted to achieve; was keen to assert executive privilege over information; made effective use of executive orders; regularly used proclamations, signing statements, memoranda and national security directives; made appointments in the recess to avoid the need for Senate confirmation; made extensive use of the opportunity to appoint ideologically sympathetic conservatives to the federal judiciary.

Bush benefited from having Republicans in control of Capitol Hill for six of his eight years. Although control of the Senate was lost in the 107th Congress following the defection of Senator Jeffords from the Republican Party, it was restored by the 108th and 109th, so that

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his position was well established until the setbacks in November 2006 that resulted in Democratic control of both chambers. He did not antagonise congressmen by frequent use of the veto, in part because his party’s domination for six years left the administration with a block of solid supporters. Where necessary, he often proved willing to make compromises with Congress, whilst careful always to take the credit for any legislative successes. Yet, as we have seen in Chapter 1, Bush’s position significantly deteriorated in his last three years in office, as problems piled up in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as at home. As recession loomed, in September 2008 he asked Congress for the authority to spend as much as $700 billion to purchase high-risk mortgage assets in a bid to contain the financial crisis. The House Republicans raised objections to the bailout, refusing to support the deal and presenting themselves as defenders of the ordinary taxpayer’s interests. There were 65 votes against the bill, which was rejected by the House, though later passed in a revised and weakened form. His ‘power to persuade’ had clearly become a declining asset. See Chapter 7 for a fuller discussion of the theory and practice of the Bush approach to the presidency.

Conclusion Presidential power has increased since the days of the Founding Fathers as people have turned to the presidency for initiatives to get things done. Presidents filled the vacuum left by the inertia or inaction of Congress, the states or private enterprise. The modern presidency really began in 1933, for the Great Depression created (or, at least, certainly accelerated) a fundamental change in political behaviour in the United States. John Hart11 reminds us that Franklin Roosevelt, the first of the so-called modern presidents, was untypical in the power that he exercised: None of his successors faced anything like the enormity of the Depression of the early 1930s, and none took over the White House during a national emergency so clearly and unambiguously defined. Neither has any post-FDR president had such a comparable level of public support for presidential initiative and

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leadership. As the beneficiary of a landslide election victory in a realigning election and a strong coat-tails effect in the congressional races, and as head of a political party that behaved as a cohesive office-seeking team, FDR enjoyed a political environment that none of his successors have shared, and most could only fantasise about.

The observations help us to see the Roosevelt presidency in better perspective. Personality, ability and especially circumstance all helped to contribute to his exercise of immense presidential power. But those who followed also occupied a position in which there were opportunities for presidential leadership. Truman, Kennedy and Johnson all leaned towards the activist end of the scale. A range of factors determined the power of any of the presidents we have examined. There are, on the one hand, the political powers of the office as they have evolved. There are also important constitutional constraints that remain, for the president operates in a context in which other institutions have a role to check executive action. Some presidents have been more able to harness the resources of the executive than others. By so doing, they have made the presidency work in a way far removed from that contemplated in 1787.

D

What you should have learnt from reading this chapter •

The Roosevelt takeover in March 1933 is widely regarded as beginning the era of the modern American presidency, because of the massive extension of power that he accumulated and exercised. He raised expectations of what the president might achieve.



His three successors benefited from the broad agreement among many Americans about what policies should be pursued at home and abroad, although Truman and Kennedy in particular experienced difficulty in persuading Congress to support their programmes.



The Johnson era marked the zenith of presidential power, with the implementation of the Great Society programme of the mid-1960s. By the end of this presidency, there was increasing hostility to his conduct of the fighting in Vietnam. Anxiety about events in Southeast Asia and over the Watergate episode seriously undermined the reputation of his successor, Richard Nixon, and of the presidency as well. There was a reaction against the so-called imperial presidency.

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After the weakened presidencies of Ford and Carter, the performance in office of Ronald Reagan went some way to restoring faith in the office and in the country too. His use of television and media advisers placed a new emphasis on presidential skills.



His successor bar one, Bill Clinton, similarly deployed television to advantage. Yet, for all his resourcefulness and deftness of political touch, his administrations disappointed many of his supporters – some were alarmed by the ‘character flaws’ that led to his impeachment.



More contentious was the presidency of George W. Bush, whose policy initiatives (particularly in Iraq) and exploitation of the latent powers of the presidency troubled many commentators. By the end of his presidency, his approval ratings (initially very high) had plummeted.

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Glossary of key terms Cold War The period of conflict, tension and competition between the United States and the Soviet Union and their allies from the mid-1940s until the early 1990s. Executive privilege The right, asserted by presidents since Washington, to refuse to appear before, and withhold information from, the Legislature or a court. Its existence was recognised in the case of US v. Nixon (1974), although the ruling imposed strict limits on the circumstances when it might be exercised. Great Society A set of domestic policies proposed by President Lyndon B. Johnson (1963–9). Two main goals were the elimination of poverty and racial injustice, but there were also major spending programmes that addressed issues concerned with education, medical care, urban problems and transportation. Gulf War (1990–1) The Gulf War or Persian War was a conflict between the Iraq of Saddam Hussein and a coalition force assembled from thirtyfive nations, some three quarters of which comprised US troops. It resulted from Iraq’s invasion of neighbouring Kuwait and was designed to expel Iraqi troops and liberate the Sheikhdom. The hostilities are usually referred to simply as the ‘Gulf War’, although sometimes they are known as the ‘First Gulf War’, the invasion of 2003 being known as the ‘Second Gulf War’. Impoundment Withholding by a president of funds that have been appropriated by Congress for a bill. Employed by presidents since the time of Jefferson, its use became more widespread under FDR and his successors, as a means of controlling the overall levels of federal expenditure. Nixon pursued the policy on a vast scale, particularly withholding spending for purposes that the Democrat majority in Congress keenly supported (e.g. low rental housing and medical research).

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Irangate The Iran–Contra affair, the major crisis of the Reagan presidency, concerned the sale of arms to Iran in return for the release of American hostages detained in the Middle East. The proceeds of the arms sales were channelled to the Contras, rebel forces that were seeking to overthrow the left-wing Sandinista government of Nicaragua, which the US Administration wished to destabilise. Altogether, at least four main laws were breached, and the sale of weapons to states sponsoring terrorism was something that the President himself had publicly denounced. National security directives A form of executive order issued by the president, having the effect and force of law. All recent presidents have used presidential directives, though under different names. For Kennedy and Johnson, they were National Security Action Memorandums, for Clinton Presidential Decision (or Review) Directives and for George W. Bush National Security Directives, so named because they are issued with the advice and consent of the National Security Council (see p. 187). Bush also issued Homeland Security Directives, with the approval of the Homeland Security Council, which he initially created, one being to change immigration policy in the light of the perceived terrorist threat. New Right A label applied in many countries to conservative groups of the late 1970s onwards who advocated a set of neo-liberal ideas. The ideas inspired the development of Thatcherism in Britain and Reaganomics in the United States, where the New Right developed a political approach and electoral apparatus that carried Reagan into the White House. In New Right thinking, the free market is seen as the cornerstone of economic and political freedom. Use of the term New Right distinguishes its conservative proponents from their post-1945 predecessors in Britain and America, who were more concerned with pursuing moderate policies and seeking broad agreement or consensus on social and economic goals. Many New Right ideas are embraced by members of the Religious Right today. Patriot Act The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001, known as the USA PATRIOT Act or simply the Patriot Act, was signed into law on 26 October 2001 by President Bush. The Act was introduced in response to the terrorist attacks against the United States. It dramatically expanded the authority of American law enforcement for the stated purpose of fighting terrorism in the United States and abroad. Federal courts declared some sections unconstitutional because they interfere with civil liberties. In March 2006, its renewal was signed into law by President Bush. Proclamations Orders, sometimes largely ceremonial or symbolic in nature, that nevertheless carry the same force of law as executive orders. They are important in presidential governance. During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln issued two proclamations that freed slaves

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from states in secession. In January 2008, George W. Bush issued Proclamation 8217, regarding the National Sanctity of Human Life Day. ‘Executive orders are aimed at those inside government while proclamations are aimed at those outside government.’12 Signing statements Written observations made by a president at the time of signing legislation. They are sometimes merely comments on a bill’s value in fulfilling some pressing need, but in more controversial cases they involve claims by presidents that they believe some part of the legislation is unconstitutional and therefore they intend to ignore it or to implement it only in ways they believe is constitutional. Bill Clinton issued more such statements than his successor, but the George W. Bush variety seemed particularly geared to undermining legislative intent. He routinely asserted that he would not act ‘contrary to the constitutional provisions that direct the president to supervise the unitary executive branch’, a formulation originally made in the first signing statement of Ronald Reagan. Basically, the theory of the unitary executive asserts that Congress cannot pass a law that undercuts the constitutionally granted authorities of the president, a key theme of the unitary executive theory. Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) The term used to describe a massive weapon with the capacity to kill indiscriminately large numbers of people. The phrase broadly includes nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. It entered widespread popular usage in relation to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The threat of potential WMD in Iraq was used by George W. Bush to generate public support for the 2003 invasion, but at the time of writing (2009) coalition forces have found only remnants of chemical weapons from degraded artillery shells. Most observers are deeply cynical of the claim that Saddam Hussein was stockpiling WMD. Others say that they did exist, but were transported to Syria before the war.

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Likely examination questions Does the year 1933 mark the beginnings of the modern presidency? What are the major reasons for the growth in presidential power since 1933? The presidency was described as ‘imperial’ in the 1960s, ‘tethered’ in the 1970s, ‘restored’ in the 1980s and ‘constrained’ in the 1990s. How might we categorise presidential power in the early twenty-first century? In what respects might the presidencies of Reagan, Clinton and the two Bushes be described as ‘imperial’? ‘The president is as imperial as the Congress, the press and the public allow him to be’ (D. Chinni, Christian Science Monitor, 11 Mar. 2003). To

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what extent does the evidence of recent presidencies support this proposition? ‘The power to persuade’: is this a valid description of presidential power in recent years?

¡

Helpful websites www.whitehouse.gov The official White House site, with information relating to past presidents www.presidency.ucsb.edu The American Presidency Project, an archive of more than 85,000 documents relating to the study of the presidency, University of California www.millercenter.org/academic/americanpresident The Miller Center for the study of the role and history of the presidency, University of Virginia The various presidential libraries offer additional insights.

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CHAPTER 4

Electing and Removing the President Contents Winning delegates to the convention Winning support at the national convention Winning the presidential race The method of choosing the president assessed Removing the president Conclusion

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Overview Presidential elections not only decide the person who will enter the White House as president. They are the opportunity for millions of Americans to engage in a debate about the future direction of their country. But, as in 2000, the lengthy process of choosing the president can seem to be seriously flawed. In this chapter, we examine the importance of the primaries and conventions, the controversies surrounding the Electoral College, the merits of the selection process and the backgrounds of those who become presidents. We then note the circumstances in which presidents lose office.

Key issues to be covered in this chapter • • • • • •

How candidates become their party’s nominee The elements of the presidential election campaign The Electoral College and how it operates The strengths and weaknesses of the method of electing the president The backgrounds of those who reach the White House How presidents lose power

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Given the central role of the president in American government, the process by which presidential candidates are chosen assumes particular significance. On occasion, the procedure has proved contentious, because the winner received fewer votes than his main opponent. In 2000, the outcome in the Electoral College rested on dubious events in Florida, where a disputed election result had eventually to be resolved by the Supreme Court in Washington. Schlesinger Jr1 points out that it should be some consolation that the events that left ‘us all baffled, bothered and bewildered’ had precedents in American history: This is not the first time the republic has endured tight elections and confusing results. Nor is it the first time the winner of the popular vote has been denied the presidency. Nor is it the first time the Electoral College has been a source of trouble.

Running for the presidency involves three stages: • • •

winning the support of delegates to the national party convention; winning the approval of the convention itself; winning in the presidential race following the autumn campaign (the general election).

Winning delegates to the convention The first stage in the process of choosing a new president is for the parties to choose their nominee. This consumes several months of the election year. Any person who hopes to become a presidential candidate has to decide when to launch his or her bid for the White House. Some make a decision to stand soon after the previous election is over, but any announcement of the intention is not usually made until the year before the election at the earliest, even if campaign planning is already actively underway. Candidates and those who manage their campaigns know the importance of lining up support and raising funds before their declaration. Candidates have to decide how to navigate the primaries and caucuses that take place in the early months of the presidential year. Until the 1970s, it was not common for candidates to take the primary route, but this has become the accepted procedure for any

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Box 4.1 The Iowa caucus The term ‘caucus’ derives from an Algonquin word meaning ‘gathering of tribal chiefs’, though it has often been unflatteringly portrayed as ‘a meeting of wire pullers’, which would have been true of the original form. Before primaries existed, all state parties selected their delegates by caucus. Often caucuses were run by party bosses, who could control the voting and were in effect the kingmakers of presidential politics. Today’s caucuses are different. Organised on a pyramidal basis, the process does involve a series of meetings in which people gather to choose their candidate – rather than voting by secret ballot, as in a primary election. They debate the merits of rival nominees and then make it known which individual they wish to support. Small, neighbourhood, precinct-level caucuses are held initially, often meeting in a church or someone’s home. At this level, delegates are chosen, based on their preference for a certain candidate, to attend county caucuses and then congressional district caucuses. Here, the delegates are chosen to go to the higher level, the state convention. Caucuses are open to all voters who are registered with the party. They are more widely used in the Democratic than in the Republican Party. In Iowa, both parties employ them. They are held in January of the election year. Those who decide to contest the caucus race spend heavily in an effort to reach the voters in each of Iowa’s ninetynine counties. What happens in Iowa is important, because it comes at the beginning of the election process and therefore receives considerable attention from candidates, pundits and the media. In effect, Iowa acts as the starting-gun for choosing the two major-party candidates for president.

‘hopeful’ to adopt. Since the 1970s, a decision not to stand would entail the risk of losing momentum whilst others secure the support of party delegations. The arrangements for choosing delegates to the nominating conventions vary in detail from state to state. In some cases the parties within a particular state employ different approaches. But nowadays the use of primaries is the accepted method used by both parties in most of them. In those using caucuses, the party organisation is still important. As with primaries, the details of state procedure are laid down by its Legislature.

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The primary route Because serious candidates now take the primary route, most of the delegates are chosen as a result of primary contests. Candidates need to decide which primaries to enter. Whereas it was once common for a candidate to miss some of the early ones, this is now seen as a high-risk strategy. Jimmy Carter decided to seek the Democratic nomination by staging a nationwide primary campaign and involved himself in the early contests and as many as he could thereafter. This is now the usual and accepted policy; most commentators believe that it is wise to enter as many as possible. Candidates tend to choose contests where they are likely to make a good showing. The number of rivals, their personal standing in the opinion polls, local interests, the timing of the contest and their level of financial backing – all these play a part in the decisions made. The first primary takes place in New Hampshire, which, like Iowa, is not a state that is particularly representative of the national electorate, being rural, having only a small ethnic minority population and not being at the centre of the political mainstream. If Iowa is more liberal than the nation as a whole, New Hampshire is traditionally more conservative. Yet, for any candidate, it assumes a disproportionate significance. A strong performance in this and other early contests can lend a useful momentum to the campaign and help to demoralise other rivals who do less well. Many states have now brought their primaries forward, hoping that this will give their voters a greater influence on the final choice of candidates. As a result of this ‘front-loading’, the vast majority of delegates to the national nominating conventions in recent elections have been selected by the end of March. To do well in the primaries, candidates need to manœuvre with some skill. The opposition in each primary will vary, so that tactics used to defeat a strong rival in one state may not work in another. Media coverage, as well as financial and human resources, are also relevant to the outcome. Candidates looking for good coverage will spend heavily on the early contests in their bid to gain popular momentum. It is important for the candidates and those who support them to use the media wisely and to downplay the expectations of what they might achieve. If they then do well, this gives their campaign a boost. If it is widely expected that they will perform well as the front-runner, then a disappointing outcome (even though it is a technical victory) can cost valuable momentum.

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Box 4.2 The advantages and disadvantages of presidential primaries At the beginning of the twentieth century, members of the Progressive Movement were concerned at the power exercised by party ‘bosses’ and their political organisations. They wanted to curb the corruption felt to be endemic in public life, and pressed for reforms to break the control of the party machines and the bosses who ran them. In this spirit, they urged the use of primary elections that would transfer power away from the party regulars meeting in smoke-filled rooms to the interested ordinary voter. This was seen as a significant step towards greater democracy. The use of primaries gradually spread, although for many years the system was still not widely used for choosing presidential candidates. By the 1970s they had become nationwide for almost all forms of election, local, state and federal. Types of primary Practice varies from the restrictive to the generous. In some states everyone can vote, whereas in others only those who are registered as members of one of the two main parties have the right. Where only registered members can vote, this is a closed primary. Where anyone, regardless of party affiliation, can vote, then this is an open primary. In Connecticut and Delaware in the north-east, only party members are eligible. In the same region, Vermont holds open primaries. So does Rhode Island, which nonetheless requires a voter to state his or her affiliation. By contrast, Alaska in the north-west uses open primaries, allowing voters to vote in both parties, should they wish to so do. Open and closed primaries: the procedure As we can see, the exact procedure for use in primary contests varies between different states, each of which makes it own regulations for the conduct of the election. Broadly, the position is that: 1. In open primaries, the elector is given two ballots, one for each party. He or she fills in one to go in the ballot box, and the unused one is discarded in a sealed container. He or she cannot use both, and there is no way of knowing which one has been filled in. Some object to this process, on the grounds that it is possible for the voter to use the vote not to distinguish between the candidates in his or her favoured party, but rather to seek to ‘wreck’ the chances of the other party by voting for its least impressive

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candidate. If that weak person were to be chosen, this might increase the chances of the voter’s preferred party. 2. In closed primaries, this ‘wrecking’ cannot occur, but neither is the process so secret, for, on entering the polling station, the voter must express his or her affiliation. The appropriate ballot paper is then handed over, and, if the party officers of one side question the allegiance, it can be challenged. The merits and disadvantages of primaries There are obvious benefits in the use of primaries: they are more democratic than the system they replaced, they emphasise the personal qualities of the candidates rather than their party label and they sometimes produce good candidates who would otherwise not have been chosen. They can provide a chance for the different wings of the parties to air their viewpoints and so indicate where the preferences of members really lie. They have drawbacks, in that they are an additional expense – often the machine still fights hard to ensure victory for its favoured candidate – and they demand that the voter turns out for yet another election: the frequency of elections is one reason sometimes given for low turnouts, for many ordinary voters lack the stamina or interest.

The presidential primaries are the arena in which lively personal battles are fought. They are conducted under intense public scrutiny by the media and commentators. Sometimes, the contests are so fiercely fought at this stage that great damage is done to party unity. (In 2008, the Obama v. Clinton struggle was not resolved until she conceded defeat on 7 June, after a series of remarkably close encounters – resulting in what many commentators portrayed as a major political upset. Party strategists were concerned about the divisions exposed within the Democratic Party.)

Winning support at the national convention The national nominating conventions are held over a four-day period in July and August. By then, the outcome is usually a foregone conclusion. Normally the successful candidate is chosen on the first ballot. Delegates are forced to pledge themselves to a definite candidate for at least the first two ballots, although in the past this was not the case and

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they arrived with varying degrees of commitment. Should further votes be necessary, delegates are entitled to vote for whom they please. Once the candidate has been chosen, the nominee makes an acceptance speech and receives homage as the party’s standard-bearer for the forthcoming struggle. At this point, the intra-party battle that has dominated the political scene for so many months becomes unimportant, and the concentration of those present has to be on the contest with the other party. As Malcolm Vile2 has observed: ‘This switch from the bitterness of internal conflict to the competition between parties is one of the perennial wonders of the American political scene.’ The convention comprises those delegates elected in primaries, caucuses or state conventions. The task of the assembled delegates is to choose the presidential candidate (in effect, already done) and the vice-presidential nominee – a choice actually made by the presidential candidate and invariably ratified by those assembled. Delegates also help to write the party platform. At this stage there is often a tussle between different factions who seek to move the party in their direction. The policy statement is not binding on the two people chosen to run for the White House, but, as it indicates prevalent feeling in the party, candidates do not usually ignore such an expression of the mood of the faithful. The conclusion of the national convention season brings to an end a long-drawn-out process for which the candidates have been planning and working for many months – if not years. As a result, the two main presidential candidates have been chosen and are ready for the main battle ahead. But there is an alternative way by which presidential candidates can be placed on the ballot for the November election, one that shuns the primary/convention route. This involves a would-be challenger complying with the petition requirements in each individual state (difficult in Maryland, where 3 per cent – approximately 60,000 signatures – are required; simple in Louisiana, where payment of a filing fee of $500 is sufficient). In 1992, third-party candidate Ross Perot fulfilled these requirements in each individual state, for his funding and voluntary support enabled his cause to be well represented across the nation. Once a candidate is on the ballot paper, it is possible for him or her to achieve national prominence without the backing of a political party, as the case of Perot has shown. Television can provide ample exposure, via

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chat shows and other appearances. It was a matter of some pride to Perot that he was able to run an efficient and effective campaign without dipping too heavily into his own substantial private fortune. Without any established party organisation, he was able to launch a highly successful bid and eventually to win 19 per cent of the popular vote in November.

Winning the presidential race There is only a short pause between the end of the convention and the beginning of the campaign. In this time the parties need to pull together again after what may have been a wounding primary process. They must also devise their strategy for the final stage – the bid for the White House. Some of the important features of the campaign include: • • • •

• •

candidate-centred electioneering, the focus being on the personal qualities of candidates rather than on party labels; the growing use of market research; the use of professional consultants and assorted media gurus; the increasing attention to the importance of photoopportunities, to provide the media with pictures as well as words; a concentration on themes that appear appropriate for the national mood; the use of television opportunities, ranging from chat shows to interviews and, of course, the presidential debates.

Much depends on creating the right image for the candidate, who at this stage needs to adopt a stance that can appeal to many Americans of all social groups, well beyond the confines of traditional party support. The candidate needs to be attuned to the mood of the hour. Franklin Roosevelt caught the popular imagination in 1932 with his promise of dynamic action: John F. Kennedy seemed to embody the hopes of those who wanted to see America move forward to the challenge of New Frontiers in 1960: Bill Clinton was presented as a man who might get America moving again in 1992, after a period in which domestic policy had been neglected. Of course, doubts about a candidate’s personal standards of

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behaviour can throw the strategy off course. But in Clinton’s case in 1992, he was able to keep the economy in the forefront, despite the attempt of the Bush team to portray him in a negative way – just as four years earlier it had successfully painted a picture of the Democrat presidential candidate, Michael Dukakis, as ‘soft’ on issues of public concern, such as crime. In 1992, it was perhaps easier for the Democrat to stick to his emphasis on the pivotal role of the economy, for Ross Perot was also making this the central element in his campaign. The election takes place on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. The Electoral College and how it works The method of becoming president in the United States is in many ways a clumsy and protracted process. A candidate needs to acquire 270 votes in the Electoral College, out of the 538 available. Each state is apportioned a number of votes according to the number of seats it possesses in Congress: two votes for each state for the seats in the Senate and a variable number of votes for each state for its seats in the House of Representatives. Thus, in 2008, California had 55, Texas 34, New York State 31, Florida 27 and Illinois and Pennsylvania 21. In addition, three votes are allocated to Washington DC. Because of the equal representation of each state in the Senate, the smaller states are over-represented in the Electoral College, so that Delaware and Vermont, with well under a million people each, still have three votes. The electors in the College formally make the choice of the person to become president, just as they separately decide on the vice presidency also. The choice is not made by the ordinary voter, who in 2008, when he or she went to the polling station, actually voted for electors who were pledged to McCain/ Palin or Obama/Biden. In almost every state, the candidate who received the largest popular vote won all the electoral vote, though Maine and Nebraska have a slightly different procedure. If, when the electors in the College are making their choice, no candidate gains a majority, then the choice is thrown open to the House of Representatives, which chooses from among the top three candidates. If there is no majority for the position of vice president, then the choice goes to the Senate, which chooses between the first two candidates. If it became necessary to use this process, then it is the

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new Congress just elected (e.g. November 2008) rather than the old one that makes the choice. Theoretically, it would be possible for the two Houses to choose candidates from different parties, so that under the procedure the House could have opted for Obama, the Senate for the Republican nominee for the vice presidency, Sarah Palin. From this short account, it becomes apparent that it is essential for any presidential candidate to win in the Electoral College. To achieve this, he or she needs to perform strongly in the large urban and suburban states that have so much influence. Indeed, it has often been said that to become president it is necessary to win in California; its 55 votes outnumber those of the twelve least populated states and the District of Columbia all combined. As we have seen, Texas, New York, and Illinois and Pennsylvania have a significant number of votes and – as the 2000 result indicated – so does Florida (see Box 4.5). The candidate is likely to focus attention particularly on such large states and on those where he or she can expect to fare well. The importance of certain individual states dictates the strategy of any would-be contender. A candidate who can win in California or New York is more important than one who can do fairly well in every state, for most candidates do not aim to win across the nation and often fight less than enthusiastically in some hostile territory. For this reason, it is important for the main parties to have a candidate of wide appeal in the ‘swing’ states that are liable to go one way or the other. If you choose a candidate from a safe state, then this wastes the possible bonus of choosing a local person in a state or region in which there is a chance of success. For the Democrats in 1992, the choice of Clinton was a useful way of trying to restore the party’s fortunes in a region where its support had been eroded over the Reagan years. Such considerations are in the mind of the parties and commentators as they ponder the campaign scene in a presidential year. But the other factor of great significance is television (see Box 4.3), the impact of which is enormous. It has made the country one vast constituency and concentrated attention on the personal appeal and overall abilities of the candidate. Because of this, the campaign is increasingly in the hands of the advisers and gurus who collectively enjoy the label of ‘political consultants’. Yet, as we have seen, this is not the end of the process. The result of the contest may be known within a few hours of the close of

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Box 4.3 The importance of television to political leaders Success on television requires a candidate to look and sound appealing. As the veteran Democratic Party consultant Raymond Strother has noted,3 there are many more attractive people who get to become political leaders. Conventional good looks are an advantage, fatness or baldness quite the opposite. Moreover, when they speak nowadays the style needed is different from the days when politicians addressed large crowds ‘on the stump’. Dramatic, expansive gestures were then in vogue. Television requires a different, quieter tone. As Hague and Harrop4 explain: in the age of broadcasting ‘the task is to converse rather than to deliver a speech; to talk to the millions as though they were individuals’. America has led the way in selling its public figures. Three of them have been ‘naturals’ for television, just as Franklin Roosevelt was for radio. His folksy ‘fireside chats’ from the White House gave the American people renewed hope in the days of the Great Depression and after. He was the first major American politician who also appeared on television, in a little-noticed gathering at the New York World Fair, in 1938. John F. Kennedy portrayed an image of youth and glamour, and lifted the horizons of many Americans as he offered them a vision of ‘new frontiers’. Ronald Reagan, a trained actor, looked good and was able to deploy his soft-soap style and easy charm to convince Americans of his warmth and sincerity. Known as ‘the great communicator’, he had the gift of making people trust in him. Using a teleprompter (the first political leader to do so), he was able to speak directly to his audience, in tones to which they could warm. His advisers understood the importance in articulating broad themes that gelled with the mood of the people. They succeeded in presenting him as the embodiment of the American Dream; he was an individualist who spoke in language that appealed to their hearts. Bill Clinton was effective in speaking directly to the viewers, and was on occasion able to use television to launch his comeback after going through a bad patch. His style was in any case suited to the modern era, but he was also well served by his scriptwriters. They were said to spend much time in his company, and as a result were able to incorporate words and phrases that he used in his private conversation. By so doing, they were able to convey the character of the person, in this case one who does not favour ornate rhetoric but who likes to tell his story in a relaxed, conversational style.

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Table 4.1 Key dates in the 2008 campaign Date

Event

One to three years preceding 2008

The invisible primary: potential candidates declared their candidacy and sought funds/endorsements

January 2008

Phase One of primary/caucus season – e.g. Iowa, New Hampshire

5 February 2008

Super Tuesday (in effect, the nation’s first quasi-national primary) – several states voted

February–June 2008

The remaining primaries, from Nebraska (9 February) to Montana (in early June)

25–28 August 2008

Democrat National Convention, in Denver, Colorado

1–4 September 2008

Republican National Convention, in St Paul, Minnesota

4 November 2008

The voters cast their votes for president and vice president

15 December 2009

Members of Electoral College cast their votes for president and vice president

6 January 2009

Electoral votes officially tallied before both Houses of Congress

20 January 2009

Inauguration Day

polling, but it is another month before the actual election of the president takes place – when the members of the Electoral College cast their votes. The event is largely unnoticed in the outside world, yet it is of profound importance, even if the actual outcome is a formality in almost every case. Because the smaller states are proportionally over-represented in

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the College, it is possible for a candidate to win the most popular votes in the country but not the majority of the votes in the Electoral College. This has happened in the past – in 1824, in 1876 and in 1888 – and it happened again in 2000. It nearly happened in 1960 and 1976, elections that were closely contested. Neither of the men elected in those years, Kennedy or Carter, received a popular majority of the votes cast. Neither did Bill Clinton in either of his two victories. Indeed, there have been seventeen presidential elections in which the winner did not receive a majority of the popular vote cast. The first of these was the victory of John Quincy Adams in the election of 1824, and the most recent was that of George W. Bush in 2000.

The method of choosing the president assessed The process of choosing an American president is long, complex and expensive in the eyes of many outside observers. It certainly tests the mettle of any candidate for the highest office. Particularly in an age of television, any contender who can emerge relatively unscathed after such a prolonged procedure must have considerable powers of endurance and stamina (see Box 4.4). Hence the reference by Vile5 to ‘almost lethal’ demands. The system enables the person chosen as presidential candidate to become established as a national figure. In the case of someone like General Eisenhower, his reputation may already be well known. This is not the case with many of the persons who seek to win the presidency via the primary route. Jimmy Carter was an ‘outsider’ from Georgia, unknown to the Washington elite in 1975, a year before he was elected to the White House. Others may be more familiar, but the way in which a presidential candidate emerges does ensure that the new president will have become a national figure by the time he or she comes to take office. In the past this would have been by travel; today it is more from television. But the candidate will have been exposed to the critical gaze of millions of American voters, and will have been forced to sell his or her personality, to demonstrate an understanding of the needs and wishes of the voters and to prove that he or she is worthy of their respect and trust – that he or she is fit to be the country’s leader. Yet there are many criticisms that can be made of the way in

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Box 4.4 What sort of qualities make a good presidential candidate? Ideally, the person should be a person who represents a large and pivotal state that they will have a chance of carrying. He should have broad appeal, possessing the ability to carry some, preferably most, key states. This means he needs to be well received in California, on the east coast and in the South. He also needs the flexibility to cope with the demands of the primary struggle – requiring an ability to enthuse the party faithful – and then, having won the nomination, to seem a less partisan figure who can widen his area of potential support by reaching out to many non-committed Americans. Candidates normally have a record of public service, for example, as a senator, but recently this has been more likely to have been as a state governor. Preferably, they will not be identified too strongly with particular views, for it is likely that on contentious issues this will create many opponents. Broad intelligence allied to a certain vagueness on policy is a useful recipe. It is desirable, if not strictly necessary, to show an appropriate interest in and knowledge of significant topics, and by the tone of one’s observations to seem to be in touch with public concern. Neither Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush proved to be intellectually high-powered, but at times both managed to create the impression that their hopes and fears resonated with those of the average American. Occasionally, a candidate comes along who is a national hero and has not stood in the usual offices prior to his candidacy. Eisenhower was a good choice for the Republicans in 1952, though retired generals do not always make strong candidates. They were more common a century ago, although from time to time the name of such a man still emerges. Colin Powell, having achieved honour and distinction in the Gulf War, had the sort of reputation that might have overridden considerations such as lack of political experience. This is why many moderate Republicans would have liked to see his candidature in 1996 and why on occasion he has sometimes been seen as a possible runner. Other considerations include the desirability of being a Protestant in religion, although the choice of Kennedy in 1960 showed that a Roman Catholic could make it to the White House; the nomination of John Kerry in 2004 showed that this factor has become less important. JFK was an untypical candidate, for, apart from his religion, he was spectacularly wealthy, which could have been offputting and made him appear out of touch with ordinary Americans. He

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also showed no great interest in agriculture, which at the time was unusual, given the political importance of the farm vote. Yet he had one obvious virtue: he was a glamorous candidate and one of the first to see the potential of television as a means of selling his personality. Today, being personable and easy on the eye is especially important. Television is not a medium in which bald, fat or ugly figures fare well. The ability to speak fluently and with seeming sincerity is another asset. Presidential elections in the twenty-first century have become major media events, and the successful candidate will be subjected to the glare of the cameras and the gaze of an interested public over many months. He or she needs to avoid negative coverage, for there are many who have fallen because of media scrutiny of some impropriety in their private life, be it sexual or financial. Bill Clinton obtained the nomination in spite of damaging allegations about his private life in 1991–2, helped by the appearance of him and his supportive wife together on television, frankly admitting to their marital difficulties and their determination to overcome them. Being married is an asset. No bachelor was elected president in the twentieth century. It requires a special stamina to endure the run for president and to withstand the pressures imposed by such endless attention. It is a long and arduous struggle, enough to tax the energies and finance of even the most dedicated and ambitious politician.

which the United States chooses its national leader. Some concern the primaries, some the Electoral College and others the system of election and the nature of the campaign – with its heavy reliance on the media, its increasing professionalism and expense and yet its low turnouts and mounting public cynicism. The primary system is often criticised because of the number and timing of the various contests, a situation that forces a candidate to navigate the primary season with some dexterity. He or she needs to stand in as many contests as possible, although this can be very costly; it can even involve the candidate putting his or her name down in several states that ballot on the same day. For instance, several primaries in the South are held on Super Tuesday, in early February. This makes a campaign difficult to organise and conduct. (In 2008, more states than ever held their primaries or caucuses on 5 February, there being contests in twenty-four states for one or both of the main parties that day.)

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A possible improvement would be to hold a national presidential primary, an election on a single day across the whole country, in the late spring or autumn. As an alternative, the separate state primaries could all be held on the same day. Such a one-off election would reduce the demands on the candidate, attract much media publicity (and therefore a higher turnout?) and produce a fair and representative verdict. But would it increase the role of television and emphasise the professionalism of the modern campaign, with all its advisers, consultants and preoccupation with image building? Would it not favour the wealthy or well-resourced candidate who could afford to advertise his cause in every state? It would, of course, be possible to revert back to the older system and rely more on caucuses to make the choice. We have examined the reasons for the greater use of primaries. It is unlikely that there would be any strong support for scrapping their use today, although for those who wish to strengthen the role of political parties in the American system of government there could be a benefit in so doing. Most of the anxiety about the American system relates to the use of the Electoral College, for it is from the use of this approach that several potential problems derive. Criticism centres on several aspects, notably: • • • • •

the over-representation of very small states and the excessive concentration on those that have many College votes; the use of the simple plurality method of voting; the possibility that members of the College may vote for a person other than the one to whom they were pledged; the fact that it is possible to win the popular vote and yet lose the election; the fact that there may be no clear victor in the College, if no one emerges with a majority. This could have happened in 1992, if Ross Perot had actually managed to carry some states. It was the strategy of George Wallace in 1968 to aim for deadlock, and thereby throw the decision into the House. A choice made in Congress could be contrary to the people’s will as expressed in the ballot box in November.

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Why have an Electoral College? Does the system work well? The Founding Fathers wanted a method of choosing their president that would shun ‘mob politics’. Democracy was not then yet in fashion, and, as they were creating an elected office, they wanted to ensure that they were not handing power to demagogues who could manipulate popular opinion. They were suspicious of the mass of the people. Choice by college, after the voters had expressed their feelings, could be conducted in a more leisurely and rational manner. As Hamilton put it in The Federalist Papers6: ‘The immediate election [of the President] should be made by men most capable of analysing the qualities needed for the office.’ In this spirit, the Founding Fathers set up a system in which the electorate actually chooses between two competing lists or ‘slates’ of Electoral College candidates, although on the ballot papers it is the names of the candidates for the presidential office that are actually given. There was never any serious likelihood that members of the Electoral College meeting in December would ignore the expression of public feeling in early November. Candidates for the College soon became pledged to cast their vote for one of the presidential challengers. In other words, they do not use their individual discretion, but reflect the feelings of voters in their state. In fact, the College does not even meet as one deliberating body. Members meet in their state capitals and their choices are conveyed to Washington. Very rarely, an elector in the Electoral College has changed his or her mind and not voted for the person to whom he or she was pledged. In 1948, a Tennessee elector did not vote for Truman, who had carried the state, but opted instead for the States Rights candidate. Twenty years later, an elector in North Carolina switched from Richard Nixon to the Third Party candidature of George Wallace. In 1988, a Democrat voted for Lloyd Bentsen, the vice-presidential nominee, rather than Michael Dukakis, the candidate for the presidency. In 2000, a Gore supporter failed to vote, in protest against the lack of representation of Washington DC in Congress. (Of course, it would still have only taken three ‘faithless voters’ to switch allegiance from Bush to Gore, as many were free to do, to have swung the result back to Gore.) Some writers have also drawn attention to the way in which balloting takes place. Instead of there being a proportional split in the

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Box 4.5 What happened in 2000? In 2000, voters unknowingly opened a legal can of worms when they recorded their votes on 7 November. The outcome of the election was not known until 13 December, because of the various legal challenges to the result mounted initially by Al Gore and then by George Bush. Gore won the popular vote, securing 48.5 per cent to the 48.0 per cent of his opponent. But in the Electoral College, the margin was tight. The TV networks declared Florida for Gore, then Bush. Gore conceded defeat, but when it became apparent that there were problems with the way in which the vote was being counted in that state, he retracted his concession. Florida was pivotal to the outcome of the election, for its twentyfive votes would determine who won in the Electoral College. Within the state, everything depended on whether or not there would be a recount in some counties. The Florida Supreme Court was willing to allow recounts, but the issue eventually went to the Supreme Court in Washington, which – by its verdict – did not allow sufficient time for a manual recount to take place. Bush won the election with 271 votes in the College, Gore had 267. Although the Florida vote was eventually recorded as almost a statistical tie, all of its votes went to Bush, whereas on a proportional basis they would have each qualified for 12/13.

Electoral College vote of a particular state to reflect the division of the popular vote, the candidate who gets the most votes carries the whole state allocation. This simple plurality or ‘winner-takes-all’ method may seem unfair, especially when the result is very close. In 1960, Kennedy obtained all of New York’s 45 College votes, despite the fact that he obtained only 52.5 per cent support; a proportional split would have given him 24 votes, to 21 for his opponent. This method makes the impact of geography very important on the outcome, for, as we have seen, a candidate who can carry California and other populous states has an enormous advantage. This would not be the case if the College vote were to be divided. The importance of urban states with dense populations is unduly emphasised under this process. For all of its disadvantages, the system has so far worked tolerably well. When there is a close popular vote, as in 1960, the outcome in

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the College makes the result clear-cut. Until 2000, the same has been true in other contests where the gap between the main candidates was a narrow one. Is there a better alternative to the Electoral College? There have been many suggestions for the use of an amended college system and others for its total abolition. Modifications could take the form of using a different electoral system other than ‘winner takes all’. A proportional division of the College votes is an alternative to the simple plurality. The most obvious change would be to jettison the Electoral College and opt for a straight popular election of the president by the voters, instead of using the present indirect process of election. If it proved to be the case that no candidate could overcome a 40 per cent hurdle on the first round of voting, then there could be a replay, a run-off between the two candidates who had scored most successfully. The person elected could then claim to have wide national backing and not be unduly beholden to the voters in especially populous states. No longer is there the apprehension about democracy that prevailed when the Founding Fathers made their choice. It is true that such a method could further enhance the power of television, for few candidates could ever get across the nation and tour every state to encourage popular support. Yet effectively this is what happens now; the campaign is already organised for its television impact. More seriously for some critics of reform along these lines, it might weaken further the two main parties and encourage the candidature of third-party nominees. For defenders of states’ rights, such a proposal might seem to be a threat to the federal system’ for it undermines the importance of each state and region in the contest. In particular, the smaller states might feel uneasy, for their influence in deciding the outcome would be diminished compared with the current situation. Is change likely? It is far more likely that the present system will continue indefinitely, for, although there is periodic unease about the Electoral College, this mainly coincides with the prospect of an indecisive outcome in the next presidential election. When a clear winner emerges, as

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Box 4.6 The backgrounds and experience of US presidents American presidents gain their position by one of two basic routes. They either take the normal road to the White House that we have described or else they are elevated to the presidency from the vice presidency. About one in five presidents reached the Oval Office not by the normal road of elections, but because they were the number two when the incumbent died, was assassinated or was discredited. The people who have become president have been a very diverse group, some distinguished intellectuals of great moral force, others shallow men of dubious morality. As long as they had the basic qualification of being natural-born citizens of the United States, were at least 35 years of age and had resided in the country for at least fourteen years, they were eligible. Until 2009, all had been white, male and, with the exception of Kennedy, Protestant. Political backgrounds Candidates for the White House have tended to come from the Senate or a state governorship rather than the lower house, where the period of two years in office gives them little time to make their mark. Gerald Ford was the last member of the House of Representatives to become president, although in this case immediately prior to his elevation he was vice president. Kennedy was the last person to rise from the Senate to the presidency, although several senators since the 1960s have attempted to gain their party’s candidacy, including in 2004 Democrat John Kerry. The main route of successful candidates has been the vice presidency or a governorship. Johnson, Ford and George H. W. Bush were all vice presidents immediately before becoming president. Nixon had served in that office for eight years before having a further eight years in the political wilderness. Carter, Reagan, Clinton and George W. Bush were all previously state governors. Reagan was well known to Americans, his face being familiar on cinema and television screens as a movie actor, whereas Carter (the peanut farmer from Georgia) and Clinton (the governor of Arkansas) were little known outside their states. George W. Bush served as Governor of Texas for six years, before becoming president. The 2008 contest was unusual in that this was the first presidential election in which two sitting senators ran against each other; the first in which an African American was the nominee of a main party; and the first in which both leading candidates were born outside the continental USA, Obama in Hawaii and McCain in Panama.

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Box 4.7 The background and election of Barack Obama Barack Obama, the 44th president, was born of a Kenyan father (who soon returned from Hawaii to Kenya) and a white American mother from Kansas. Barack spent his upbringing in Honolulu and Indonesia. A graduate of Columbia University and the Harvard Law School, he then worked as a community organiser and civil-rights lawyer before teaching in the University of Chicago Law School and serving in the Illinois state Senate. After failing to win a seat in the House of Representatives in November 2004, he was elected as the junior senator for his state four years later. In November 2008, he was elected as president by a decisive majority of 9.5 million in the popular vote and 192 in the Electoral College. The 2008 election was the first time in US history that an African American was elected to the presidency and the first time that a Roman Catholic, Jo Biden, was elected vice president. Outcome of the presidential election, 2008

Votes in Electoral College

McCain

Obama

173

365

Number of states won

22

28 + DC

% of the popular vote

45.7

52.9

eventually happened in 1992, much of the earlier talk of change vanishes. There is no agreement on any alternative. Direct election was supported by Jimmy Carter early in the life of his presidency, when he described the existing arrangements as ‘archaic’. Many analysts might concur with such a view, but there are strong forces ranged against it. The federal system was designed to protect the influence of the states, especially small ones, and they would not readily vote for a change, either via their Congressmen or in their state

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legislatures. For the Dakotas or Vermont, the Electoral College gives them an influence beyond their size. Why should they wish to surrender it? If ever there was an election that appeared to make the case for change it was that held in 2000. Yet, in spite of polls showing that there was public sympathy before and after the election for direct election, after the outcome had been decided there was little public demand for change. Even politicians on the losing side made little attempt to give the debate on the College a higher profile. Indeed, in spite of his earlier support, Jimmy Carter7 advanced the view that ‘200 years from now, we will still have the Electoral College’.

Removing the president Only five of the presidents since 1933 have managed to complete two full terms. Occasionally, a president might decide not to stand for reelection, even though he is eligible for a further four years in office (e.g. Johnson in 1968). Otherwise, presidents leave the White House for one of four reasons: •







They may be defeated in an election. This is not a frequent occurrence, perhaps indicating the advantages of incumbency. In the case of Ford, who had not even been elected as vice president, his defeat in November 1976 meant that he is noted as being the only US president never to have been elected. They may die in office. This has happened on eight occasions, four being cases of assassination. Of the post-1933 presidents, two died during their presidency, Roosevelt from natural causes and Kennedy by assassination. Resignation in office. This has only ever happened once. Richard Nixon’s resignation was in anticipation that impeachment proceedings would follow if he did not leave office voluntarily. His presidency had become seriously weakened, for he had lost support from key members of his own party. Impeachment. This is the ultimate check on the abuse of presidential power, but it is such a drastic step that it is rare for articles of impeachment to be laid. Neither of the two presidents who were impeached was convicted.

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Table 4.2 The departure of presidents in the era of the modern presidency, 1933–2009 President

Dates of presidency

Reason for leaving office

Franklin Roosevelt

1933–1945

Death

Harry Truman

1945–1953

Decided not to run again*

Dwight Eisenhower

1953–1961

Completed his two term entitlement

John Kennedy

1961–1963

Death: assassination

Lyndon Johnson

1963–1969

Decided not to run again*

Richard Nixon

1969–1974

Resignation re Watergate scandal

Gerald Ford

1974–1977

Election defeat

Jimmy Carter

1977–1981

Election defeat

Ronald Reagan

1981–1989

Completed his two-term entitlement

George H. W. Bush

1989–1993

Election defeat

Bill Clinton

1993–2001

Completed his two-term entitlement

George W. Bush

2001–2009

Completed his two-term entitlement

* Under the terms of the 22nd Amendment, the sitting president was entitled to a further four-year term

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Conclusion The United States has a complex system of choosing its president. It begins in January with the nomination of candidates via primaries and caucuses and ends with the choice made by voters in the Electoral College in December. Campaigning has become candidate centred, instead of party centred. The campaigns of individual candidates are highly organised by staffs of personal advisers and professional consultants. Critics allege that the process is unduly expensive and excessively long, testing candidates more for their ability to raise money and their stamina than for their ability to govern and their understanding of key issues. As in most democracies, it also places much emphasis on their personal and media skills. Polls suggest that the public also disapproves strongly of the way in which many candidates run their campaigns, finding the expenditure on them excessive.

D

What you should have learnt from reading this chapter •

Presidential campaigns begin at least two years before the four-yearly November election, as candidates prepare and position themselves for the increasingly brief nomination phase that begins with the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary, and formally ends with the July/August nominating conventions. In this phase, candidates are seeking the support of state delegations.



The general-election campaign as a national battle gets underway in the fall, once the two main parties have chosen their presidential candidates. They campaign on television and across the country in a bid to win the popular backing of key states that have a substantial number of votes in the Electoral College. The election is held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November and the result is normally known the following day.



Members of the Electoral College chosen in the November election cast their vote for the president in December, at which point the winner is confirmed – although the official count of votes cast takes place on the first day of the congressional session in January.



The method of choosing the president is lengthy, costly and gruelling for the candidates. However, it helps candidates who are little known beyond their own states to acquire a national profile and tests their

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mettle and stamina when exposed to the heat of the media-dominated campaign. •

Most presidents serve only one term, although there have been five two-termers since 1933. They leave office after four years either because they have decided not to stand again, have been defeated at the polls or die in office, unless they have resigned. No president can be elected for more than two terms, since the passage of the 22nd Amendment.

/

Glossary of key terms 22nd Amendment The constitutional amendment, proposed by Congress in 1947 and adopted in 1951, that limits the presidential tenure in office to two four-year terms. American Dream The widespread belief in the United States that by hard work and individual enterprise even the most poor and lowly Americans can achieve economic success, a better way of life and enhanced social status, in a land of immense opportunity. According to the Dream, there are no insurmountable barriers that prevent Americans from fulfilling their potential, even if many individuals and groups do not do so. Candidate-centred electioneering A form of election campaign in which the emphasis is on the role and activity of the individual candidate, rather than on the party he or she represents. Consultants and volunteers coordinate campaign activities, develop strategies and raise funds, although parties are likely to be involved in a secondary capacity. Caucuses The series of meetings held in some states as a means of selecting delegates to send to the party’s national convention. In caucuses, it is the party activists who decide who should be their party’s presidential candidate, rather than the voters, as in a primary election. Electoral College An institution created by the Founding Fathers to select the president. Each state has a number of votes equal to the number of its seats in the House of Representatives, plus its two senators. Front-loading The process of shifting state primary elections to the beginning of the election year, so that several take place within a few weeks and many are completed by early March. The need to gain and maintain momentum, along with the huge media coverage that these primaries attract, forces candidates to enter the race early to gain publicity. They need to have generous funding in place in time for this costly stage of their campaign. Incumbency An incumbent is a current office-holder, such as the president. The ‘incumbency advantage’ refers to the advantages such as recognition and ease of fundraising, which lead to high re-election rates for office-holders.

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Invisible primary The period of one to three years prior to the beginning of the primary season, in which candidates decide whether to announce their willingness to stand for the presidential nomination, raise funds and seek celebrity and other endorsements, including those of pressure groups. National party nominating conventions The two main parties meet in national convention every four years in the summer prior to the presidential election, formally to choose a presidential and vicepresidential candidate, as well as to adopt a party platform. Party platform A statement of goals and policies, as agreed at the national party convention: in effect the equivalent of a manifesto, its significance is largely symbolic, in that it shows the balance of power between different party factions. Photo-opportunities Carefully stage-managed episodes in which media consultants to a leading politician arrange for him or her to be photographed against a particular background, perhaps to demonstrate concern for the area or its industry. Presidential debates Held after the parties have nominated their candidates, the three live-broadcast debates provide an opportunity for the Democratic and Republican nominees to debate their views on key issues of the day. There is also one debate between the vice-presidential candidates. Primaries Preliminary elections in which voters select candidates to stand under their party labels in a later and definitive general election. Professional consultants Specialists and advisers in some aspect of campaigning, such as fundraising, personal image and presentation, polling, speech-writing, spin-doctoring and staging media-covered events. All are engaged in the process of ‘selling politicians’. Super Tuesday A day on which a cluster of primaries are held, many of which are in the South. This was originally in March, but in 2008 was brought forward to February. This is a formidable hurdle for any candidate, who – to retain credibility – needs to be able to win or secure a credible share of the vote in several of them.

?

Likely examination questions Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the way in which presidential candidates are chosen. Should the Electoral College be abolished? To what extent does the method of selection determine the type of person who will become president of the United States?

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Helpful websites www.fec.gov The Federal Election Commission site provides data on the financing of election campaigns www.pollingreport.com The Polling Report site gives data on elections and campaigning events. See also the personal sites of presidential challengers and the organisations supporting them. In addition, there are useful articles concerning the electoral process, the candidates and the outcomes on sites such as: www.timesonline.co.uk www.bbc.co.uk

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CHAPTER 5

The President and Domestic Policy Contents The differing roles of the president Constraints upon the president in domestic policy Thoughts on the president’s power in relation to domestic policy Conclusion

76 82 89 92

Overview Writers often point to the problems encountered by presidents in dealing with domestic affairs. Though some have had success in the legislative arena (e.g. President Johnson), most have found it more difficult to achieve their home-policy agenda. Because of this, Wildavsky1 suggested that there were ‘two presidencies’, a favourable outcome being easier to achieve in the foreign than in the domestic arena. Recent presidents have resorted to unilateral measures to achieve their goals. In this chapter, we examine the constitutional roles of the president and his position as party leader, prior to reviewing some of the constraints that he is likely to face, which are much greater than they were in the days of the imperial presidency. Finally, we assess the literature on the subject to see how scholars have interpreted presidential powers in domestic policy.

Key issues to be covered in this chapter • • • •

The functions and power of presidents in domestic policy The limitations to presidential power and in particular the operation of Congress Neustadt on the importance of the power of persuasion Wildavsky’s thesis re the relative weakness of presidents in domestic – as opposed to foreign – policy; recent evidence

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On coming to power, the president begins with some advantages as he attempts to fulfil his tasks. He can claim a popular mandate to govern, which may enable him to make early progress in getting his legislation through Congress, if he has a prepared plan of action. And the massive bureaucracy over which he presides is likely to be willing to give him a fair chance to make progress in carrying out his programme. But he does not have full control over his destiny, for it may be that more than half the congressmen belong to another party and there may be partisan opposition. Even his own party supporters may have doubts about some aspects of his legislative proposals. As time goes by, the large and unwieldy bureaucracy may seem slow and unresponsive, behaving much as it did under his predecessor. The longer he is in office, the more any honeymoon effect will wear off.

The differing roles of the president In fulfilling his responsibilities in domestic policy, the president performs a variety of roles, of which four stand out as being particularly worthy of attention. Collectively, they indicate the massive importance of the office. As two writers on the presidency2 put it: ‘All that is missing is Mover of Mountains and Raiser of the Dead.’ Head of state The president is the symbolic head of state and as such is a focal point of loyalty. In this capacity, he is the American equivalent of British royalty. He has ceremonial functions, ranging from visiting foreign countries to attending important national occasions. At one time, he throws the first baseball of the season, at another he reviews parades. These opportunities for favourable media coverage give him an advantage over his opponents, for he can be seen to speak and act in a ‘presidential’ manner. George Washington was acutely aware of the value of such ceremonial occasions in enhancing his prestige, leading John Adams3 to observe that, ‘if he was not the great president, he was the best actor that we ever had’. Chief executive The ability of the president to carry out or execute laws is laid down in Article II of the Constitution: ‘The executive power shall be vested in a

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President of the United States.’ He has overall responsibility for ensuring that a network of fifteen executive departments and a range of diverse agencies and bureaux work effectively. He heads a vast federal bureaucracy, employing nearly 2.8 million civilians in the executive branch. He fills some 2,000 posts and can hire and fire the heads of executive agencies. George W. Bush used the power of appointment to seek to strengthen his political control of the bureaucracy and inject a new sense of urgency in the pursuit and achievements of his goals, his highly politicised appointments covering not just civil servants but also those who worked in various scientific and medical advisory boards. Other than embracing the appointment of key members of the bureaucracy, the president’s power of appointment extends widely to include a number of key offices. In Article II:2, the Founding Fathers divided the power of appointment as follows: he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the Supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law.

These nominations require approval by a simple majority of the Senate. Often, this is a routine process, although on occasion approval has been denied or there has been a prolonged delay before it has been granted. Presidents can grant pardons, perhaps the most famous being that granted by President Ford to Richard Nixon, in a bid to confine the long nightmare of Watergate to part of history. In this capacity, they have also asserted the right of executive privilege, although, following the cases of United States v. Nixon (1974) and Clinton v. Jones (1997), the courts have applied strict limitations to the exercise of that claim. The Chief Executive role appears to be an all-powerful role, given the massive expansion of the scope and numbers involved in government since the time when the office was created. Yet presidents soon come to realise that management of the executive is a more difficult and time-consuming task than they ever envisaged. Despairing of being effective managers of the executive branch, they can easily lose interest in much of the detail of what happens. On leaving office, Lyndon Johnson4 pointed out to his successor, Richard Nixon, some

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of the realities of political power. He observed: ‘Before you get to the presidency, you think you can do anything. You think you’re the most powerful leader since God. But when you get in that tall chair, as you’re gonna find out, Mr President, you can’t count on people. You’ll find your hands tied and people cussin’ you.’ Chief legislator Although the president is not part of the legislative branch of government, he has the constitutional rights to recommend measures to Congress. In the nineteenth century, presidents rarely advanced specific policy proposals. But, in the twentieth century, they increasingly found themselves in the position of producing a package to encourage the Legislature, as the American people have come to expect of them. The creation of the Bureau of the Budget in 1921 equipped them with the institutional tools to exercise greater influence over budgeting and policy development. Since then, they have prepared a budget covering the whole executive branch and ensured that departmental and agency legislative proposals have fitted in with their own legislative intentions. Presidents have used the State of the Union address every January to present their annual programme, and in the twenty-first century most measures passed by Congress have their origins in the executive branch. As we have seen, much depends on the political situation. A president without a congressional majority – such as Bill Clinton in his last six years – is in the position of responding to and attempting to modify measures, rather than initiating them. In general, presidents are more successful in securing their legislation in the earlier than in the latter years of their term. In this role, presidents make extensive use of arm-twisting techniques to impose their will or to fend off policies that they dislike. This may involve invitations for Senators and Representatives to attend the White House or a round of golf (‘killing opposition by kindness’) or threats to obstruct public-works projects in a congressman’s district. Senator Byrd5 of West Virginia gave an indication of the sort of meeting that might occur: [President] ‘I respect you for your opposition to that funding [for the Contras in Central America], but I wish you would see your way to vote with us next time on that. Can you do it?’

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‘Well, I will certainly be glad to think about it, Mr President . . .’ ‘Well, Bob, I hope you will. And by the way, that money for the heart research center in Morgantown that you have worked for, I will bet your people love you for that . . . I have given a lot of thought to that. Be sure and take another look at that item we have, funds for the Contras.’

In addition to subtle and more blatant arm-twisting, presidents can also use the presidential veto (see Box 5.1) as a means of blocking unwanted policies. Presidential vetoes were little employed during the first century of the American republic, but gained in popularity in the twentieth century. Their use peaked under Franklin Roosevelt, who issued an astonishing 635 of them, almost 53 for each of his 12 years in office. Truman and Eisenhower likewise issued triple-digit vetoes. The numbers dropped off in the second-half of the twentieth century, ranging from John F. Kennedy’s 21 to Ronald Reagan’s 78. Only fourteen presidents used their veto power less times than George W. Bush, and only one since 1900. According to Senate figures, he issued nine vetoes, all during his second term in office. His first was to block the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005, a bill to ease restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research (an override failed in the House by 235–193). Another much-publicised one (March 2008) was to prevent the passage of a measure that would have allowed greater Congressional oversight over the intelligence community and banned the use of waterboarding, as well as other forms of enhanced interrogation techniques. The veto was an indication of his deepening battle with the increasingly assertive Democrats in the 110th Congress over issues at the heart of his legacy. Head of party The president is the titular leader of his or her party, but he has no formal position in the party structure. This is a role that itself involves several duties. The president • • • •

tries to fulfil its programme, the platform on which he was elected; is its chief fund-raiser and campaigner; appoints its national chairperson; distributes offices and favours to the party faithful.

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Box 5.1 The presidential veto After passing through both Houses of Congress, bills are sent to the White House for the president to sign. If the president fails to act within ten days (excepting Sundays), a bill automatically becomes law. But in the last ten days of a session, a failure to act amounts to a pocket veto; in other words, as Congress is not sitting and cannot fight back, the bill is effectively killed. When a president vetoes a bill within the allotted time, Congress can override the decision, as long as two-thirds of those present in each chamber support the initiative. Presidents know that Congress only very rarely successfully overrides their vetoes, so the mere threat of using the power is often enough to enable them to extract concessions from the legislature. As long as the power is sometimes used, the threat is a credible one. Presidents vary in their use of the veto, some using it extensively, as the figures suggest: Number of vetoes and overrides for selected presidents, 1933– 2001 President

Number of bills vetoed

Number and percentage of vetoes overridden

F. Roosevelt (1933–45)

635

9 (1.4%)

D. Eisenhower (1953– 61)

181

2 (1.1%)

L. Johnson (1963–69)

30

0 (0.0%)

R. Nixon (1969–74)

43

7 (16.3%)

R. Reagan (1981–8)

78

9 (11.5%)

B. Clinton (1993–2001)

37

2 (5.4%)

9

0 (0.0%)

George W. Bush (2001–9) total

2,551

106

Source: Figures adapted from those available from the Research Division, Congressional Quarterly, Washington.

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For many years, critics of the procedure argued that the presidential veto was a blunt weapon, for the president had either to sign or to reject an entire bill. Knowing this, Congressmen sometimes attached extra (and unpalatable) provisions (riders) to a bill that they knew the president really wanted. By so doing, they were trapping him, for he had either to sign the whole bill with the unwanted features, or to lose it altogether. After much discussion, Congress finally passed a line-item veto in 1996, giving the president the power to veto ‘objectionable’ parts of an appropriations (expenditure) bill, whilst agreeing to the rest of it. This innovation was soon tested in the Supreme Court. In Clinton v. New York (1998), the judges were asked to decide whether Bill Clinton’s rejection of some aspects of a tax bill was legitimate. They concluded that the line-item veto was unconstitutional, in that it violated the requirement that any bill must pass both Houses and be signed by the president in the same form. If the president was allowed to strike out particular features, then in effect a new bill was being created. The loss of the line-item veto means that presidents are left with one weaker power which they can employ if they are unhappy with a piece of legislation. Having signed the bill, they can withhold the funds (impoundment) appropriated by Congress for its implementation. Generally, impoundment has been used sparingly, but President Nixon used it regularly against a Democrat-dominated Congress, both as a means of controlling spending and as a means of controlling its behaviour. Congress responded by passing the Budget and Impoundment Control Act in 1974. This laid down restrictions on the presidential use of impoundment. What remains is a much-weakened alternative to the defunct line-item veto.

As party leader, the president has limted control, the more so given the decentralised nature of American political parties. He can use party identification to gain support in Congress, but in the case of Bill Clinton this did not guarantee support, even in the first two years when he had a congressional majority. If members of either chamber oppose the president, there is little he can do about it, other than appeal directly to the people over their heads. The president has no formal disciplinary sanctions. He has even less control over the party and state and local levels. Moreover, the presidential role of being head of state makes it difficult for the president to seem to be engaged

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in consistently partisan behaviour. Once installed in the White House, he tries to present an image of being the president for the whole nation, a statesman above and beyond daily party strife. Parties were once a much more important source of presidential influence, but today the relationship between presidents and their parties can often appear strained and awkward. Presidents have become more detached from them, for parties no longer control the nominating procedure; are not as important as a source of campaign funding; are sometimes ill-disciplined, divided and uncooperative in Congress (particularly the Democrats); and are separate entities at the national, state and local levels. Presidents vary in their attempts to keep the party within their control. President Carter placed little emphasis on this party responsibility, which did little to ease his relations with Congress. At first, Clinton was more aware of party feelings and the need to ‘manage’ his legislative colleagues, but his policies came unstuck. By the time he was seeking re-election in 1996, there was an air of detachment between the presidential and congressional wings of the party. George W. Bush benefited from generally loyal support from many Republicans in Congress, although, once he had lost his majorities in both Houses in November 2006, his position was seriously undermined, and critics within his own party became more vocal.

Constraints upon the president in domestic policy Several presidents, from Franklin Roosevelt to Bill Clinton, have at times spoken of the constraints under which they operated whilst in the White House. They have complained about the difficulties they experienced in carrying out policy, particularly on the domestic front. Clinton’s failure to restructure health care was an obvious example; George W. Bush found it hard to achieve reform of the tax system in his first administration. Sometimes, the difficulties were due to the presidents’ personal deficiencies as leaders. For instance, Carter was little versed in the methods of Washington politics and failed to understand the rudimentary facts about the policy-making process (see the story on pp. 35–6). In Presidential Power, first published in 1960, Richard Neustadt6

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pointed to the limitations on the power of the president, as well as to the strength of his position. He took the view that the presidency was actually rather weak in US government, being unable to effect significant change without the approval of Congress. In a revised edition (1990), he was able to detect more evidence of presidential weakness, but reiterated his emphasis upon the importance of the personal qualities of the incumbent. In his view, it took a person of extraordinary temperament to make a really significant impact and achieve all the goals he set for himself. His work and that of others highlighted a number of specific constraints. Congress Presidents needs congressional support. There was a time when Congress often deferred to the presidency, but in its more assertive mood of recent decades incumbents have sometimes found it difficult to achieve congressional backing even with their own party in control. Faced by a hostile Congress, George H. W. Bush and Clinton (in his last six years) had difficulties in carrying out aspects of their programme, resulting in ‘gridlock’, a situation in which the two branches of government were locked in conflict. Congress has been increasingly unwilling to accept that the executive branch is uniquely qualified to act in the national interest and possesses some special knowledge and expertise in deciding what course should be followed. Nixon, Ford and George H. W. Bush had much of their domestic programme undermined by the opposition Democrats, whereas Carter and Clinton had the indignity of seeing their policies battered by their own supporters. The figures for the success rates of these and other presidents in their relationship with Congress have been analysed by the Congressional Quarterly Weekly. Its figures (%) – indicating combined House and Senate averages, and covering each year of the presidency – for the ten presidents up to and including George W. Bush are as follows: Eisenhower Kennedy Johnson Nixon Ford

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64.9 84.5 82.8 67.0 57.7

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Carter Reagan George H. W. Bush Clinton George W. Bush (to January 2007)

76.4 61.8 51.7 58.1 87.5

The figures measure the proportion of formal or roll-call votes in which Congress backs the presidential position. However, there are some problems with the methodology, in that they do not include matters resolved by voice votes; some policy proposals are killed off in committee, rather than on the floor of the chamber; the administration may not take a formal position on an issue where it is liable to be defeated; and, finally, they accord equal weighting to all issues, irrespective of their importance (in other words, a president may have had difficulty with big issues, but succeed in gaining agreement on a host of lesser ones). Such factors need to be born in mind when considering, for example, the strong performance achieved by President Kennedy, who on key legislation on civil rights found relations with Congress difficult and unsuccessful. In contrast, President Johnson, who scores less well, was highly successful in achieving the legislation he wanted. Two journalists8 have described how the ‘Johnson treatment’ operated. Its tone could be supplication, accusation, cajolery, exuberance, scorn, tears, complaint, the hint of threat. It was all of these together. It ran the gamut of human emotions. Its velocity was breathtaking, and it was all in one direction. Interjections from the target were rare . . . [Johnson] moved in close, his face a scant millimeter from his target, his eyes widening and narrowing, his eyebrows rising and falling . . . The Treatment [was] an almost hypnotic experience and rendered the target stunned and helpless.

Congress regained much of its hold over the budgetary process in 1974 and over several years has shown greater enthusiasm for refusing to ratify its preferred appointees to vacancies in the Cabinet or on the Supreme Court bench. Two of Nixon’s nominees to the Court were rejected and one of Reagan’s, and one of George H. W. Bush’s was almost rejected, Clarence Thomas surviving the ratification process by only three votes. Zoe Baird, a Clinton nomination as Attorney General, proved unacceptable in 1993 when it was revealed that she had employed an illegal immigrant as her family nanny. Clinton’s second

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Box 5.2 The George W. Bush presidency and the passing of legislation Congress has become more partisan in its reactions to the presidency since the mid-1990s. George W. Bush was successful in achieving the outcomes that he wanted in the early years, but in his final year found the legislative branch more difficult to manage. The Democratic takeover in November 2006 significantly weakened his position, and by then national events had damaged his standing with the public, further undermining his ability to persuade legislators to view his proposals favourably. Congressional Quarterly reporter Richard Rubin7 noted that ‘Bush should have been the ultimate lame duck, a president with no ability to press his agenda in Congress or to prevent members of his party from abandoning White House policies to save their careers. For the most part, that’s exactly what happened.’ The CQ study of presidential support in 2008 found that President Bush had the second worst year of his presidency, winning congressional support for 47.8 per cent of roll-call votes on which he took a clear position, the eighthlowest score in the fifty-six-year history of the survey – although higher than Bush’s 38.3 per cent success rate in 2007. On key issues, he was often able to prevail on big occasions by deploying a combination of compromise and procedural clout.

choice, Kimba Wood, was also found to have employed illegal immigrants as nannies and her name had to be withdrawn. Eight years later, George W. Bush had a similar problem over the nomination of Linda Chavez as Secretary of Labor, when it became known that an illegal immigrant had lived in her household and acted in a similar capacity. Sometimes, rejections are clear-cut. Sometimes, as difficulties unfold, nominations are withdrawn. Finally, on occasion, the Senate has resorted to prolonged delay in considering nominations, when congressional–presidential relations are at a low ebb. The tendency of Congress to appoint special prosecutors to probe every aspect of a president’s affairs, and the relentless media interest that this creates, has a paralysing impact on presidential policy. Investigations drag on, seemingly for partisan reasons, and – as Clinton found to his cost – there is always the ultimate horror of the threat of impeachment at the end of the road.

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Box 5.3 Impeachment: the Clinton experience Article II:4 of the American Constitution states: ‘The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the united States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery or other high Crimes and misdemeanours.’ Impeachment, then, involves a charge of misconduct being laid against an officer of the national government. In the case of the president, he is then committed for trial and, if convicted, removed from office. In the process of impeachment, the House acts as the prosecutor and the Senate as judge and jury. Any member of the House may initiate impeachment proceedings by introducing a resolution to that effect. The House Judiciary Committee conducts proceedings in the lower chamber and then decides in favour of or against impeachment. It delivers a verdict to the whole House, which requires a 50 per cent vote to impeach. If the process goes ahead, the case is then tried in the Senate, the Chief Justice presiding on this occasion. A two-thirds vote of those present is needed to secure a conviction and subsequent removal. Impeachment is one of the most potent checks upon the abuse of power. It can also be a means of undermining a president’s authority. But – being a rather partisan, cumbersome and time-consuming means of ensuring accountability – it has been used only sparingly. Charges have been considered by the House against nine presidents, but in only two cases has the procedure actually been used, those of Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1999. The Senate failed to convict Johnson by just one vote, whereas in the Clinton case the Senate was at least twelve votes short of the necessary number. The case of Richard Nixon’s obstruction of justice in the Watergate inquiry never reached the Senate, for he resigned as president in August 1974. Had he not done so, he might well have been the first incumbent of the White House to be successfully impeached. The impeachment of Bill Clinton and why it failed Clinton was not impeached for sexual misconduct, although the case against him originated in a case of sexual harassment concerning Paula Jones. As part of the Clinton deposition (testimony), he was asked about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, a former White House intern. Clinton’s answers were untruthful, and the perjury involved enabled the (Republican) prosecutor, Kenneth Starr, to recommend that the President be impeached. (The Jones case was eventually settled out of court. If this had

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happened earlier in the proceedings, impeachment might have been avoided.) Why did the impeachment proceedings fail? Even some Republicans could not accept that the gravity of the offences merited such a drastic punishment as was being proposed. They realised too that the way in which the charges were brought by a near-obsessed special prosecutor and passed by a Republicandominated House smacked of undue partisanship. It seemed like a Republican witch-hunt against Clinton. If this was the public perception, then their party might suffer at the polls for its behaviour. Beyond this, senators were only too aware of the public mood. The President’s personal popularity was increasing, at the very time impeachment proceedings were being debated. To impeach him would have been particularly risky for the Republicans, bearing in mind that many Americans did not seem sufficiently troubled to want to be rid of him. They were able to distinguish between the flawed man (whose failings had been well known to them at the time of his re-election in 1996) and the successful president who was presiding over a seemingly strong economy.

The Supreme Court In many cases, especially those involving situations of national emergency or a state of war, the Supreme Court will be supportive of the president. Indeed, on matters of foreign policy, the judiciary has played a significant part in establishing executive primacy. More generally, Clinton Rossiter9 wrote of how ‘for most practical purposes, the president may act as if the Supreme Court did not exist. The fact is that the Court has done more over the years to expand than contract the authority of the presidency.’ However, on rare occasions, the Court can damage a president and/or negate a particular activity, as it did to FDR over some of his New Deal measures that were deemed to be ‘unconstitutional’ (leading to the ‘court-packing’ controversy) to President Nixon over the Watergate tapes and to President Clinton in the case involving Paula Jones (1997). During the Clinton presidency, too, it became clear that proceedings could be brought against an incumbent, with the President and his closest staff being compelled to give evidence under oath.

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The Constitution and constitutional amendments The Founding Fathers had in mind a more limited view of executive power than that which prevails today. They were nervous about allowing the president a general prerogative, granting only the power to pardon without significant strings attached. Most of the other executive powers, whether they concern legislative and administrative matters, or foreign policy and military affairs, were hedged in by restrictions. For this was a system of divided government. In developing his New Deal programme, President Roosevelt found that the Constitution could be used as a barrier to social progress. Any president seeking to bring about a measure of gun control faces the difficulty that the right to bear arms is written into the document. Again, some amendments to the Constitution in the last few decades of the twentieth century have weakened the presidency. The 22nd Amendment limited the president to two terms of office and the 25th provided for the removal of a person who is physically or mentally unfit. The federal system Whereas the reactions of Congress and the Supreme Court present any president with limitations because of the operation of the Separation of Powers principle, there are also hurdles that reflect the impact of federalism. The fifty states have a large degree of fiscal and legislative autonomy, which acts as a check on the role of the federal government and therefore of the president, who has to negotiate with state representatives in several areas of decision-making. The mass media As we have seen, television can be a source of power to a telegenic president, but it can also act as a ‘double-edged sword’. It can damage his reputation, for a poor performance or gaffe (for example, the Ford gaffe in the presidential debates of 1976) is seen by so many viewers that credibility is undermined. Press journalists can be vigilant in exposing presidential wrong-doings, as over Vietnam, Watergate, Irangate and Monicagate. The press was generally indulgent towards President Kennedy’s personal indiscretions, but in the post-Watergate atmosphere it has been more disposed ‘to seek out the dirt’ in the private lives of politicians.

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Pressure groups Individual groups achieve prominence at particular times. Today, a Republican president has to contend with the Christian fundamentalists, pro-lifers and big corporations. A Democrat has to deal with the labour unions and environmentalists. In Bill Clinton’s first few months in office, the clashes between groups concerned over ‘gays in the military’ inflicted serious damage to his reputation. He was also opposed by the American Medical Association in his bid to reform American health provision. Public opinion Levels of popular support can fluctuate, as they did for George H. W. Bush (high at the time of Gulf War, then down as the state of the domestic economy failed to impress Americans). In spite of his personal misdemeanours Clinton was able to retain a high degree of public approval and bounce back after the disastrous 1994 elections to win re-election. Many have been less fortunate, and this can be damaging not only because of the need to win re-election. A president who is losing popular backing or at least acquiescence may find that opposition in Congress, the media and the bureaucracy will increase, so that other checking mechanisms come into play. Bureaucracy The president has plenty of constitutional authority, but the problem is sometimes how to get the bureaucracy to work for him. He needs to be able to persuade as well as to direct, but even then he can find that his will is frustrated by bureaucrats who tend to see the world through a lens that is focused largely on their own departments. No modern president seems to have been able to stop the growth of bureaucracy, so that the majority of the agencies created since the 1930s have survived intact into the twenty-first century.

Thoughts on the president’s power in relation to domestic policy The American writers Burns et al.10 make a series of fair observations when they write about presidential leadership. They note

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one of the persisting paradoxes of the American presidency . . . on the one hand, the institution is too powerful, and on the other, it is always too weak. It is too strong because in many ways it is contrary to our ideals of government by the people and decentralisation of power. It is too weak because presidents seldom are able to keep the promises they make. Of course, the presidency is always too strong when we dislike the incumbent. And the president is always too constrained when we believe a President is striving to serve the public interest – as we define it.

Neustadt, as quoted above, makes the point that the power of the president always did depend upon personal leadership rather more than the formal position: ‘powers are no guarantee of power.’ This was true in the days of the imperial presidency. Indeed, it is easy to overstress the power of presidents before Watergate and to overemphasise the decline or difficulties of the presidency from the 1970s onwards. In terms of what could be achieved in domestic policy, the Roosevelt presidency was the exception rather than the rule. Whoever is in the White House operates in a system that specifically denies too much power to the executive. Neustadt stressed the importance of persuasion, with personal approach, ability and leadership skills all playing their part in determining what a president can achieve. Aaron Wildavsky’s ruminations on the notion of ‘two presidencies’11 were clearly influenced by Neustadt, his thesis being that presidents have a much easier time when seeking to exercise power in foreign policy than on domestic questions. The Wildavsky thesis and its implications for domestic policy in 1966 and today Wildavsky was one of several writers in the 1960s and 1970s who pointed out that presidents had more discretion when dealing with foreign affairs than domestic ones. He stressed that the only way in which a president could make headway in domestic policy was via close cooperation with Congress – hence Neustadt’s emphasis on the powers of persuasion both of congressmen and of the public, whose support for presidential policy could influence members of both Houses. Wildavsky’s quantitative evidence was based on the fact that between 1948 and 1964 Congress enacted 65 per cent of presidents’

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foreign-policy initiatives and only 40 per cent of domestic ones. He further noted that there had ‘not been a single major issue on which presidents, when they were serious and determined, have failed’. The same could not be said for domestic policy. Wildavsky’s article provided the spur for a series of other studies of roll-call votes and other legislative activities that provided scant support for the ‘two-presidencies’ idea. It became discredited, and by the 1980s the author himself felt that it had lost its impact, because of changes on the international scene (see Chapter 7). However, among other studies, that of Marshall and Pacelle12 has pointed out that the share of congressional seats held by the president’s party influences the number of executive orders on domestic policy, but does not do so on foreign policy, whilst that of Lewis13 establishes that presidential speech-making differs between the two domains, with presidents finding it less necessary to use foreign-policy speeches to plead with the voters to pressure Congress. Finally, Yates and Whitford14 make the point that judgments of the Supreme Court are more likely to provide backing for the president on foreign than on domestic policy issues. All these studies offer support for the idea that the president has greater difficultly when operating in the domestic field. A recent and wide-ranging re-evaluation of the Wildavsky thesis by Brandice Canes-Wrone et al.15 has given broad endorsement to Wildavsky’s viewpoint. The writers examine data relating to the enactment of budget appropriations and agency creation (to see whether presidents have more control over foreign-policy agencies). They conclude that, ‘in both instances, the results suggest that presidents exercise significantly greater influence over foreign than domestic policy’. The personal work of one of the writers of the Brandice CanesWrone research team, William Howell,16 has been much concerned with the methods adopted by presidents of the Reagan–George W. Bush era (see in particular pp. 133–4). He points out that, when contemplating policy initiatives, presidents traditionally submitted their legislative proposal to Congress and then directed them through the legislative process. However, in the four presidencies immediately preceding Obama, when doing so has not explicitly infringed upon existing law, they have tended to establish the new policy on their

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own, using devices such as executive orders, national security presidential directives, proclamations and executive agreements (see p. 114). Such devices have enabled them to circumvent the need for formal congressional endorsement. Their increased use has led some people to think in terms of a re-imperialised presidency (see Chapters 3 and 7). The Canes-Wrone team do, however, point out that the effects of these methods ‘are especially noteworthy’ in matters of foreign policy.

Conclusion Much recent writing appears to confirm that presidents have more difficulties in domestic than in foreign policy, where traditionally they have had a freer hand. Within America, there are various limitations upon their authority. To a considerable extent, these arise out of the separated system of government, in which constitutional authority is divided between the president, Congress and the courts. Other constraints are the lack of control over their parties; the behaviour of pressure groups and the media; and public opinion. In the post-Watergate era, the willingness of Congress to defer to the presidency – always a limited factor – has been further eroded. In reaction to the misuse of presidential power by Nixon, Congress streamlined its internal structure to make it more efficient, regained much of its hold over the budget-making process and began to display a more critical attitude to presidential appointments. In the words of Tim Hames and Nicole Rae17: In its overall approach to public policy, Congress disputed the idea that only the president can act in the public interest or that the executive has some unique expertise worth respecting. Presidents Nixon, Ford and Bush snr. saw most of their domestic proposals mauled by the opposition party, and presidents Carter, and to some degree Clinton, had the indignity of seeing policy mauled by their own party.

However, against this picture of a tendency in recent administrations to presidential weakness must be balanced the fact that the four presidents prior to Obama (in particular, Reagan, Clinton and George W. Bush) found ways of circumventing the restrictions that

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the Constitution imposed upon them. In the case of the younger Bush, in particular, he acted on the advice of some White House aides who believed in the theory of the unitary executive (see Chapters 3 and 7), which enables the president to employ a variety of devices in support of his agenda. Operating in this context, he made determined use of unilateral powers throughout his presidency in a way that the Founding Fathers would never have imagined.

D

What you should have learnt from reading this chapter •

The main roles of the president in domestic policy are those of head of state, chief executive, chief legislator and party leader.



Presidential power is constrained by a range of factors, key ones deriving from the division of power in a separated system of government.



Academics have provided various interpretations of the degree of control that presidents can exercise in the domestic arena. Neustadt stressed the need for presidents to display strong leadership qualities if they were to persuade Congress to adopt the measures they favoured.



Influenced by Neustadt’s emphasis on the power of persuasion, Wildavsky – in his ‘two-presidencies’ thesis – claimed that presidents find more opportunities to act decisively in foreign than in domestic policy. In recent years there has been increased backing for his thinking by scholars who have stressed the ways in which presidents of recent years have acted unilaterally to achieve their goals.

/

Glossary of key terms Advice and consent Under the Constitution, the Senate has the power to advise the president, ratify treaties he makes with foreign nations and give consent to presidential appointments. Often, there is no problem over appointments, but, when contentious nominations are made – for instance, to the Supreme Court – there may be significant opposition in the Senate before approval is given. On occasion, it is denied or delayed for political reasons – for example, approval of some of Clinton’s appointees to the federal bench was delayed, because they were considered to be too liberal. Court-packing (of FDR) The response of FDR to the obstruction by elderly conservatives on the Supreme Court who threatened the success of the New Deal programme by their willingness to strike down key

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measures as ‘unconstitutional’. Under this scheme, the Court would have been enlarged in order to allow the president to make new – and more liberal – nominations. Many commentators and members of the public saw this as an attempt to bend the rules of the Constitution. The plan was never implemented, for after 1937 Roosevelt had no further problems, as new appointments and a change of heart on the part of existing justices reinforced his position. Ford gaffe In the 1976 presidential debates (reintroduced for the first time since 1960), Ford blundered during the second debate when he inexplicably stated: ‘There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford Administration.’ Ford also said that he did not ‘believe that the Poles consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union’. These remarks were made against the background of the Cold War. (See Chapter 6.) Lame duck An elected official who is approaching the end of his or her tenure, in particular one whose successor has already been elected. Lame-duck presidents are serving out their final period in office, either because they have lost a bid for re-election or because they are no longer eligible to serve. The term is frequently used to describe sitting presidents who have entered their final year of a two-term administration. The ‘Lame Duck (20th) Amendment’ calls for the new president and Congress to take office in January instead of March (as before), thereby reducing the lameduck period. Line-item veto The provision that permitted the president to reduce or delete any part of a spending bill without having to veto the whole bill, until it was rejected as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1998. Monicagate The name often given to the scandal involving President Clinton’s short-term relationship with a 22-year-old White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. News of this extramarital affair and the resulting investigation eventually led to the impeachment hearing of Bill Clinton in 1998 by the House of Representatives and his acquittal for charges of perjury and obstruction of justice in a thirty-one-day Senate trial. Pocket veto A decision by the president not to sign a bill in the last ten days of a term, thereby effectively killing the bill. Riders Provisions known to be opposed by the president that Congress attaches to a bill that he otherwise favours. If the president vetoes the bill because of the unwanted riders, then he will lose the whole bill, including the parts that he finds palatable. Waterboarding A highly controversial technique in which restrained prisoners are threatened with drowning; it has been the subject of intense criticism at home and abroad. References to waterboarding sometimes serve as shorthand for a broader debate about the legality of methods used by the Central Intelligence Agency interrogate terrorism suspects.

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Likely examination questions ‘The power to persuade’ (R. Neustadt). Is this a valid description of presidential power in domestic policy today? ‘Powers are no guarantee of power’ (R. Neustadt). Discuss the view that the ability of a president to achieve his goals in domestic policy is dependent on his ability to provide personal leadership. What factors determine the ability of a president to exercise control over Congress? What factors determine the power of a president? In what ways are his powers limited?

¡

Helpful websites www.whitehouse.gov The official White House site www.presidency.ucsb.edu The American Presidency Project, an archive of more than 85,000 documents relating to the study of the presidency, University of California www.millercenter.org/academic/americanpresident The Miller Center for the study of the role and history of the presidency, University of Virginia www.cq.com Congressional Quarterly site

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CHAPTER 6

The President and Foreign Policy Contents The Constitution: presidential and congressional roles Crisis management Congressional reactions to presidential dominance The conduct of foreign policy reviewed Conclusion

98 102 104 110 113

Overview The ending of American isolationism and the post-war assumption of the leadership of the Western world in an era of cold war transformed the global influence of the United States. The president was now a world figure whose finger was on the nuclear button. As Commander-in-Chief and Chief Diplomat, he had extensive responsibilities, and for more than two decades Congress was largely willing to acquiesce in his enhanced role. Foreign policy was the president’s arena. However, following the prolonged and divisive American involvement in Vietnam, Congress took a renewed interest in relations with other countries and attempted to impose legislative restrictions on the president. Presidential policy came under closer scrutiny, particularly over Iraq. In this chapter, we review the powers granted to presidents under the Constitution and how they came to acquire wide discretion. We note the importance of crisis management in the cold war and the implications of the attack on the World Trade Center in foreign policy. Finally, we review the trends in presidential leadership in this field and the various academic interpretations of them.

Key issues to be covered in this chapter • • • • • •

America’s assumption of leadership of the free world in the post-1945 era The powers of the president as defined by the Constitution The importance of ‘crisis management’ The impact of congressional reassertion on the presidential role in foreign policy George W. Bush and the conduct of foreign policy Wildavsky’s thesis revisited

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The international context in which American foreign policy has been conducted has changed dramatically in the twentieth century. Since 1945, the United States has been a global power, arguably the one remaining superpower. As a superpower, America has intervened in many areas of tension or crisis since 1945, deploying forces in more than 100 locations since the ending of the Second World War. It has acted as the world’s ‘policeman’. Its position as leader of the free Western world has provided the president with enormous challenges and the opportunity to develop a reputation as an international statesman. American defence and foreign policy are often collectively termed national-security policy, which for convenience is described in the rest of this chapter under the umbrella term ‘foreign policy’. Maintaining national security is the major task of any government. Matters within this sphere, involving as they do issues ranging from foreign trade to war and peace, occupy much of the president’s time. There are several dimensions to presidential national-security responsibilities, including negotiating with other nations, commanding the armed forces, managing crises, waging war and obtaining the necessary support in Congress. America’s position as the leading power in missile technology and its possession of a massive nuclear arsenal give the man in the White House a huge weight of responsibility. He is the person who can order the pressing of the nuclear button and by such actions cause massive devastation. The focus has, therefore, been increasingly placed upon the person charged with taking momentous decisions, ones that may have to be made within a matter of minutes. Over the years, the president has, therefore, become the key figure in the making and execution of foreign policy, an area in which there are fewer restraints upon his freedom of manœuvre than apply over internal matters. It is an area in which presidents often like to concentrate their attention, for it is widely believed that a strong America requires strong presidential leadership. As President Kennedy1 once told his visitor Richard Nixon: ‘foreign affairs is the only important issue for a President to handle. I mean, who gives a s— if the minimum wage is $1.15 or $1.25, in comparison to something like this [the Bay of Pigs]’. Not all presidents have initially shared this interest. Kennedy and Nixon were

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informed about and interested in foreign affairs. They also understood that a major initiative undertaken in their presidency could influence the safety of the world in succeeding decades and be something for which they would always be remembered. Carter was less knowledgeable about the international situation when he became president. Nonetheless, he spent much of his time on external relations, recognising that they provided more of an opportunity for decisive and personal action than did domestic concerns. For George H. W. Bush, they were the focus of his attention: Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton (contrary to their initial intentions) found themselves devoting more time and effort to them: and George W. Bush was for much of his presidency preoccupied with fighting the wars against terrorism and Iraq, and pondering America’s relationship with rogue states such as Iran and North Korea. In the post-war years, presidents have become the initiator and executor of foreign policy. Although Congress officially declares war, there is presidential primacy in this area. This has provided incumbents with a formidable source of influence and power, doing much to enhance or diminish their political stature at home.

The Constitution: presidential and congressional roles The Constitution formally divides war powers to ensure that wars would not be entered into without due consideration: it takes two keys, not one, to start the engine of war. The Congress shall have Power . . . to declare War . . . (Article I:8(11)) The Congress shall have Power . . . to raise and support Armies . . . (Article I:8(12)) The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States . . . (Article II:2(1)) He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two-thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls . . . (Article II:2(2))

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The constitutional division of powers leaves the president with some exclusive powers as Commander-in-Chief (such as decisions on the field of battle), Congress with certain other exclusive powers (such as the ability to declare war and appropriate dollars to support the war effort) and a sort of ‘twilight zone’ of concurrent powers. In the zone of concurrent powers, the Congress might effectively limit presidential power, but in the absence of express congressional limitations the president is free to act. Although on paper it might appear that the powers of Congress with respect to war are dominant, the reality is that presidential power has been more important – in part because of the modern need for quick responses to foreign threats and in because of the many-headed nature of Congress. Accordingly, presidents have exercised their war powers without consistent regard to congressional opinion. Chief Diplomat The president has the power to develop relations with representatives of foreign powers and to appoint ambassadors and consuls. He decides whether to recognise new nations and governments, and negotiates treaties with other nations, which are binding on the United States when approved by two-thirds of the Senate. He may also negotiate executive agreements with foreign powers that are not subject to Senate confirmation. Official contacts with other nations are carried out in conjunction with the Secretary of State. Via the State Department, the president is responsible for the protection of Americans abroad and of foreign nationals in the United States. On occasion, the president may personally participate in summit conferences, where heads of state meet for direct consultation. President Woodrow Wilson headed the American delegation to the Paris Peace Conference at the end of the First World War, Franklin D. Roosevelt conferred with Allied leaders at sea in Africa and in Asia during the Second World War and every president since Roosevelt has met world statesmen to discuss economic and political issues and to reach bilateral and multilateral agreements. Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces Closely related to the role of Chief Diplomat is the position of Commander-in-Chief, for it is the ability to use the might of the

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Box 6.1 Executive agreements These are agreements reached by the president with a foreign head of government. Unlike treaties, they do not require the approval of the Senate, but they do have legal force. Anything that can be accomplished via a treaty can be handled by an agreement. They are not binding on later presidents. Examples of such agreements include: •

• •

In 1940, Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill negotiated a deal by which the USA gained the use of British naval bases, in return for America making 50 destroyers available to the British fleet. In 1973, the USA and North Vietnam agreed on an end to the fighting in Vietnam and the exchange of prisoners. The United States has frequently entered into executive agreements to supply economic aid to other nations.

Executive agreements have become common under recent presidencies. During the first half-century of its independence, the United States was party to 60 treaties but to only 27 executive agreements. By the end of the Reagan presidency, the cumulative figures were 890 and 5,117. Their use increased markedly in the post-war era, peaking under Reagan, for whom the figures were 125 and 2,840. A need for control? Executive agreements are not specifically provided for in the Constitution, but they have been used on both trivial and more significant issues by presidents since the days of Washington. Presidents have found them useful, for they can be quickly and secretly agreed without the possibility of rejection by the Senate. As such, they can be viewed as a means of circumventing congressional control. However, sometimes, for their implementation, they require congressional action, particularly the appropriation of funds. On occasion, there have been abortive attempts to require presidents to obtain congressional approval for executive agreements. The Case–Zablocki Act (1972) did require the president to report any such understanding to Congress within sixty days, a figure subsequently reduced to twenty. In Goldwater v. Carter (1979) Congress challenged the constitutionality of then president Jimmy Carter’s unilateral termination of a defence treaty. The case went before the Supreme Court and was never heard; a majority of six justices ruled that the case should be dismissed without hearing an oral argument, holding that ‘The issue at hand . . . was essentially a political question

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and could not be reviewed by the court, as Congress had not issued a formal opposition’. As it stands now, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, there is no official ruling on whether the president has the power to break a treaty without the approval of Congress. A variation of the sole executive agreement is the congressional– executive agreement, an agreement (perhaps a trade pact) negotiated by the president with a foreign power that is then submitted to both houses of the legislature for approval. Congressional–executive agreements have the advantage that they enable the president to gain Senate and House assent by majority vote, without the necessity to seek a two-thirds majority in the Senate that treaty ratification would involve. Whereas an executive agreement can cover only matters within the president’s authority or matters in which Congress has delegated authority to the president, a congressional–executive agreement can cover only matters that the Constitution explicitly places within the powers of Congress and the president.

armed forces that makes a president’s foreign policy credible. Presidents have very extensive powers in deciding when to intervene abroad. They have embarked on intervention in episodes ranging from wars in Korea to Vietnam, deploying troops as necessary. In practice, much of the authority is delegated to the Secretary of Defense, who in turn normally delegates his command to leading figures in the military establishment. Constitutionally the president’s powers to use military force are extremely limited. They are confined entirely to his role as Commander-in-Chief of the nation’s armed forces. But, through custom, tradition and congressional acquiescence, presidential war powers have expanded enormously over the past 200 years – so much so that presidents have largely ignored the provisions of the War Powers Act since it was passed by Congress in 1973. They argue that the role of being Commander-in-Chief enables them to deploy armed forces around the world and that American participation in congressionally approved collective security agreements such as the UN and NATO permits them to use force in defence of national interests and those of US allies. For the most part, Congress has subsequently used its powers to endorse presidential action, although

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sometimes in a qualified manner, as when Congress approved President George H. Bush’s dispatch of troops to Saudi Arabia, but at first refused to sanction the possible use of force against Iraq. As a result of congressional compliance, presidents have been able to exploit their role as Commander-in-Chief, which was not elaborated in the Constitution. They have often initiated the actions that have led to war. They have sent troops to many countries, from Grenada to Vietnam, from Cuba to Lebanon. In other words, they have decided whether American forces would be on active service and, as long as they have retained political support, have got away with it. But of course, as over Vietnam and the invasion of Iraq, political and popular support can melt away and weaken the presidential position. To critics, the action of leaders such as Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt has amounted to usurping power in a way that was never intended. Sometimes, it has amounted to misusing it, as in the cases of Johnson and Nixon. As Cronin and Genovese2 explain: [They have done so by] misusing the Central Intelligence Agency and manipulating public opinion and the electoral process. In the case of Nixon, secrecy was used to protect and preserve a president’s national security power. Nixon, it is said, pushed the doctrine beyond acceptable limits. Before Eisenhower, Congress expected to get the information it sought from the executive branch, and instances of secrecy and executive privilege were rare. By the early 1970s, however, these practices had become the rule. And a Congress that knows only what the president wants it to know is not an independent body.

Crisis management The president’s roles as Chief Diplomat and Commander-in-Chief are related to another presidential responsibility, crisis management. A crisis is a sudden unpredictable and potentially dangerous event. Most crises occur in the realm of foreign policy. They are moments of supreme tension, often involving hot tempers and high risks. Quick judgements are needed, despite the availability of only sketchy information. Whether it is American hostages held in Iran or the discovery of Soviet missiles in Cuba, a crisis challenges the

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president to make difficult decisions. In origin, crises are rarely the president’s doing, but handled incorrectly they can be his undoing. Early in American history, there were fewer immediate crises than there are today. By the time officials were aware of a problem, it had often been resolved. Communication could take weeks or even months to reach Washington. Similarly officials’ decisions often took weeks or months to reach those who were to implement them. The most famous battle of the War of 1812, the Battle of New Orleans, was fought after the United States had signed a peace treaty with Great Britain. Word of the treaty did not reach the battlefield and so General Andrew Jackson won a victory for the United States that contributed nothing towards ending the war, although it did help to put him in the White House as the seventh president. With modern communications, however, the president can instantly monitor events almost anywhere. Moreover, because situations develop more rapidly today, there is a premium on rapid action, secrecy, constant management, consistent judgement and expert advice. Congress usually moves slowly (one might say deliberatively) and is large (making it difficult to keep secrets), decentralised (requiring continual compromising) and composed of generalists. As a result, the president, who can come to quick and consistent decisions, confine information to a small group, carefully oversee developments and call upon experts in the executive branch, has become more prominent in handling crises. Since the mid-twentieth century, crises have allowed presidents to become more powerful. In an era of cold war, War on Terrorism and the existence of nuclear weaponry, crisis management has been a natural role for those who have assumed the presidential role. Several have been only too willing to seize their chance to lead. Post-war examples have included Truman and the Berlin Blockade, Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis, George H. W. Bush and the Gulf War, and Clinton and Iraq/Bosnia. More recently, George W. Bush has confronted the gravest immediate threat to the United States since Pearl Harbor, the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, an internal threat within the United States that nonetheless had massive international implications.

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Senator Fulbright,3 speaking in the early stages of the Vietnam War, emphasised the importance of foreign crises in presidential influence over foreign policy: In the main . . . it has been circumstance rather than design which has given the executive its great predominance in foreign policy. The circumstance has been crisis, an entire era of crisis in which urgent decisions have been required again and again, decisions of a kind that the Congress is ill-equipped to make with what has been thought to be the requisite speed. The President has the means at his disposal for prompt action; the Congress does not.

Congressional reactions to presidential dominance American policy after 1945 was shaped and dominated by relations with its superpower rival, the USSR. Presidents employed a range of strategies and means of diplomacy in pursuit of their foreign-policy goals, such as aid, economic sanctions, political coercion (including the breaking-off of diplomatic relations), covert action and military intervention. The competition between the two military giants dominated world politics. This was the age of the cold war, the period of continuous hostility short of actual warfare that existed through to the late 1980s. For many years there was a large measure of consensus or agreement about American aims abroad. Few raised a voice against the direction of US policy after Truman had laid down the Truman Doctrine, which outlined America’s place in the world and was to become the foundation of foreign policy to the late 1960s. It was based on the idea of containing communist aggression and expansion. As the world’s policeman, America had abandoned its pre-war isolationism, stationed troops abroad and adopted an increasingly interventionist role. Congress willingly accepted presidential leadership, and gave Truman and his successors more or less ‘carte blanche’ in matters of national security. The nation was united, and congressmen had no desire to create an impression of disunity, so that a bipartisan coalition acquiesced in most presidential initiatives. There were good reasons for this – the nature of the post-war threat, America’s involvement in a series of defence treaties under which America was

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obliged to come to the aid of member nations if they were attacked and the fact that after the Korean War (1950–3) America had ground, naval and air troops stationed around the world, in a position to fulfil commitments or forestall/respond to conflicts. For many years, foreign policy was the president’s policy, and it received the almost automatic ratification of Congress. Its members accepted that their country was engaged in a worldwide struggle versus communism, as did the vast majority of their fellowcountrymen. This being the case, it was only responsible to allow the president to move personnel and equipment around the world as seemed necessary. This left the position wide open for presidents to initiate hostilities and determine their scope and duration, according to their interpretation of the degree of danger involved. It was, as Maidment and McGrew4 put it, ‘an unsatisfactory position, pregnant with the possibility of the abuse of power’. Such abuses did occur. Operations such as the Korean War and the Bay of Pigs fiasco (secretly planned by the Eisenhower administration and executed by Kennedy) were carried out without any significant congressional opposition. Some members were slow to appreciate the presidential accretion of power. The more evidence they saw, some politicians and commentators began to wonder whether they liked an imperial presidency, for this was a use of power very different from what had originally been intended. Johnson’s escalation of the war in Vietnam, Nixon’s bombing of Cambodia and the use of the CIA to topple the elected President of Chile (Allende) and replace him with a military dictatorship – all these seemed to indicate a degree of high-handed presidential leadership that was much disliked by many congressmen. The years following the conclusion of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal were ones in which presidential supremacy was challenged. It was in this atmosphere that the War Powers Act was passed. Questions continue to be raised about the relevance of America’s constitutional mechanisms for engaging in war. Some observers are concerned that modern technology allows the president to engage in conflicts so quickly that opposing points of view do not receive proper attention, thereby undermining the separation of powers. Others stress the importance of the Commander-in-Chief having the flexibility to meet America’s global responsibilities and combat

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Box 6.2 Congress, the Judiciary and presidential conduct of foreign policy Congressional and judicial acquiescence Congress In the twentieth century, far from constraining the president, Congress passed several laws that provided the president with the legal authority to conduct foreign policy with specific nations. Often these were in the forms of trade sanctions that could be applied where there seemed to be a threat to American or Western security. Examples include: •





the Foreign Assistance Act (1961), which allowed the president to restrict foreign aid to countries whose records on human rights were deemed unacceptable; the International Security and Development Cooperation Act (1985), which permitted the president to ban imports from countries engaged in terrorism; the Cuba Sanctions (Helms–Burton) Act (1996), which gave legal force to the long-standing economic embargo on Cuba, thereby effectively outlawing trade while the communist dictator, Fidel Castro, remained in power.

The judiciary The judiciary has generally been reluctant to intervene on issues of foreign policy. When it has done so, it has tended to enlarge the scope of presidential initiative. Two Supreme Court judgments of the 1930s bolstered presidential power: •



In United States v. Belmont (1937), New York refused to apply the terms of an executive agreement that established diplomatic relations between the USA and the USSR and made arrangements for compensation of American losses that followed from the Bolshevik seizure of power in 1917. The court ruled that – as with treaties – executive agreements overrode state laws. In the case of US v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corporation (1936), concerning a presidential embargo on arms shipments to foreign combatants in South America, the court made it clear that the president had a free hand in the international arena: ‘[the president] acts as the sole organ of the federal government in the field of international relations.’

The Supreme Court has had relatively little to say about the Constitution’s war powers. Many interesting legal questions – such

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as the constitutionality of the ‘police action’ in Korea or the ‘undeclared war’ in Vietnam – were never decided by the court. (Although it had three opportunities to decide the constitutionality of the war in Vietnam, it has forgone the chance on each occasion.) Similarly, the Supreme Court has been reluctant to become involved in disputes between the executive and the Legislature over the interpretation of the War Powers Act. Congressional resurgence In the light of ‘abuses’ of presidential power such as the handling of events in Vietnam, Congress imposed two statutory limits in the early 1970s. •



As we have seen, the Case–Zablocki Act (1972) required the president to inform Congress of every foreign-policy commitment that he makes. Prior to this, some executive agreements had been concluded in secrecy. The War Powers Act (1973) required presidents to consult Congress, whenever possible, prior to using military force, and it mandated the withdrawal of forces after sixty days unless Congress declared war or granted an extension. Congress could at any time pass a concurrent resolution that could not be vetoed, ending American participation in hostilities.

The War Powers Act was passed in spite of President Nixon’s veto. As a reaction to disillusionment about American fighting in Vietnam and Cambodia, the law was intended to give Congress a greater voice on the introduction of American troops into hostilities. It cannot be regarded as a success for Congress, however. All presidents serving since 1973 have deemed the law an unconstitutional infringement of their powers, and there is reason to believe that the Supreme Court would consider the use of the measure to end American involvement in fighting to be a violation of the doctrine of separation of powers. Presidents have largely ignored the law and sent troops into hostilities, sometimes with heavy loss of life, without effectually consulting Congress. The Legislature has found it difficult to challenge the president, especially when American troops have been endangered, and the courts have been reluctant to hear a congressional challenge on what would be construed as a political rather than a legal issue. George H. W. Bush, Clinton and war powers Following the numerous precedents, George H. W. Bush took an expansive view of his powers as Commander-in-Chief. On his own authority, he ordered the invasion of Panama in 1989 and moved half

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a million troops to Saudi Arabia to liberate Kuwait following its invasion by Iraq in 1990. Matters came to a head in January 1991. President Bush had given Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein until 15 January to pull out of Kuwait. At that point, Bush threatened to move the Iraqis out by force. Debate raged over his power to act unilaterally to engage in war. A constitutional crisis was averted when Congress passed – on a divided vote – a resolution on 12 January authorising him to use force. In a sweeping assertion of presidential authority, Bill Clinton moved towards military intervention in Haiti and essentially dared Congress to try to stop him. Congress did nothing – other than complain – to block military action, even though a majority of members of both parties clearly opposed an invasion. In the end, an invasion – as opposed to a more peaceful ‘intervention’ – was avoided, but Congress was unlikely to have cut off funds for such an operation had it occurred. Iraq and beyond The issue of presidential powers to dispatch troops has arisen repeatedly in the context of the Iraq war. In 2002, the President sought and received congressional authorisation for military action to enforce United Nations weapons sanction. Subsequently, many members of Congress claimed that he had exceeded that authority and repeatedly tried to limit the scope of the war and impose a timetable for withdrawal of troops. All those efforts failed. In the presidential election contest of 2008, Senator John McCain made it clear that he would take military action without going to Congress first, ‘if the situation is that it requires immediate action to ensure the security of the United States of America’. He added: ‘That’s what you take your oath to do when you’re inaugurated as president.’ But he also said that he would seek the approval of Congress if there were time to assess the threat and to debate future courses of action.

international terrorism without the hindrance of Congressional checks and balances. All agree that the change in the nature of warfare brought about by nuclear weapons inevitably delegates to the president the ultimate decision to use them. The Bush experience: the invasion of Iraq, 2003 In 2002, White House lawyers issued an opinion that President George W. Bush could order a pre-emptive attack against Iraq

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without a vote of approval from Congress. The lawyers based their opinion on two factors: • •

the president’s constitutional authority as commander-in-chief of the military; the terms of the 1991 Gulf War resolution, which, they contended, remained in effect and the terms of the congressional resolution (14 September 2001) approving military action against terrorism.

Some argued that it would be unwise to seek such approval, for this would imply that the president needed congressional backing. In the event, the president secured congressional backing for his plans. The Senate voted to hand over to the president the authority that the Constitution gives to Congress alone to declare war. Just days after the invasion began, the House voted 392–11 to express its ‘unequivocal support and appreciation’ to President Bush for leading the nation to war against Iraq ‘as part of the on-going Global War on Terrorism’. The War on Terror – whether in Afghanistan or in Iraq – is a mission far from accomplished. There remain major issues of security to resolve before Iraqis feel that they can peacefully go about their lives without fear of an attack upon their livelihood. In order to defeat the insurgency against the American forces, in early 2007 President Bush committed extra troops in a bid to provide security and stability. However, he became embroiled in political difficulty over a war that was increasingly unpopular at home. Moreover, the change of party control in November 2006 weakened his position in Congress, for the Democrats – the majority party in both chambers – were committed to changing the direction of US policy. After three days of debate, on 16 February 2007 the House of Representatives passed House Concurrent Resolution (HCR) 63 on a vote of 246 to 182. The resolution stated: 1. Congress and the American people will continue to support and protect the members of the United States Armed Forces who are serving or who have served bravely and honorably in Iraq; and 2. Congress disapproves of the decision of President George W. Bush announced on January 10th 2007, to deploy more than 20,000 additional United States combat troops to Iraq.

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The conduct of foreign policy reviewed Political commentators regularly assert that presidents are more powerful in the operation of national security policy than they are in the domestic field. A strong version of this assertion was advanced recently in one quality newspaper,5 which claimed that ‘a president can revolutionise foreign policy, but domestic policy requires the close cooperation of Congress’. Several factors strengthen the presidential hand in the conduct of foreign policy. We have noted the broad powers granted by the Constitution, the legal authority derived from a range of congressional laws and the lack of judicial interference in this area of government. This combination of factors – when set against the background of America’s industrial and military power – are often said to make the president the most powerful man in the world. In handling foreign-policy issues, the president has other advantages. He is operating in an area that often requires swift and decisive action, as well as secrecy. He has more up-to-date, more comprehensive and more specialist information than either the Congress or the general public. Although there are some powerful pressure groups operating in the field, such as the Jewish lobby, it is not an arena in which there is the extensive lobbying that surrounds and can slow down the conduct of domestic policy, for in general ‘in foreign policy matters the interest groups’ structure is weak, unstable and thin rather than dense’.6 Finally, there is the natural tendency of Americans to ‘rally around the flag’ when US interests are at variance with those of other countries, foreign policy often involving an ‘us-against-them’ scenario. Wildavsky et al. As we have seen in Chapter 5, in the 1960s Aaron Wildavsky7 looked for quantitative backing for the idea that presidents have greater power in the conduct of foreign policy than over internal affairs. In his ‘two-presidencies’ thesis, he concluded that the president did have considerable discretion in the former area. He noted the advantages of the president in handling external over domestic issues, commenting that in foreign policy ‘there has not been a single major issue on which presidents, when they were serious and determined, have failed’. He argued that in this arena presidents could be pro-active

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Box 6.3 The use of signings by George W. Bush, in support of the theory of the unitary executive The Bush approach to any congressional interference in the field of foreign policy was made apparent in his signing of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Year 2003: The executive branch shall construe as advisory the provisions of the Act . . . that purport to direct or burden the conduct of negotiations by the executive branch with foreign governments, international organizations, or other entities abroad or which purport to direct executive branch officials to use the US voice and vote in international organizations to achieve specified foreign policy objectives. Such provisions, if construed as mandatory rather than advisory, would impermissibly interfere with the President’s constitutional authorities to conduct the Nation’s foreign affairs, participate in international negotiations, and supervise the unitary executive branch.

whereas Congress was forced to be reactive, responding to events already in motion. He pointed out that many politicians accepted that foreign policy was the president’s responsibility, an area in which he could by his action gain kudos and respect. Wildavsky’s views were contested by many scholars who failed to find conclusive evidence to support his thesis. If it did exist, they claimed that it was a product of the bipartisanship of the early postwar years, brought about by the onset of the cold war and the development of nuclear weapons. Indeed, the author accepted this, recanting8 his argument in 1989, when he declared that the ‘two presidencies’ were ‘time and culture bound’. Generally, the thesis has received little support in academic research, though on pp. 91–2 we see some backing for his argument. The research of Brandice Canes-Wrone, William Howell and David Lewis9 has provided support for Wildavsky’s line of thought. They conclude that presidents exercise significantly greater influence over foreign than domestic policy. They note how in recent presidencies incumbents have turned to unilateral action to bypass congressional control, by using executive orders, signing statements, national security presidential directives, proclamations and executive agreements to gain influence over policy-making generally. But they point

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out that, in foreign affairs, the effects of unilateral action ‘are especially noteworthy. Because of these powers, presidents can respond quickly to foreign conflagrations, negotiate peace settlements between other nations, retaliate against terrorist attacks – and without ever securing the formal consent of Congress or the courts.’ Canes-Wrone et al. emphasise the importance of overseas crises, in which the president’s unilateral powers are especially advantageous, for they can handle issues with appropriate ‘energy and dispatch’. Moreover, once initiated, it is difficult to reverse presidential policies, perhaps because of fears of the damage to international reputation and national morale or simply because the policies are already underway. Information is a key factor, for congressmen lack the knowledge available to the executive, a point noted in 1999 by House Democrat Tammy Baldwin,10 who spoke of her frustration with the limits of information sources. It’s much more difficult on a wide range of international issues, be they trade issues, global environment issues, issues of war and peace. The information that’s easiest to obtain is usually through the filter of the state department, the military or an agency of the United States government.

Canes-Wrone et al. argued that the two-presidencies thesis was arguably more relevant than ever before in the George W. Bush presidency. They contrast failed policy initiatives in domestic policy (for example, social-security reform and the prescription drug plan under Medicare) with the success of those of the foreign policies launched after 9/11, listing the Patriot Act, the unilateral creation of military tribunals, the budget for the War on Terror, the design of new agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security, the decisions to intervene militarily in Afghanistan and Iraq and the unilateral withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Accordingly, they argue that, when foreign policy issues are of such prime importance, ‘presidents should appear more powerful because they will achieve more of their goals . . . Regardless of who is president, their ability to achieve objectives on issues of foreign and defense policy should contrast strikingly with the progress of their domestic agenda.’ Of course, George W. Bush may have had the power to do these

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things, but he paid a political price. In seeking to wage War on Terror, he was engaged in a daunting task. In the short term, the crisis of 9/11 may have helped transform his presidency, an American tragedy seeming to be the making of the president. Yet when things go wrong and the intended results do not materialise, presidential credibility can be seriously eroded. Bush walked a tightrope, raising expectations that proved difficult to deliver without serious casualties and the expenditure of huge sums of money. At election time, the president – as the key player in foreign policy – takes the flak when things go wrong. The damage done to Bush’s reputation by the failure to defeat the enemies in Iraq was immense, so that, far from the conduct of foreign policy serving to enhance his prestige, it arguably did the opposite and left him a beleaguered figure in the White House.

Conclusion In much of the nineteenth century, presidents generally took the initiative in foreign policy. But decisions concerning the use of military force were usually left in congressional hands. In the twentieth century, presidential ascendancy in making and conducting foreign policy increased, including responsibility for employing troops. With congressional acquiescence, presidents argued that the global dangers of the post-1945 era required decisive action and that in the White House they had the necessary access to sources of information and expertise to be in a position to take effective measures. It is via the presidential roles of Commander-in-Chief and Chief Diplomat that incumbents are called upon to make crucial decisions concerning peace and war. Crises have presented a major challenge but also an opportunity to a number of presidents, most recently to George W. Bush following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. The president’s handling of foreign and domestic responsibilities differs in several ways, his authority being considerably greater in the former than in the latter. Congress has traditionally had less influence, the Judiciary has largely remained aloof but erred on the side of expanding the president’s powers and pressure groups are less involved in the development and implementation of policy.

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What you should have learnt from reading this chapter •

In the post-1945 era, the USA has been a global power of immense significance. As leader of the Western world, it has used its position to act as the world’s policeman – intervening diplomatically and militarily in a range of situations.



Presidents have long claimed primacy over Congress in the conduct of foreign policy. Their power to act has rested on the two roles of Chief Diplomat and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces.



For many years, Congress seemed willing to acquiesce in presidential leadership, but, following ‘abuses’ of presidential power over issues such as the Vietnam War, it attempted to reassert itself – for example, by the passage of the War Powers Act and the attempt in the latter part of the George W. Bush presidency to bring about an early end to the Iraq War.



Academics, notably Wildavsky in the ‘two-presidencies’ thesis, proclaimed that presidents have been more powerful in the conduct of foreign policy than domestic policy. He recanted his position in the 1980s, but recent research by Canes-Wrone, Howells and others has lent significant support to his approach. Basing much of their research on experience of the Bush presidency, they have noted how – by the use of devices such as signing statements, national security presidential directives, proclamations, executive orders and executive agreements – he acted unilaterally to bypass Congress and sideline its role.

/

Glossary of key terms Bay of Pigs The Bay of Pigs invasion (1961) was an unsuccessful attempt by US-backed Cuban exiles to overthrow the communist government of Cuban dictator, Fidel Castro. Before Eisenhower broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba (January 1961), the CIA had been training antirevolutionary Cuban exiles for a possible invasion of the island. The invasion plan was approved by his successor, President Kennedy. The Cuban military quickly defeated the invading force, in the process humiliating the USA and bringing about a rapid deterioration in Cuban– American relations. Executive agreements Agreements negotiated between the executive branch of the US government and a foreign government that do not require confirmation by the Senate. They have the same legal force as treaties. Korean War A period of major military hostilities (1950–3) between North and South Korea, in which both sides were attempting to reunify the country under their respective governments with the support of external

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powers. The Soviet Union backed the communist North, whereas the USA led a UN-backed force fighting on behalf of the South. Outside involvement was ensured that the conflict became part of the greater cold war. Superpower A country of first-rank status in the international system that has the ability to influence events and project power on a worldwide scale; it ranks more highly than a great power. Truman Doctrine A post-war American foreign policy designed to contain communism at home and abroad. Truman declared that it was ‘the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures’. War Powers Act The War Powers Act of 1973 (sometimes referred to as the War Powers Resolution) limits the power of the president of the United States to wage war without the approval of Congress. In practice, more power has been lodged in the White House than on Capitol Hill. A 1993 Congressional Research Service (CRS) study of the US Navy’s Naval Historical Center records identified ‘34 instances in which the United States has used its armed forces abroad in situations of conflict or potential conflict or for other than normal peacetime purposes’ between 1798 and 1993’. But as yet Congress has formally declared war on only five occasions: the War of 1812, the Spanish–American War, the Mexican– American War and the two world wars.

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Likely examination questions Assess the effectiveness of presidential power in relation to the conduct of foreign policy. ‘The impact of 9/11 and of the overhanging terrorist threat gives more power than ever to the imperial presidency and places the separation of powers ordained by the Constitution under unprecedented, and at times unbearable, strain.’ Has recent experience of the conduct of foreign policy suggested that the imperial presidency has been revived?

¡

Helpful websites www.whitehouse.gov The official White House site, with information relating to past presidents www.presidency.ucsb.edu The American Presidency Project, an archive of more than 85,000 documents relating to the study of the presidency, University of California www.millercenter.org/academic/americanpresident The Miller Center for the study of the role and history of the presidency, University of Virginia

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www.allacademic.com/meta/p139499_index.html A manuscript that examines the George W. Bush administration and, from a study of American foreign-policy traditions, argues that his foreign policy is neither surprising nor new. www.guardian.co.uk/world/2003/apr/14/usa.theeditorpressreview A Guardian article on Bushite foreign policy and the rise of the Washington neo-cons

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CHAPTER 7

Interpreting Presidential Power Contents The idea of an all-powerful presidency A broad increase in presidential power since the days of the Founding Fathers Interpreting the presidency: the Neustadt analysis Arthur Schlesinger Jr and the imperial presidency The imperial presidency reborn? Recent writings on presidential power Conclusion

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Overview The powers of American presidents and of the presidency, constitutionally and pragmatically, have been a subject of endless fascination to political scientists and observers of US politics. The result has been a series of theories that seek to interpret presidential power, some pointing to the weakness of the office, others to the way in which it can be susceptible to strong leadership. Theories advanced a few decades ago continue to be used as a yardstick against which later ones are measured. Here, we examine and assess much of the thinking on the presidency since the publication of Neustadt’s first and highly influential study.

Key issues to be covered in this chapter • • • • • • •

Popular expectations of presidents and what they can achieve The Constitution and the president: a system of shared power The broad increase in presidential power since 1787 Phases in the development of presidential power Neustadt v. Schlesinger A re-imperialised presidency: George W. Bush and his exploitation of unitary executive theory Howell et al. and the capacity of presidents to act unilaterally

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The idea of an all-powerful presidency American presidents stand out as the most important and powerful political individuals in the United States. The office of president is seen by many both in America and around the world as a symbol of US power. The president is American government. He is the focal point of the political system, a leader who exercises immense power. Public expectations are high. Presidents are expected to resolve the nation’s problems and are blamed when they fail to do so. When things go well, it is because they are providing effective leadership. When things go badly, it is because they are weak and incapable. The voters have rejected the incumbent president or his party in five of the presidential elections in 1972–2008. Via this view of an all-powerful presidency, the myth is created that the president can resolve all problems, economic, political, social and international. It has been inspired by stories of how much-admired presidents of the past used their qualities of initiative, enterprise and flair to handle the issues that came before them. In times of difficulty, it is a matter of finding the right man to impart strong leadership, ideally another Lincoln, Wilson or one of the Roosevelts – presidents who at times of great stress or even grave emergency exploited the powers available to them to take decisive action. Yet as Charles Jones1 reminds us, the American system is a ‘separated’ one. Presidents operate within a framework that fragments power and subjects them to a range of political forces with independent sources of power and the ability to obstruct and oppose should they wish so to do. As Burns et al.2 observe: ‘The politics of shared power is characterized by changing patterns of cooperation and conflict depending on the partisan and ideological makeup of Congress, the popularity and skills of the president, and various events that shape the politics of the time’. The Founding Fathers understood that the country required more leadership, but they were wary of the dangers of creating an overly strong executive. Accordingly, in the Constitution, the presidency appears to be hedged in with restrictions which mean that presidents often find that the responsibilities associated with their

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roles are more difficult to handle than they had previously anticipated. For instance: • • •

• •

The president is Commander-in-Chief, but Congress retains the right to declare war. The president can make government appointments and sign treaties, but only with Senate approval (advice and consent). The president recommends to Congress such measures as he ‘shall judge necessary and expedient’, but is offered no means to ensure his proposals are accepted. The president can veto legislation, but Congress can override his objections. Congress and not the president controls the purse strings.

There is a gulf between popular expectations of what the president can achieve and the reality of how the presidency operates. Stephen Skowronek3 writes of the ‘mismatch between popular understanding of the president in the political system and his constitutional authority’ (see also p. 4). This ambivalence of the office had been noted in an earlier description given by President Kennedy4 who observed that: ‘The president is rightly described as a man of extraordinary powers. Yet it is also true that he must wield those powers under extraordinary limitation’. Hence what Rod Hague and Martin Harrop5 describe as ‘the paradox of the American presidency – a weak governing position amid the trappings of omnipotence’. Several decades ago, Harold Laski6 summed up a further dilemma for presidents if they are to fulfil the public’s expectations of them. In his view, the president must have ‘common opinions’. But it is equally imperative that he must be an ‘uncommon man’. The public must see themselves in him, but they must at the same time be confident that he is something bigger than themselves.

A broad increase in presidential power since the days of the Founding Fathers Presidential power has increased significantly since the days of the Founding Fathers. The president’s responsibilities have grown

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enormously, as have the means to fulfil them. But, as Joseph Pika7 points out: ‘So too have the mythic dimensions of the office . . . Americans’ perceptions of the office and what they want from it can and will change over time.’ He shows how individual presidents have set precedents and changed expectations – Lincoln to win the Civil War, Franklin Roosevelt to implement the New Deal and to ensure that America was on the victorious side in the Second World War. The exact dimensions of executive power at any given moment are partly the consequence of the incumbent’s character and energy, but these are combined with the needs of the time, the attitudes of the people and the challenges to national survival. Of the forty-two presidents before Obama, nearly one-third enlarged the powers of the office by the way in which they responded to crises and established priorities. As Michael Genovese8 explains: Perhaps then we should celebrate the work of the inventors of this unique office. It is the genius of the framers that they created an office capable of adapting to the needs and demands of an everchanging world. They invented an office just ambiguous enough to adapt, yet not too loose and undefined that it could easily overwhelm the delicate balance of the separation of powers. The presidency changes from season to season, occupant to occupant, issue to issues . . . [it is] a dynamic, elastic office. Its shape and power change over time.

Labels attached to the presidency Since 1993, there have been significant variations in presidential leadership and strength. Perceptions of presidential power have varied enormously. They have been reflected in the many differing labels applied by writers to the institution over recent decades, few of which have lasted for a sufficient time to enable any academic consensus to be established. Following nearly 150 years of the ‘traditional presidency’ (interrupted only by the performance of a handful of national leaders), the New Deal years saw the beginnings of the ‘modern presidency’. It then became fashionable in the Truman– Kennedy years to draw attention to the difference in the realms of domestic and foreign policy, the president being allow a remarkably free hand in the latter but finding it more difficult to achieve his policy goals in the former. This situation was primarily highlighted in

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the thesis of the ‘two presidencies’, proposed initially by Wildavsky,9 via which ‘foreign policy concerns tend to drive out domestic policy’. Based on the performance of Lyndon Johnson, and in particular Richard Nixon, the analysis of Arthur Schlesinger Jr10 suggested that an over-mighty ‘imperial presidency’ had been created. However, this again was short-lived, for the disgrace of the Nixon resignation led to what President Ford called an ‘imperilled’ or, in Franck’s phrase,11 a ‘tethered’ presidency. The Reagan experience helped Americans to have faith in their president once again. Able to gain some notable victories over Congress on economic policy in his early years in office and to enact much of his agenda, he presided over the ‘restored presidency’. Yet, by the time of George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, the limitations of the office and the possibility of deadlock in dealing with Congress were more apparent than the opportunities for effective leadership on the domestic front. This was the ‘constrained presidency’, in which the divided party control of the White House and Capitol Hill was seen as a major factor in presidential difficulties. Concentration on the personalities involved makes it easy to confuse the strength or popularity of the leader with the strength of the office. But, by the time of the Clinton era, the office had been tarnished by the impeachment episode, and the relationship with Congress had been particularly strained. His successor, George W. Bush, was keen to restore the power of the presidency and – as we see on pp. 39–41 – used his position as a war leader to bypass traditional procedures. Following the attack on the Twin Towers, opinions of the president and of the office swiftly changed. It became the ‘revived’ or ‘re-imperialised’ presidency’.

Interpreting the presidency: the Neustadt analysis In the 1950s, a number of biographies of strong presidents and academic treatises on the presidential office had stressed its powers. They had drawn attention to the variety of the president’s roles – for example, as head of state, head of government, Commander-inChief, party leader and ‘leader of the free world’. Richard Neustadt12 took a radically original view, arguing that the president had to grab

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‘for just enough power to get by the next day’s problems’. He quoted Truman, at the end of his time in the White House, as saying about his successor, Dwight Eisenhower: ‘He will sit there, and he will say, “Do this! Do that!” and nothing with happen. Poor Ike – it won’t be a bit like the army.’ Well before Neustadt wrote his book on the limitations of presidential power, Truman had noted that ‘the principal power that the president has is to bring people in and try to persuade them to do what they ought to do without persuasion’. The phrase ‘the power to persuade’ was to become well known over future years, not least to many cohorts of examination students who found that chief examiners thought it the ideal quotation on which to hang a discussion of presidential power. Richard Neustadt was a pre-eminent scholar of the US presidency for more than forty years; his writings influenced a whole generation of academics and continue to be staples of courses about the presidency all over the world. Having served as a special assistant in the White House under Truman, he knew what he was talking about when he stressed the limitations on the president’s power. Few political scientists have been able to draw upon a wider experience of government or a wider acquaintance among politicians, bureaucrats, journalists and academics. Neustadt argued that the government had three assets: the power to persuade, its professional reputation and its public prestige. In a government like that of the United States, where powers are shared between the three branches of government, the president must do his best to bargain with rival power centres to get what he believes to be needed. Neustadt used the phrase the ‘moral pulpit’, in other words, preaching to the nation, via radio/television addresses, public speeches and the annual State of the Union speech, as the means by which the president could get his message across. These three opportunities enable him to rally the public and enlarge the terms of debate in his favour. But, of course, if the public becomes distrustful of presidential words and actions, his effectiveness in handling Congress and representing the people diminishes. Neustadt’s Presidential Power was first published in 1960. He was a liberal, with a liberal’s faith in the potential of an activist presidency, like that of Franklin Roosevelt. His analysis of presidential

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frustration was meant as advice to John Kennedy to be an activist, and Kennedy took it as such. Neustadt wrote a plan for Kennedy’s first days in office, called A Tentative Check-List for the Weeks between Election and the Inaugural. It advised the new president to emulate Roosevelt’s ‘100 days’ with ‘a first impression of energy, direction, action and accomplishment’. In this way, he had a chance of making an early impact. Neustadt had always accepted the potential strength of the presidential office if opportunities to exercise power were carefully exploited, but was fully aware of the limitations imposed upon it. His most famous work was published, republished and updated several times until it appeared in its final form as Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents: The Politics of Leadership from Roosevelt to Reagan13 in 1990. In that volume, he found his earlier findings confirmed. Indeed, he detected a further blow to presidential power. The cold war had contributed to its post-1945 expansion. With its disappearance, the role of Commander-in-Chief might be fraught with even more problems even than it had been when Neustadt first wrote that ‘presidents will less and less have reason to seek solace in foreign relations from the piled-up frustrations of home affairs. Their foreign frustration will be piled high too.’ In his final work, Neustadt reiterated his emphasis upon the importance of the personal qualities of the incumbent. It took, in his view, ‘a person of extraordinary temperament to make a really significant impact and achieve all the goals he set for himself ’. The impact of Neustadt’s study: a change of outlook For two or three decades after the work’s publication, the Neustadtian approach came to dominate study of the presidency. Political scientists were much influenced by his preoccupation with political leadership and strategy, rather than with the constitutional origins of presidential legal authority. For Neustadt, the key to understanding the presidency was concerned with issues such as: the president’s prestige and his ability to lead public opinion; his temperament, style and bargaining skill; his relations with Congress and particularly the ability to strike deals with congressional leaders; his ability to communicate, involving managing press relations and being impressive and convincing on television; his ability to mobilise constituencies

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and conserve political capital. In a system of ‘separate institutions sharing power’, he argued that presidents achieved their goals by persuading others that what they want is what is in their own interest. According to this view, then, presidential power was about the personalities, strategic skills and leadership of individual presidents. It did not derive from the legal authority of the office and how it was exercised. The 1990 edition of Presidential Power stressed the weakness of the president’s formal powers and the difficulty of acting unilaterally to achieve his desired aims in a situation where he was in competition with other actors with their own independent sources of power. The decline in US international hegemony after the ending of the cold war, the growing assertiveness of Congress, the confrontational and often hostile style of media coverage, the proliferation of interest groups and the difficulties in managing a vast bureaucracy all served to make it more difficult for a president to act decisively and effectively, except under the most extraordinary circumstances. Presidents found it increasingly difficulty to meet public expectations. This weakness was aggravated by the gulf between what the public expects of the presidency and what occupants can deliver, and the collapse of traditional political structures – especially political parties – that once gave stability and efficacy to presidential leadership. All this contributed to what was portrayed as a succession of ‘failed presidencies’. After the publication of Presidential Power, with few exceptions scholars of the presidency continued to view the presidency in personal rather than legal terms. Study of the formal powers of the presidency or questions of constitutional interpretation seemed to be less interesting than the drama of the political dimension to presidential activity. There were a few exceptions. Richard Pious,14 the author of a leading general textbook on the presidency, argued that ‘the fundamental and irreducible core of presidential power rests not on influence, persuasion, public opinion, elections, or party, but rather on the successful assertion of constitutional authority’. Louis Fisher,15 a writer on presidential war powers, also emphasised the constitutional approach to understanding presidential action, wanting via his work to bridge the gap between the political and legal approaches to presidential analysis. Some historians, too, began to look critically at what

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they saw as the expansion of presidential power, the most widely known work being The Imperial Presidency by Schlesinger Jr.16 This work argued that the presidency had become excessively powerful, with presidents being able to commit America to disastrous policies without the true facts of situations ever becoming known.

Arthur Schlesinger Jr and the imperial presidency Neustadt did not accept a job in the Kennedy administration. Arthur Schlesinger, a famous historian and a Harvard colleague of similarly liberal persuasion, did become a presidential aide. A confidante of candidates and presidents from Adlai Stevenson to Bobby Kennedy to Bill Clinton, and a close adviser to Johnson as well as to Kennedy, he was also in a good position to study the presidency at first hand. He was also a prolific writer, Imperial Presidency being first published in 1974. The title became a much-used label to describe the increased authority and decreased accountability of the presidential office, at its peak in the late 1960s/early 1970s. It signified an era in which, in Schlesinger’s view, there was a high-handed and often secretive handling of foreign-policy issues and in which in domestic policy too presidents were able to evade the usual system of checks and balances. In his study of the presidency, Schlesinger traced its rise into the mighty imperial position that he believed it had become. He began by discussing the areas where in 1787 the Founding Fathers agreed and also the areas where they disagreed. He then examined the rise of the imperial presidency through war and recovery, with emphasis on the events of the twentieth century. He noted Franklin Roosevelt’s leadership during depression and war, and how it had changed the presidency. His charismatic leadership in the new age of electronic media, the growth of executive agencies under the New Deal and his Brains Trust advisors and in 1939 the creation of the Executive Office of the President (see pp. 183–92) had led to a transformation of the presidency. The second part concerned events relating to the war in Vietnam, concentrating on those events that had an impact on presidential power. He included sections on domestic policy, foreign policy and the affairs that go on in secrecy.

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Schlesinger discussed the actions taken within the inner sanctum of the White House, focusing on the presidents from FDR to Nixon. Some of the Nixon aides made controversial decisions that Schlesinger placed under careful scrutiny. He • •

• •

emphasised the extreme secrecy and deception that Nixon practised while in office; analysed the specific actions of the administration, the reasons for them and their outcome (see Chapter 3 for some of his charges against the Nixon presidency); surveyed the classified actions that only the officials in Washington knew about’ reviewed the covert actions throughout the history of the presidency, not merely the twentieth century, the majority of which involved either the CIA or the military.

Among the other points he made in support of the imperialpresidency thesis were that increasingly many people were appointed who held personal loyalty to the person holding the office of president, but who were not subject to outside approval or control; that the White House Chief of Staff had become a powerful executive position when held by a strong-willed figure; that a range of new advisory bodies had emerged, developed around the presidency, rivalling the main Cabinet departments (in particular, the NSC and OMB); that the Senate did not ‘advise and consent’ to appointments to the Executive Office of the President (with only a handful of exceptions), as it did with Cabinet appointments, enabling staff of the organisation to act independently and without accountability to Congress. Schlesinger saw the imperial presidency as a threat to the American political system, for it was ‘a conception of presidential power so spacious and peremptory as to imply a radical transformation of the traditional polity’. He was not opposed to the exercise of presidential power, but was bent upon exposing the accumulations and abuses of those powers. He boldly spoke out when he believed presidents had stepped across constitutional and moral lines, leading to a serious breach with Johnson over Vietnam and his subsequent departure from office.

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If ‘the imperial presidency’ was a description for the excesses of the Nixon administration, Schlesinger later applied it with even greater urgency to the presidency of George W. Bush. He saw his fears realised in ways that even he had not dared to imagine. John Nichols17 quotes the story of how, when John Dean (a Nixon aide gaoled as a result of the Watergate scandal) suggested to Schlesinger that the misdeeds of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were ‘worse than Watergate’ and asked whether the Bush presidency met the classic definition of executive excess, the by-then elderly historian replied: ‘I’d certainly say this is an imperial presidency.’ In the last few years, Schlesinger wrote often about his concerns regarding the excessive secrecy and the disregard for the rule of law that in his view characterised the Bush presidency. But he was more troubled by the President’s conception of his role as Commander-in-Chief. A strong believer in the benefits of checks and balances, Schlesinger wanted Congress to challenge Bush over the rush to invade Iraq and the execution of the occupation that followed. He argued that Bush desperately needed advice and counsel from critics of his policies – be they members of Congress or Pulitzer Prize-winning historians who had freelanced as White House aides.

The imperial presidency reborn? In the post-Nixon years, presidents have been conscious of the difficult time they have had in relying upon the traditional powers of bargaining and persuading of which Neustadt had written. In the words of Gillian Peele,18 ‘they have attempted to squeeze every ounce of advantage from their position to overcome the constraints of the constitutional order’. As a means of circumventing the restrictions that have limited their effectiveness, recent incumbents from Reagan to George W. Bush have taken unilateral actions using as their cover the ‘unitary executive’ theory that some commentators regard as ‘imperial’. They have tried to control the executive branch, claiming in the process to be protectors of the prerogative of the office whilst at the same time being able to advance their policy agenda. In the pursuit of this approach, they have made use of signing statements, executive orders and the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, among other things.

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In the latter case, the administration ‘has exerted influence over the regulatory process and controlled the flow of information from the White House’.19 The unitary executive The unitary executive theory has been propounded by several members of the Federalist Society. They advance a controversial constitutional interpretation that addresses aspects of the separation of powers. It relies on the Vesting Clause of Article II, which states: ‘The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.’ Proponents of the unitary executive use this language along with the Take Care Clause (‘[The President] shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed . . .’) to argue that the Constitution creates a ‘hierarchical, unified executive department under the direct control of the President’.20 It argues for strict limits to the power of the Legislature to deprive the president of control of the executive branch. Ryan Barilleaux21 explains that the ambiguous language of Article II defines ‘a role that is sweeping in its potential’, giving rise to incentives for ‘venture constitutionalism’, a term he uses to describe ‘the presidential conundrum – that the Constitution itself encourages presidents to test the limits of the Constitution’. Terry Moe and William Howell22 elaborate: The Constitution’s incomplete contract sets up a governing structure that virtually invites presidential imperialism. Presidents, especially in modern times, are motivated to seek power. And because the Constitution does not say precisely what the proper boundaries of their power are, and because their hold on the executive functions of government gives them pivotal advantages in the political struggle, they have strong incentives to push for expanded authority by moving into grey areas of the law, asserting their rights, and exercising them.

The same two writers make the point that the ambiguous language of the Constitution is not accidental, but born out of disagreements between its Founders. Madison favoured limiting authority of the president. Hamilton, who pushed to expand it, largely won the argument. But Moe and Howell suggest that since the 1980s the

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Box 7.1 The legal status of the unitary executive theory Federal courts have not explicitly ruled on the theory, though there are two published opinions that relate to its claims. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Taft in the landmark case of Myers v. United States (1926) discerned an unlimited presidential removal power over executive department subordinates. This case was significantly narrowed by subsequent Supreme Court cases such as United States v. Nixon (1974) and Bowsher v. Synar (1986). However, in a solitary dissent, Justice Scalia in the case of Morrison v. Olson (1988) argued for an unlimited presidential removal power of independent counsels. The Justice Department has used the theory to decide that the Environmental Protection Agency may not bring a legal suit against the US military, since there would be only one party in the suit: the president. No part of the executive branch can sue another part, because the executive cannot sue itself.

opportunities afforded by choice of language have been exploited more fully than ever before. Proponents of the unitary executive theory argue that the president possesses all the executive power and can therefore control subordinate officers and agencies of the executive branch. This implies that the power of Congress to remove executive agencies or officers from presidential control is limited. Thus, under the unitary executive theory, independent agencies and counsels are unconstitutional to the extent that they exercise discretionary executive power not controlled by the president. The George W. Bush administration and the unitary executive George W. Bush was a strong adherent of the unitary executive theory. Chris Kelley23 observed in a paper delivered in April 2005 that up to that date Bush was known to have employed the term publicly on ninety-five occasions, usually when he was signing legislation into law, responding to a congressional resolution or issuing an executive order. When signing the contentious Medicare and Prescription Drug Act in 2003, Bush commented adversely on two sections of the

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Box 7.2 The Yoo Doctrine on the emergency demands of war leadership In 2005, Yoo was involved in an exchange with Professor Doug Cassel of Notre Dame Law School: Cassel. If the President deems that he’s got to torture somebody, including by crushing the testicles of the person’s child, there is no law that can stop him? Yoo. No treaty. Cassel. Also no law by Congress. That is what you wrote in the August 2002 memo. Yoo. I think it depends on why the President thinks he needs to do that.

Again, in relation to the implications of the separation of powers in an age of global war against terrorism: We are used to a peacetime system in which Congress enacts the laws, the president enforces them and the courts interpret them. In wartime, the gravity shifts to the executive branch.

Finally, in response to the suggestion that the President is a ‘King George’, bent on an ‘imperial presidency’: the inescapable fact is that war shifts power to the branch most responsible for its waging: the executive.

statute that interfered with his constitutional prerogative to ‘supervise the unitary executive branch’. He went on to say that ‘the executive branch shall construe these provisions in a manner consistent with the President’s constitutional authority to supervise the unitary executive branch and to recommend for the consideration of the Congress such measures as the President judges necessary and expedient’. The President interpreted the theory more expansively than previous administrations. He was much influenced by the legal positions promulgated by John Yoo, particularly as recorded in several of his legal memoranda while working at the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel under Bush. Yoo argues that the use of military force, like presidential vetoes and pardons, is not a matter for

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review. He also contends that the president, rather than Congress or the courts, has the sole authority to interpret international treaties such as the Geneva Convention, ‘because treaty interpretation is a key feature of the conduct of foreign affairs’. Yoo’s highly contentious opinions are widely seen by many legal scholars as being contrary to their understanding of the Constitution. President Bush invoked the notion of an all-powerful ‘unitary executive’ in his handling of several issues, most notably when issuing signing statements24 that explain how the executive branch will interpret specific items of legislation. In his first term alone, he issued some 435 such statements, more than any of his forty-one predecessors. (Only seventy-five had been issued by the end of the Carter presidency, an indication of their increased use in the Reagan–Clinton era.) Notwithstanding protests from the non-partisan Congressional Research Service and the American Bar Association, among others, the controversial practice continued unabated, thirty-nine statutes of the Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Acts being challenged in statements signed in early October 2006, bringing the total number of laws bypassed by the Bush administration to over the 1,000 mark. All other presidents combined, in more than 200 years of history, issued less than 600 such challenges. Statements made by President George W. Bush offer a revealing sample of issues at stake in the debate. In language that became routine, Bush asserted ‘the President’s exclusive constitutional authority, as head of the unitary executive branch and as Commander-inChief ’, to withhold national security information, conduct foreign affairs, participate in international negotiations, sidestep affirmative action laws and disregard provisions that encroached in any way on his authority. His approach was indicated in the statement he wrote in relation to the McCain Detainee Amendment, prohibiting cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees in American custody: The executive branch shall construe Title X in Division A of the Act, relating to detainees, in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief and consistent with the constitutional limitations on the judicial power, which will assist in achieving the

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shared objective of the Congress and the President, evidenced in Title X, of protecting the American people from further terrorist attacks.

In the views of alarmed critics, the position adopted by Bush on the advice of Yoo holds that in exercising his constitutional war powers the President cannot be restrained by any law, national or international. Such critics make the point that the document grants no exceptional war powers or authority to the president, illustrating their view by noting the rulings by the Supreme Court against presidential claims of war authority in the 1866 cases of Ex-parte Milligan and Youngstown Sheet & Tube v. Sawyer (dealing with the exercise of Lincoln’s emergency war powers) to support their views. Some writers argue that George Bush, in taking his stance on the unitary executive, was formalising a process that had really begun under Ronald Reagan as a result of the assault on the presidency in the post-Watergate/Vietnam years and continued under George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Others see this as a more recent development or at the very least one that has been taken to a new level by the Bush administration. Of course, President Bush used a variety of other means in pursuit of his unilateral policy objectives. Like signing statements, executive orders, first used by President Washington in 1789, enable the executive branch to monopolise control over subordinate agencies, often serving effectively to override congressional legislation. Phillip Cooper25 writes that ‘agencies have been trapped between the obligations imposed on them by statute . . . and the pressures by the White House, enforced through various executive orders, to delay or even rescind rules’, notable targets including ‘EPA rulemaking proposals regarding nuclear waste disposal and asbestos production and use, and OSHA rulemaking proposals regarding short-term exposure limits and warning labels for hazardous substances in the workplace’. Other presidential instruments used by Bush included highly classified national security presidential of the kind used by Reagan to direct the CIA to support and recruit Contra rebels in attempts to topple the democratically elected government in Nicaragua; executive agreements that enabled the President independently to sign deals involving areas such as trade, environmental standards and

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immigration policy; proclamations that enabled the President to designate special days, such as a Life Day, thereby signalling to the Religious Right his concern about the issues that they held dear; and the making of appointments to ensure that people of sympathetic persuasion occupied key positions in the judiciary and elsewhere. (If there was a difficulty with the Senate, then they could be recess appointments, as happened in the case of the choice as Ambassador to the United Nations of John Bolton.) Ultimately, presidential powers as such do not flow purely, or even primarily, from formally prescribed rules, arising instead ‘from specific institutional advantages within the office of the presidency itself: its structure, resources, and location in the system of separated powers’.26

Recent writings on presidential power Much of the writing on the presidency since the beginning of the twenty-first century has been heavily influenced by the experience of the Bush administration and its employment of direct power, as part of the whole controversial theory of presidential discretion under the rubric of the ‘unitary presidency’. William Howell27has produced the most theoretically substantial and far-reaching revaluation of presidential power written for many years. He takes an entirely different view from that expressed by Neustadt. He denies that presidential power is limited to ‘power to persuade’, about bargaining and convincing other political actors to do things the president cannot accomplish alone. Howell’s original study was undertaken with Terry Moe.28They concluded that the capacity of a president to act unilaterally and to make law on his own was pivotal to the whole notion of presidential leadership and central to an understanding of presidential power: ‘it virtually defines what is distinctively modern about the modern presidency’. Their argument was that the president’s powers of unilateral action were ‘a force in American politics precisely because they are not specified in the American Constitution. They derive their strength and resilience from the ambiguity of the contract.’ The research study of Moe and Howells, based on a thorough analysis of what presidents have done in the past as well as an

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examination of recent trends, culminated in the publication in 2003 of Howell’s Power without Persuasion.29 He argues that there is a long history of strong presidents acting unilaterally, taking initiatives and pursuing and implementing the policies in which they believe. As he puts it: Going back to the Louisiana Purchase and the Emancipation Proclamation, presidents have set landmark policies on their own. More recently, Roosevelt interned Japanese Americans during World War II, Kennedy established the Peace Corps, Johnson got affirmative action underway, Reagan greatly expanded the president’s powers of regulatory review, and Clinton extended protections to millions of acres of public lands. Since September 11, Bush has created a new cabinet post and constructed a parallel judicial system to try suspected terrorists.

Howell’s emphasis is on the dramatic initiatives a president can take with relative freedom from Congress and customary deference from courts. He shows that they often determine public policies, whatever the objections on Capitol Hill, or from interest groups and the bureaucracy. In particular, he stresses the importance of executive orders as a means of bypassing the constraints that they can impose.

Conclusion Arthur Schlesinger and Richard Neustadt, both being immensely knowledgeable about the history of American politics and both having had practical experience as presidential aides, came to very different opinions. Neustadt argued that presidents gain power as a result of hard work and persuasion. He was supportive of the efforts of those who sought to accumulate as much power as possible, believing that an activist presidency was good for the country. Any increase in power would be positive. Schlesinger was more wary of presidential power, believing that the presidency has accumulated more than enough power and that the other branches of government should take action to check the dangers inherent in the trend. Whereas Neustadt found inspiration in the dynamic presidency of Franklin Roosevelt, Schlesinger based much of his pessimism about

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developments in presidential power on the performance in office of Richard Nixon. Neustadt felt that FDR was a sincere person who used his power ethically, to promote the general good. Schlesinger was concerned that Nixon was willing to do whatever it took to make things happen, be it ethical or otherwise. Schlesinger discussed how Nixon maintained his power by keeping Congress, the media and the public in the dark about his actions, legal and illegal. Through the use of underhand methods, he had accumulated too much power to the detriment of the country and ultimately of himself. Neustadt was seemingly untroubled by the prospect of an unscrupulous president being liable to abuse his position; his main concern was that the presidency was too weak rather than too strong. Schlesinger’s experience of the Johnson and Nixon years, and the information that came out as a result of Vietnam and Watergate, led him to take a pessimistic viewpoint that may not have been appropriate for all incumbents. At the beginning of the twenty-first century and just after, both writers felt confirmed in their diagnosis. Writing without much experience of the Bush presidency, Neustadt was more than ever convinced that the president had only the power to persuade. He believed that events since the Nixon presidency had illustrated his original argument, noting that recent presidents had had a difficult time in relying upon the traditional powers of bargaining and persuasion. By contrast, Schlesinger was deeply troubled by the danger of an overly powerful president and the potential for abuse of the office. His warnings about the problems that can arise from too much power being concentrated in one man’s hands had – he felt – been much vindicated by the way in which President Bush had taken unilateral actions to advance the president’s policy preferences of controlling the executive branch, in effect becoming ‘imperial’. The Schlesinger view of the presidency has found an echo in the writings of William Howell, whose thesis is a direct attack on the Neustadt approach. Noting the way in which President Bush behaved in the post 9/11 period, he sees striking examples of the use of presidential power, often in the absence of congressional legislation. In Howell’s view, like other presidents, Bush exercised power without persuasion. Neustadt tended to see the presidency in terms of the person who

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Box 7.3 The growing difficulties of the George W. Bush administration The Bush administration received a serious blow when the Republicans lost the majority of state governorships and control of the House of Representatives and the Senate to the Democrats in November 2006. Subsequently, Bush found difficulty in persuading Congress of the desirability of his plans. Confronted by the deteriorating situation in Iraq, he announced a new initiative in January 2007, including most notably the ‘surge’ of 21,500 more troops for Iraq, as well as a job programme for Iraqis, more reconstruction proposals, and $1.2 billion for these programmes. The ‘surge’ was opposed by many influential politicians in Washington, including some Republicans. The difficulties of divided control were beginning to make life more difficult for Bush, as they had for several of his post-war predecessors who had been in the same position. By 2007, as a second-termer under pressure – a ‘lame duck’ – George W. Bush was exhibiting signs of presidential weakness rather than presidential strength.

occupied the office, whether or not particular presidents were able to achieve their goals. He was concerned with presidential power, more than presidential powers. Howell, by contrast, has emphasised how a president so minded can use the ambiguity of the wording of the Constitution to extend greatly the range of powers at his command, the 43rd president showing how this could be done and in the process illustrating the dangers inherent in an imperialised presidency. The argument between the two approaches is not finally settled, nor is it definitively likely to be so. There are always exceptions that seem to interrupt the lines of the argument. A Carter or a Ford was in no way imperial and was restricted by the times in which he operated. Skowronek’s30 concept of ‘political time’ shows us that, although individual presidents have sometimes been agents of great change, they also inherit a political context that shapes their actions. For the two presidents of the mid–late 1970s, the context was unfavourable. The circumstance that shaped George Bush’s actions was one of national emergency. This makes the impact of his presidency on

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presidential power difficult to assess. Was the use he made of unilateral action a response to a serious once-in-a-generation challenge to the nation’s security? Or did President Bush really act in a way that was typical of other recent incumbents of the White House who exercised more power than they would care to admit, without persuasion? When Howell was writing Power without Persuasion in 2003, the impression of the Bush presidency was very different from that of 2008. Of course, the constitutional means by which Bush sought to circumvent Congress still existed and continued to be used, but the political circumstances had become markedly less favourable to a display of presidential leadership. Following his re-election in 2004, George W. Bush received heavy criticism for his handling of several issues, including the Iraq War; his response to Hurricane Katrina; NSA warrantless surveillance; Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp controversies; scandals within the administration; and the frequent use of signing statements. His approval ratings and approval of his handling of domestic- and foreign-policy issues steadily dropped, some critics even wishing to impeach him. Some presidents operate in a situation in which there is an opportunity to show real leadership. But, of recent presidents, those from Ford to Clinton found it difficult to make an impact on the political system. The Bush presidency was an example of power sometimes exercised without persuasion. It operated in exceptional circumstances. The new occupant since 2009 is not operating against the same situation that faced George Bush. It may be that there develops a growing wariness of the sort of leadership that Bush displayed. It could be that the power of persuasion will be needed once again.

D

What you should have learnt from reading this chapter •

The presidency is commonly viewed as an all-powerful institution, its incumbents being judged by their capacity to provide the leadership necessary to resolve a range of demanding economic, political, social and international problems.



In a system of shared power, such expectations are difficult to fulfil, there being a mismatch between popular perceptions of the power available and constitutional reality.

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Presidential power has increased since the days of the Founding Fathers, although not at a continuous and steady rate. It has ebbed and flowed, but a number of ‘strong’ presidents have been able to establish priorities and respond to crises in a display of vigorous leadership. Personality, approach and circumstance all influence the performance of individual presidents.



Academic interpretations of presidential power have differed widely, Neustadt emphasising the constraints on presidents and Schlesinger highlighting the dangers of an imperial presidency. Discussion of the ‘imperilled presidency’ in the late twentieth century suggested that presidents found it difficult to overcome some of the limitations of the office, but the Schlesinger thesis received backing in the era of George W. Bush from several writers who detected the development of a re-imperialised presidency.



There is a distinction between the power of individual presidents and the latent powers that can be discerned in the institution. George W. Bush invoked ‘unitary executive theory’ to enable him to bypass some of the obstacles to his exercise of strong leadership. His use of executive orders, signing statements and other devices enabled him to act unilaterally.

/

Glossary of key terms Federalist Society The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies comprises a group of conservatives and libertarians who argue that the separation of governmental powers is central to the Constitution, and that it is the task of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be. The Society seeks both to promote an awareness of these principles and to further their application through its activities. OSHA The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Political time A concept associated with Stephen Skowronek which stresses the importance of a president’s relationship with his predecessors and the status quo. Skowronek explains how presidents reckon with the work of earlier presidents, situate their own power within recent political events and assert their authority to change things. The concept provides a tool by which to judge how presidents have confronted political problems in ‘political time’ as well as the likely effects of their working through them. Recess appointments Appointments made by the president on a temporary basis whilst Congress is in recess. The person chosen can serve until the end of the following session of Congress without Senate confirmation. The technique was used by George W. Bush to appoint John Bolton as the interim US Permanent Representative to the United Nations with the title of ambassador, from August 2005 until December 2006.

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Bolton’s letter of resignation from the Bush administration was sent a few days prior to the formal adjournment of the 109th Congress.

?

Likely examination questions What factors determine the power of the president? In what ways are his powers limited? ‘The fundamental and irreducible core of presidential power rests not on influence, persuasion, public opinion, elections or part, but rather on the successful assertion of constitutional authority to resolve crises and significant domestic issues’ (Richard Pious, 1996). Do you agree? Distinguish between the ‘power’ (personal influence) and ‘powers’ (as in the Constitution, laws and customs) of the US president? Do we now have a re-imperialised presidency? Is it possible for any president to accomplish what people expect from him? ‘As a nation, we have to find the right balance . . . between executive authority to face threats and uncontrolled power . . . We have to find a way to give the president the power he needs to protect us, while making sure he doesn’t abuse that power’ (Barack Obama, 25 May 2006, on his Senate website). Do the early days of the Obama administration suggest that such a balance has been found? Has the re-imperialised presidency been jettisoned?

¡

Helpful websites www.whitehouse.gov The official White House site, with information relating to aspects of the presidency, including presidential speeches, proclamations, executive orders and nominations/appointments, etc. www.presidency.ucsb.edu The American Presidency Project, an archive of more than 85,000 documents relating to the study of the presidency, University of California www.millercenter.org/academic/americanpresident The Miller Center for the study of the role and history of the presidency, University of Virginia

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CHAPTER 8

Assessing US Presidents Contents Scholarly assessments of presidents General findings in the listed surveys Difficulties with any system of ranking Popular assessments of presidents Scholarly and popular assessments compared Presidential leadership: ‘effectiveness’, ‘greatness’ and ‘success’ Conclusion

141 142 145 150 152 155 158

Overview Americans are fascinated by their presidency and by their presidents. Many surveys have been conducted in order to produce rankings of the ‘greatest’, ‘most effective’ and/or ‘most successful’ US presidents. They focus on issues such as leadership qualities, presidential achievements and policy successes and failures, as well as personal behaviour. In this chapter, we consider how historians, political scientists and members of the public view occupants of the White House, be they recent presidents or figures from the distant past.

Key issues to be covered in this chapter • • • • •

How academics have attempted to rate US presidents: their varying findings Differences in the assessments of presidents and the possible explanations for them Popular rankings of presidents: the qualities that matter to the American public The differences between academic and popular assessments of presidents The qualities necessary for presidents to qualify as effective – even ‘great’ – leaders

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Scholarly assessments of presidents In early 2000, the findings of a survey of fifty-eight American history professors from across the political spectrum were publicised for the public-affairs TV channel C-Span. Ten qualities were tested, ranging from ‘crisis leadership’ to ‘moral authority’, from ‘vision’ to ‘administrative skills’, and from the ‘pursuit of equal justice’ to ‘performance in the context of the times’. The top ten in the rankings were (in order) Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, Truman, Wilson, Jefferson, Kennedy, Eisenhower and Lyndon Johnson, whose reputation has risen steadily in recent years. At the bottom of the list were James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Franklin Pierce and Warren G. Harding. In other surveys, too, the same names consistently come out at or near the top in many of the rankings, but Americans have generally reserved the designation ‘great’ to just one a century, George Washington in the eighteenth, Abraham Lincoln in the nineteenth and Franklin Roosevelt in the twentieth. The three ranked as ‘great’ or ‘excellent’ are closely followed by Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt, with names such as Andrew Jackson, Harry Truman and Woodrow Wilson also filling high positions. The constancy of these judgements over more than half a century is very striking, given the diversity of criteria and the uniqueness of each judging panel. It unquestionably shows that these three figures have established our norms for presidential greatness. Of the three, Lincoln tends to be ranked first. Woodrow Wilson1 noted his qualities: ‘[He] never ceased to be a common man: that was his source of strength. But he was a common man with genius, a genius for things American, for insight into the common thought, for mastery of the fundamental things of politics . . . for judging men and arguments.’ The faces of four ‘great’ or ‘near-great’ presidents are carved in granite on Mount Rushmore, South Dakota. Those honoured with such a lasting memorial are Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. Some would argue with the choices made, but many people would agree that they deserve their eminence, even if similar claims could be made for Franklin Roosevelt. But, as the carving was started in 1927 and completed by 1941, FDR was not in serious contention. As the president at the time when the project was

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Table 8.1 The ‘top-five’ presidents in a series of scholarly rankings Schlesinger Schlesinger Murray– Sen. 1948 Sen. 1962 Blessing 1982

Schlesinger Ridings– Jr 1996 McIver 1996

C-Span 1999

Wall Street Journal/ Federalist Society 2005

29

31

36

39

41

41

40

Lincoln

Lincoln

Lincoln

Lincoln

Lincoln

Lincoln

Washington

Washington

Washington

Roosevelt, F. D. Washington

Roosevelt, F. D. Roosevelt, F. D. Lincoln

Roosevelt, F. D. Roosevelt, F. D. Washington

Roosevelt, F. D. Washington

Washington

Roosevelt, F. D.

Wilson

Wilson

Jefferson

Jefferson

Jefferson

Roosevelt, T.

Jefferson, T.

Jefferson

Jefferson

Roosevelt, T.

Jackson

Roosevelt, T.

Truman, H.

Roosevelt, T.

Note: The second row indicates the number of presidents surveyed. In this and Table 8.2, the number of presidents assessed obviously varies, more recent presidents not being eligible in the earlier studies. The 2005 ranking is based on 40 presidents, it being considered that the duration of the William Harrison and James Garfield presidencies was too brief for an adequate analysis.

conceived, Coolidge insisted that, along with Washington, there should be two Republicans and one Democrat. He and the sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, were united in a shared belief that the four presidents selected represented the first 150 years of American history, because of their role in preserving the Republic and expanding its territory. At the bottom, if there were to be a negative Mount Rushmore, which presidents would have their faces carved into it? Here again, the same names tend to recur with obvious regularity – Buchanan, Harding, Andrew Johnson and Pierce, with presidents such as Coolidge, Hoover and Nixon also sometimes making the list.

General findings in the listed surveys On the whole, there is a consistency in the reactions of academics in the surveys mentioned. Whichever one we use, the names of a dozen or so presidents recur with considerable regularity in the ‘top ten’. The same names tend to occur at the bottom of any listing. Overall, few are generally seen as grossly inadequate, several as average to good and a few as men who have served their nation with distinction.

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Table 8.2 The ‘bottom-five’ presidents in a series of scholarly rankings Schlesinger Schlesinger Murray– Sen. 1948 Sen. 1962 Blessing 1982

Schlesinger Ridings– Jr 1996 McIver 1996

C-Span 1999

Wall Street Journal/ Federalist Society 2005

29

31

36

39

41

41

40

Taylor

Coolidge

Johnson, A. Hoover

Pierce

Harrison

Fillmore

Buchanan

Pierce

Buchanan

Nixon

Grant

Harding

Pierce

Buchanan

Nixon

Johnson, A. Johnson, A. Pierce

Grant

Grant

Grant

Buchanan

Buchanan

Johnson, A. Harding

Harding

Harding

Harding

Harding

Harding

Buchanan

Johnson Pierce

Buchanan

Note: Again, the second row indicates the number of presidents surveyed. The lowest-ranked president is in the bottom row.

Unsurprisingly, as a general rule, the more controversial incumbents have aroused the most contention, Clinton, Johnson, Nixon, Reagan and Wilson. The greatest variations among respondents have concerned Clinton and George W. Bush, recent events sometimes having a decisive influence on the verdicts offered. If anything, Democrats and moderate Republicans tend to fare well and to be rated more highly than conservative Republicans (although this is not universally the case, as the example of Reagan – who in the C-Span survey scored 11th – would indicate (see pp. 144–5)). What is clear is that, almost without exception, the presidents considered ‘great’ by academic commentators have been ‘leaders’. Most of the more passive ones have been long forgotten or remembered only because of the futility or scandals of their administrations. Interpreting his early findings, Arthur Schlesinger Sen.2 concluded that what weighed most heavily in determining the best presidents was whether they ‘took the side of progressivism and reform, as understood in their day’. He noted that ‘mediocre presidents believed in negative government, in self-subordination to the legislative

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power’, while top-ranked presidents ‘left the executive branch stronger and more influential than [they] found it’. Though he did not explicitly say so, the quality that characterised most of the ‘failed’ presidencies, as reflected in the choice of so many ineffectual pre-Civil War presidents and Hoover, was passivity or inaction in the face of great historical challenges (or, in the cases of Grant and Harding, in the face of corruption inside their own administrations). The value Schlesinger placed on executive energy could be said to reflect a broadly liberal bias, but it also reveals the influence of a less strictly partisan ideal of the presidency as a strong, activist branch of government. Indeed, as Greenstein3 argues, ‘If there is a common denominator in presidential assessments, it is a bias toward activism, unless the activism is viewed as misplaced, as in the instances of Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam and Nixon and Watergate’. For critics of ‘big government’, this tendency to favour imperial presidents is hard to accept. In the words of Gene Healy4: ‘The winners in the game are the nation builders and war leaders. The losers are the presidential bores, the ones who “never did anything” other than preside over peace and prosperity without screwing it up.’ For Healy, a Coolidge who did relatively little has much to commend him, whereas a Kennedy-type leader is a potential national danger. As we have seen, there is a close correlation in the findings of many surveys. The Schlesinger 1996 study and the Federalist Society one conducted in 2005 have much in common. In the allegedly more liberal Schlesinger one, Wilson and Kennedy fared better; in the more conservative Federalist Society one Eisenhower and Reagan were placed more strongly. The ranking of Ronald Reagan is clearly contentious. Ranked 25th by Schlesinger, he ranked 6th in the Federalist Society survey, with Republicans placing him second only to Washington and Democrats placing him 14th. The 2005 Federalist Society study placed Reagan in the ‘neargreat’ category. Reagan’s is a difficult presidency to assess, not least because his policies were more divisive than the man himself. He had a facility for distancing himself from aspects of his administration that were unpopular – hence the Teflon label sometimes applied to him. Mud

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thrown did not seem to damage him personally, even though many Americans were uneasy about some of his policies, tax cuts and budget deficits –Irangate among them. Whereas some academics have been less than impressed by the outcome of his policies, the public has rated him more highly. His genial manner and his rhetorical skills won him much support.

Difficulties with any system of ranking There are several difficulties with any evaluation, some of which may have influenced one set of rankings more than others. 1. There is a need for a sense of historical perspective. Recent presidencies are more difficult to assess. Whereas members of the public tend to regard presidents of the last few decades, for whom they have perhaps voted, more highly, scholars – particularly the historians, rather than the economists, law specialists and political scientists – take a detached air and see particular incumbents in the context of the evolution of events and policies. There is a difficulty in ‘rushing to judgement’, for the performance of individuals can look very different twenty-five years after they have left the White House than at the time of their departure. Appraisals conducted early in the presidency of George W. Bush were much more flattering than later ones, for by the middle of his second administration developments in foreign policy were widely believed to have taken an adverse turn. The economists involved in the 2005 study were notably lukewarm about his performance, placing him 35th out of 40, whereas historians, law specialists and political scientists had him ranked between 15th and 19th. 2. Reputations are liable to rise and fall as a result of the increased knowledge now available about many past incumbents. Further scrutiny and academic studies, based on new records as they become available, can damage the reputation of some presidents. Washington and Wilson tend to rate less highly now than in the past, and, as more is known and written about his slave-owning and fathering of an illegitimate child, Jefferson has in some surveys dropped out of the ‘great’ category into which Schlesinger Sen. placed him.

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By contrast, others climb. Eisenhower’s stock has risen steadily, as to a lesser extent has that of Ulysses Grant. He was placed at or near the bottom in early surveys, but his reputation has benefited from more recent studies that have drawn attention to his civil-rights record. The 18th president now receives praise for his attempts to quash the Ku Klux Klan (suspending habeas corpus in South Carolina and ordering mass arrests) and his support for the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which may have produced only short-lived gains for African-Americans but was nonetheless laudable in intention. Grant also worked for the good of American Indians, instituting the reservation system as an imperfect, lastditch effort to protect them from extinction. His reputation may continue to rise as a result of sympathetic studies and also because of a renewed appreciation in some quarters of his own memoir, often considered to be the best ever produced by a former president. He was placed 29th in the 2005 assessment. 3. How Americans evaluate their presidents varies over time. In part, it depends on who has recently been president and who is the present incumbent. In different eras, Americans have a different idea of what their president should be like. At times, they demand vigorous leadership, but they may then become troubled by the consequences of that assertiveness and yearn for a less active presidency. After a while, such inactivity can be portrayed as weakness and ineffectiveness. In the words of Wasserman5: ‘Americans have swung back and forth in how powerful they want their presidents . . . [they] have walked a thin line between too much and too little power.’ He illustrates this by pointing to the worries felt by many citizens about the abuse of power by Nixon, yet the perception only a few years later was that Jimmy Carter was too weak to solve the nation’s problems. Of course, circumstances made it difficult for the Carter presidency. The reaction against Vietnam and Watergate (as well as changes in the organisation of Congress) made it difficult for Carter to stamp his authority on the legislature. 4. Some presidents are difficult to analyse because there are differences in their performance in domestic and foreign policy. Historian Alan Brinkley6 has pointed out that there are ‘presidents who could be considered both failures and “great” or “near great”, for example, Nixon’. Of

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the same president, Burns7 has asked: ‘How can one evaluate such an idiosyncratic president, so brilliant and so morally lacking?’ We have already noted the more friendly reaction of political scientists as compared with historians in their assessment of the Carter era. 5. Any assessment might also throw up differences in performance in first and second administrations. Most presidents lose popular approval the longer they remain in office, although historically those who have served two terms tend to be more favourably regarded than onetermers – unless the presidency was truncated by assassination. George W. Bush was jolted into uncharacteristic vigour by the attack on the Twin Towers. His presidency moved into a higher fear and became more focused and purposeful. The situation called for leadership and provided the Bush with a chance to show his mettle in defence of his country and its values. Previously, his presidency had not made a strong impact. Yet after his re-election in 2004, the toll of events in Iraq damaged his reputation and his popular ratings fell dramatically over the next two or three years. The failure to find WMD, the excesses of some American troops and the continuation of insurgency were causing increasing disquiet, and the campaign for troop reduction or withdrawal gained momentum. The experience of George W. Bush indicates the importance of circumstances in any assessment. There is a danger that, in highlighting personal qualities and approaches, the relevance of what a British prime minister8 once described as ‘events, dear boy, events’ is underplayed. For good or ill, the George W. Bush presidency was changed as a result both of the attack on the World Trade Center and of the decision to see relations with Iraq as part of the wider war on international terrorism. 6. The performance of presidents varies according to the different areas of activity in which they were involved. In the C-Span findings, Lyndon Johnson ranked 10th overall, but scored poorly on foreign policy (35th). Richard Nixon did well on foreign policy (8th), yet registered 25th overall. Similarly, Bill Clinton combined the extremes of the best and the worst. He was sound on ‘the pursuit of equal justice’, ‘economic management’ and ‘persuasion skills’, but weak on ‘relations with Congress’ (36th) and low on ‘integrity and moral

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authority’, where he suffered the ignominy of finishing even below Richard Nixon. This left him with an overall placing in the middle (21st). Take away the personal lapses and scandals, and on his performance in home and foreign affairs he may be viewed as an impressive president, deserving of a significantly higher ranking. 7. For academics and members of the public, it can be difficult to distinguish the lifetime achievements of past presidents from their work performed in the White House. Much of the good work accomplished by presidents such as Washington, Madison, Jefferson and Eisenhower was done before they inhabited the White House. It continues to enhance their reputation as fine national leaders. In the case of Grant – a famous general – and Carter – who worked hard in the area of conflict resolution – their good works have contributed less to their overall standing. More morbidly, death in office has probably helped the reputations of Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and Kennedy, in the first and third of these cases the drama of their assassination creating a wave of sympathy for the victim and the family that continued long after their passing. 8. The outlooks and perspectives of those involved in the consultations may be significant. The academic surveys, particularly those of the Schlesingers, have often been portrayed as placing too much emphasis on the views of energetic, ‘progressive’ scholars, Democrat in their orientation and by inclination supportive of activist presidents. Conservatives dislike the tendency of such surveys to inflate the reputation of ‘liberal presidents’, overplay the importance of activism in the White House and pay insufficient regard to the outcome of policies in the short and long term. Hence the critique offered by Ronald Reagan of the 1960s schemes designed to help improve conditions in America’s large cities. He was sceptical of the War on Poverty, arguing that vast federal handouts – throwing money at problems – were in no way guaranteed to remove the deep-seated issues involved. The 1982 Murray–Blessing study invited historians to describe themselves as liberal or conservative on domestic economic and social issues. It found no significant difference between the two groups. In their ‘top ten’, liberals had Lyndon Johnson instead of Eisenhower and in their ‘bottom seven’ Coolidge rather than Carter.

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In 1996, conservatives greeted Schlesinger Jr’s poll with much scepticism, accusing him of picking a jury stacked with liberal historians. But correcting for political bias does not change the preference for activist presidents. The Wall Street Journal/Federalist Society surveys sponsored a scholarly survey that was designed to be ‘explicitly balanced’, with experts drawn from the left and the right. Moreover, it included law school professors and others thought likely to be more favourable to a Republican standpoint. Yet the results were almost identical to the Schlesinger survey. All but two of the top ten presidents in the WSJ/Federalist Society study appear in the Schlesinger top ten. FDR, once the bête noire of conservatives, ranked third on the 2005 WSJ/Federalist Society survey, the same as he did in the 1996 Schlesinger one. Whether they are liberal or conservative, presidential scholars seem to prefer presidents who have stretched the constitutional bounds – or even on occasion broken them. What was apparent in the 2005 Federalist Society survey was the different response of Democrats and Republicans to particular presidents, even though the average position was broadly proximate to that in the 1996 listing. We have already noted the high position Republicans accorded Reagan. They were also kindly to Eisenhower (8th) and Coolidge (12th) and antagonistic to Democrats such as Kennedy (20th), Lyndon Johnson (31st) and Carter (39th). In contrast, Democrat respondents ranked these five presidents 12th, 33rd, 10th, 9th and 22nd respectively. The difference in approach was particularly evident in the case of George W. Bush, perhaps to a large extent reflecting the circumstances of his takeover. According to Republicans he was the sixth best president, yet through the eyes of Democrats he was the sixth worst. 9. Finally, there is some difference in the reactions of economists, historians, law experts and political scientists. Economists have tended to be the most ‘out of step’ with the other groups, being notably harsher on Andrew Jackson, Ronald Reagan and both Bushes and better disposed to Woodrow Wilson, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Jimmy Carter generally scores poorly and was ranked 34th in 2005. But there were differences between the views of the two groups of academics about his placing. For historians, it may be

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that the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001 served to remind scholars of his handling of Islamic fundamentalism. Political scientists were more varied in their responses. Whilst broadly critical, some were notably kinder in their judgements, tending to place more emphasis on the difficult political context in which he was operating. As Erwin Hargrove9 put it: ‘Carter is underrated, because his achievements, especially in foreign policy, were good, despite his failures in domestic policies.’

Popular assessments of presidents Many Americans want more from their president than somebody who is merely capable and efficient while in office. They want someone ‘presidential’ who seems to embody the American creed and reflect the ‘spirit of the people’. Like the flag and the Constitution, the president is a symbol of national identity. Some presidents have been successful in capturing the public’s imagination and winning their support, as Kennedy and Reagan were able to do. If they can do this, then their influence and informal power will increase as well. In the age of television, the personality and style of leadership of anyone who would be president have become all-important. The need to perform well is crucial. Reagan, for all of his seeming lack of familiarity with some key issues and his occasional verbal stumbles, was a man who embodied the American Dream. His resolute optimism, his old-fashioned values and his promise to help America ‘stand tall’ after the malaise of the 1970s were very well received. In the words of Cronin and Genovese,10 ‘his apparent self-assurance, good humour, decisiveness and faith in the eternal verities seemingly struck a responsive chord among a demoralized public’. Moreover, his background as a film and TV actor enabled him to communicate well (hence the soubriquet he was granted as ‘the Great Communicator’), so that in his person he represented a merger between the worlds of entertainment and politics. Qualities often admired in presidents are honesty, decision-making ability, judgement, intelligence and toughness. Yet, although the average voter seems to value credibility and truthfulness as admirable qualities for anyone in the White House, the example of Bill Clinton shows that, even if he was distrusted when it came to truth-telling,

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many nonetheless admired him for other reasons. They recognised Table 8.3 Qualities admired by Americans (%) Asked by interviewers to rate the importance of ten characteristics that might be found in any president, the findings were: Sound judgement in a crisis

78

High ethical standards

63

Compassion for the average citizen

63

Saying what one believes, even if unpopular

57

Having consistent positions on issues

50

Forcefulness and decisiveness

46

Experience in public office

38

Loyalty to one’s party

33

Willingness to compromise

33

Experience in Washington

27

Source: Adapted from a survey conducted for the Pew Research Center, July–September 1999, entitled ‘Essential Qualities Americans Want in a President’.

that he was a creative, resourceful and smart politician, a man with fine rhetorical skills who excelled on the public platform. Ironically, some of his best approval ratings came at the very time when the scandals associated with Monicagate (see p. 94) were exposing aspects of his more irresponsible behaviour. JFK, Reagan and Clinton were often popular with the public, but are viewed as average or over-rated by informed students of the presidency. Handsome, witty and self-assured, they used the media to advantage. Those less at ease on television have been at an obvious disadvantage with the public. Nixon, Ford, Carter and George H. W. Bush were not telegenic, often appearing awkward, nervous and stiff. In their cases, neither do they rate highly in scholarly surveys.

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Table 8.4 The ‘top-ten’ presidents in a series of popular rankings C-Span poll, 1999

ABC News poll, February 2000

Gallup poll, February 2005

Lincoln

Lincoln

Reagan

Washington

Kennedy

Clinton

Roosevelt, T.

Roosevelt, F. D.

Lincoln

Roosevelt, F. D.

Reagan

Roosevelt, F. D.

Jefferson

Washington

Kennedy

Reagan

Clinton

Washington

Truman

Roosevelt, T

Bush, George W.

Eisenhower

Bush, George H. W.

Carter

Monroe

Jefferson

Truman

Madison

Truman

Roosevelt, T.

Scholarly and popular assessments compared The views of academics and of voters do not necessarily coincide, the two groups having different expectations and priorities. Experts tend to place more faith in intellectual capacity, experience and ability to impart a sense of direction than do members of the public, who, as we have seen, regard honesty as especially important. Landy and Milkis11 make the point that: ‘The great presidents were great because they not only brought about change, but also left a legacy – principles, institutional arrangements and policies that defined an era . . . When decisive action was required, they took it . . . the need to execute requires presidents to be willing to flout the

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popular will.’ The Pew findings attach less importance to this Table 8.5 Popular rankings of post-1945 presidents Reagan Clinton Kennedy Truman Eisenhower Carter Bush, George W. Bush, George H. W. Johnson L Nixon Ford Source: Quinnipiac University poll, May 2006: ‘best president since 1945’.

quality than to others such as sound ‘judgement’, ‘ethical standards’ and ‘compassion’. Voters like people whom they can both understand and trust. Whereas experts might be expected to place more emphasis on how particular presidents handled the crises and policy dilemmas of their times, members of the public do not necessarily place the same emphasis on particular achievements, issues and policies. American people tend to favour presidents whom they know, perhaps having lived through the time when they were in office. They tend not to choose those who served many decades or centuries ago, unless they are very well known from school studies and popular legend as American nation-builders – those who gave a clearly recognised lead at the time of their presidency. They generally like characters of whom they have first-hand knowledge or anecdotes. So the popular

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Table 8.6 Approval ratings of George W. Bush in the last weeks of his presidency Survey

Approve (%)

Disapprove (%)

Unsure (%)

FOX/ Opinion Dynamics

13/14 Jan. 2009

34

58

8

NBC/ Wall Street Journal

9/12 Jan. 2009

27

67

6

USA Today/ Gallup

9/11 Jan. 2009

34

61

5

Pew

7/11 Jan. 2009

24

66

10

Note: At one point in late October 2008, a CBS poll placed the approval rate at 20%, Bush’s lowest recorded figure – and the lowest since polling began in the l930s. According to a poll taken in early 2009, a majority of Americans thought he would be remembered as a below-average or poor president. A mere 17% believed he would go down in history as an outstanding or above-average president, a figure at variance with Bush’s own confidence that his presidency would be appreciated over a longer period of time. Another 23% predicted that he would be remembered as ‘average’, whilst 59% labelled the likely verdict as being ‘below average’ or ‘poor’.

favourites invariably include Kennedy, Reagan, Franklin Roosevelt, Truman and – to a lesser degree – Eisenhower. Popular judgements tend to be short-term ones, whereas many academics prefer to be cautious in delivering their verdicts, allowing an opportunity for a longer-term perspective to emerge. Fashions change in attitudes to leadership, in part dependent on the persons who have most recently been president and what has been achieved. Back in the 1950s and early 1960s, the public yearned for leadership and were willing to accord their presidents

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considerable power. They generally had faith in those who occupied the White House, relying on them to do the right thing and in particular to handle the difficult issues and crises of foreign policy. Their faith had been eroded by the late 1960s–early 1970s, when they were less willing to accept that the ‘president knew best’. In the Reagan years, faith was to a considerable extent restored. In the latter years of George W. Bush, it again took a serious blow. People cannot easily free themselves from the prevalent attitudes during the times in which they have lived. Finally, experts tend to place less emphasis on personal character and repute. They are critical of administrations that were riddled with corruption and abused public trust. But they tend to be less harsh on extramarital affairs, only too aware that, if such personal ‘lapses’ are a reason for denying ‘greatness’, then many muchadmired presidents would have to be ranked more lowly than has generally been the case. Before the Clinton revelations, Jefferson, Franklin Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Kennedy might all have been found wanting on the ‘character’ issues. ‘Some of our presidents with checkered backgrounds performed well, and others who were considered to be of the highest private character were political failures.’

Presidential leadership: ‘effectiveness’, ‘greatness’ and ‘success’ Any attempt to define ‘effectiveness’, ‘greatness’ and ‘success’ is inevitably subjective; different academic and non-academic Americans having different views about the criteria required for anyone to qualify for either label. It is widely agreed that any analysis must take into account the problems with which incumbents were confronted; the way they handled these difficulties; the particular accomplishments of their presidencies; and the extent to which they made a lasting impact upon the office. Most people would agree that ‘leadership qualities’ and ‘the ability to achieve things’ must be highly relevant, but other commentators go further and look for a series of factors. The writings of a more recent writer, Fred Greenstein,13 reflect some of these concerns. He has singled out six characteristics that might be used in

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assessing the effectiveness and quality of presidential leadership and performance: • •

• • • •

effectiveness as a public communicator: the ability to convey ideas to party, public and the international community; organisational capacity: effectiveness in planning and executing policies – in other words, the skills exhibited as manager of the executive branch; political skill: the ability to persuade Congress, to mobilise support and to campaign effectively; political vision: the ability to articulate clear goals; cognitive skills: the ability to understand a range of key issues; emotional intelligence: the character and temperament to work under pressure.

The list is not exhaustive, and some of the criteria might be questioned, much depending on the qualities sought after in a political leader. Others that might be added are the ability to achieve legislative goals, the strength of character to maintain steady judgement in an international crisis and the vision to preside over economic success. Some might add the ability to maintain popularity and to get reelected, for it was FDR’s ability to win additional terms in office that enabled him to ensure that his New Deal was placed securely on the statute book. In his search for signs of presidential greatness, James McGregor Burns14 looked for ‘character, competence, courage and commitment’. Arthur Schlesinger Jr15 felt that to succeed, presidents must have a port to seek and must convince Congress and the electorate of the rightness of their course. Politics in a democracy is ultimately an educational process, an adventure in vision and consent . . .[Great presidents] have an instinct for the dynamics of history . . . [they also] have a deep connection with the needs, anxieties, dreams of the people . . . We hear much these days about the virtues of the middle of the road. But none of the top nine [highly rated presidents] can be described as a middle-roader. Middle-roading may be fine for campaigning, but it is a sure road to mediocrity in governing. The middle of the road is not the vital center: it is the dead center. The Greats and Near Greats all took risks in the pursuit of their ideals. They all provoked intense

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controversy. They all, except Washington, divided the nation before reuniting it on a new level of national understanding.

Implicitly, both Burns and Schlesinger were looking for similar qualities. They understood that leadership is not just about being liked and popular. It involves rising to the challenge of the occasion and doing the right thing – educating the electorate, appealing to the best instincts of Americans rather than pandering to short-term concerns, being courageous, acting boldly and decisively when action is required and being prepared to shoulder responsibility when things do not immediately work out as envisaged. For these writers, leadership conjures up an impression of idealism in thought or action. Others think of the accomplishment of heroic deeds. Judgement, integrity, talent, vigour of mind and vision are other qualities that might be identified as important criteria. It is their possession of a combination of such qualities that has placed Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt at or near the top in most rankings. When action was needed, they were prepared to be dynamic and to do what they felt was necessary to secure the national interest. Success and greatness are especially difficult to define, the qualities necessary in a president varying from one decade to another. Certain eras require more vigorous leadership and legislative action than others. As we have seen, by the criterion of the proportion of his legislative programme achieved, Lyndon Johnson was an undoubted success. But he presided over a country that was becoming increasingly troubled and divided, and his memory has been tarnished by the events in Vietnam. Bill Clinton was able to speak to the hearts of many Americans at times of crisis and presided over eight years of economic success. Yet he stained the presidency as a result of his personal conduct and harmed his party’s prospects in the 2000 election. To some extent, presidential effectiveness and success depend on what the president is supposed to do. If the criterion is dynamism and/or creativity, then Eisenhower was not a success. But in other respects, given his more limited conception as a steward of national affairs, he was arguably effective, being a popular national leader who was suitable for the mood of the times. Not all presidents can or do possess Mount Rushmore-type

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qualities. Some have taken office when the need for brave and heroic leadership was much less evident.

Conclusion Academics and members of the public tend to have a view about those whose actions give them a claim to greatness. But there is no firmly agreed set of criteria against which presidential greatness or otherwise may be judged. As we have seen, any attempt at assessment of individual performances is hazardous, not least because we bring our own personal inclinations and preferences to the task. We are the product of the age in which we live, our experiences influenced by what we have heard and observed of recent presidents. Today, we know more about presidents and their failings, and we expect skills of communication and an ability to handle the world of twenty-four-hour news coverage, difficulties with which presidents a hundred years ago were unfamiliar. Furthermore, fashions in presidential style come and go, much depending on whether or not the times appear to require a display of assertive leadership or represent an era of prosperity and consolidation. Finally, there is the difficulty in distinguishing those presidents who seem ‘great’ or ‘near great’ from those whom we like as human beings. People of differing persuasions are attracted to a Kennedy or a Reagan, the relationship perhaps being one of affection rather a hard-headed assessment of their impact on history. Does it matter? Americans are fascinated by their presidency and by the people who have occupied it. Many are equally fascinated by the notion of ranking those who have reached the White House. It is ‘more than a parlor game for academics and much less than a full assessment of the myriad successes and failures of the men who have held our highest office’.16 Inevitably, such listings simplify the complexity of presidential roles and tend to be excessively preoccupied by personal considerations rather than the circumstances in which presidents operated. Reliance on broad labels such as ‘great’, ‘near great’ and ‘below average’ is, as as Taranto and Leo observe, ‘severely reductionist’. Political scientist Fred Greenstein17 is similarly aware of their limita-

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tions, arguing that they ‘divert attention from the full range of presidential experience’. Apart from any inherent fascination that we may feel about them, such assessments contribute to our understanding of the evolution of the office, showing how at some times the potential of the presidency was utilised to the full while at others it was not exploited. We may then ask why there are these changes in presidential approaches, our analysis here thus developing that provided in Chapters 2 and 3 on the history of the office. Past performance also provides some standpoint against which to judge recent and present incumbents.

D

?

What you should have learnt from reading this chapter •

Americans have generally reserve the term ‘great’ for only a few presidents, the same names being regularly mentioned by most scholars and members of the public. Few are viewed as very bad.



Disagreement is particularly evident on recent and controversial figures such as Nixon, Clinton and George W. Bush, in part a reflection of the political standpoint of the analyst.



The public responds to leaders who capture their imagination, perhaps as a result of their personality and style of leadership, which are especially important in a television age. Experts tend to emphasise intellectual capacity, experience and ability to impart a sense of direction more than character and personality.



There is some disagreement about how we measure good leadership, greatness and success. To some extent the criteria of effectiveness in a president vary according to the times in which they operate, some circumstances requiring more vigorous and decisive action than others.

Likely examination questions What are the criteria for a successful president? Which president of the post-1945 era best illustrates the criteria of being a successful leader? ‘The great presidents were great because they not only brought about change but also left a legacy – principles, institutional arrangements, and policies that defined an era . . . When decisive action was required, they took it.’ Do you agree?

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Helpful websites www.Americanpresidents.org/survey C-Span’s series of Life Portraits of US presidents, March–December 1999 www.infoplease.com/spot/presrankings1 How Do The Presidents Rank? A.-M. Imbornoni’s summary of several surveys, along with other facts re US presidents.

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CHAPTER 9

Support for the President: The Vice President Contents Choice of the vice president Responsibilities and role The significance of the office since the 1970s Conclusion

162 164 165 171

Overview Derided by incumbents and commentators alike for much of US history, the office of vice president has been enhanced since the 1970s. Recent presidents have been willing to allocate their vice presidents a greater degree of responsibility and have at times leaned on them for advice. In this chapter, we examine the factors involved in choosing a running mate, the qualities that some individuals brought to the vice presidency and the developing reputation of the office.

Key issues to be covered in this chapter • • • • •

The traditional weakness of the vice presidency The factors that presidential candidates look for when choosing their running mates The role of the vice presidency and its increased significance in the Mondale years and thereafter The impact of Cheney on the office of vice president The importance and frustrations of the vice presidency

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For many years the office of vice president was viewed as little more than a joke. Its first incumbent, John Adams1 spoke of it derisively: ‘My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.’ The majority of his successors would probably have shared his view. A disillusioned John Nance Garner,2 Franklin Roosevelt’s deputy, suggested that the office was ‘not worth a pitcher of warm spit’. Even Walter Mondale3 Carter’s mostly successful vice president, referred to the job as ‘handmade for ridicule and for dismissal. In the nature of it, you always look like a supplicant, a beggar, a person on a string.’ Those who devised the Constitution created the office only as an afterthought. It simply says that he will be chosen by an electoral college, outlines the circumstances when he will be acting president and lays down that he will preside over the Senate. Given that there are so few formal responsibilities, some vice presidents have made little of it. One such occupant was Charles Dawes,4 who served under President Coolidge. He declared that his position was ‘the easiest job in the world’.

Choice of the vice president Presidential candidates want a running mate who will be an asset to the ticket and boost their electoral prospects. Ideally the person chosen will balance their own background and characteristics, so that geographical, demographic and ideological factors come into play. It may be that the choice will be pleasing to an area, to a group of voters or to some faction within the party. Kennedy, a Northern liberal and a Catholic, chose Johnson, a Texan Protestant likely to appeal to southern conservatives. Nixon chose Spiro Agnew (a Maryland Governor) to please the same group. George W. Bush opted for Dick Cheney, who had served in his father’s Cabinet and was expected to provide some experience and weight to the presidential challenge in 2000. Clinton chose Al Gore, for, although he came from a similar geographical area and shared many similar beliefs, he offered definite advantages that might have extended the appeal of the ticket. In particular, he was seen as ‘Mr Clean’, reassuring on the

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Table 9.1 Vice presidents from the Kennedy era to the Obama era President

Vice president

Term in office of vice president

Kennedy

Johnson

1961–1963

Johnson

None 1963– 1965

n.a.

Humphrey

1965–1969

Agnew

1969–1973

Ford

1973–1974

Ford

Rockefeller

1974–1977

Carter

Mondale

1977–1981

Reagan

Bush, George H. W.

1981–1989

Bush, George H. W.

Quayle

1989–1993

Clinton

Gore

1993–2001

Bush, George W.

Cheney

2001–2009

Obama

Biden

2009–

Nixon

topic of ‘family values’, a subject on which Bill Clinton was thought to be vulnerable. In several ways, the two men complemented each other, a point spotted by the Labor secretary, Robert Reich,5 who noted: Al [Gore] is . . . methodical where B is haphazard, linear where B is creative, cautious where B is impetuous, ponderous where B is playful, private where B shares his feelings with everyone. The two men need one another, and sense it. Above all, Gore is patient, where B wants it all now.

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Box 9.1 Joe Biden: the Obama choice Vice President Joe Biden was first elected to the Senate in 1972 and re-elected every six years up to and including 2008. He is a long-time member and current chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, having also chaired the Judiciary Committee at the time of the controversial nominations of Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. He unsuccessfully sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988 and 2008, before being asked by Barack Obama to serve as his vice-presidential running mate. He is the first Roman Catholic to assume the vice presidency, and also the first Delawarean. Biden did not represent a swing state or one with a significant vote in the Electoral College. Neither did his selection sit naturally with the Obama message of change. Yet he brought important strengths to the Democratic ticket, most obviously gravitas, deep foreign-policy and national-security expertise, a willingness and ability aggressively to attack John McCain (in a way that did not come easily to Obama) and an easy connection with middle-class and blue-collar Americans. Prior to assuming office, Biden said he would not model his vice presidency on any of the ones before him, but instead would seek to provide advice and counsel on every critical decision Obama would make. He claimed to have been closely involved in all the Cabinet appoinments that were made during the transition and was named as the head of a new White House Task Force on Working Families, an initiative aimed at improving the economic position of the middle class.

For Gore, the position was a good training ground for the job he badly wanted. He used it as an opportunity to prepare himself for the presidency, carefully studying the operation of power at the highest level.

Responsibilities and role The vice president assumes some of the ceremonial tasks of the president and represents him on formal occasions, whether it be the funeral of a foreign leader or the commemoration of some past event. The vice president is formally the presiding officer of the Senate, refereeing its proceedings and interpreting the rules. Usually,

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vice presidents put in few appearances, for there is little kudos to be won and little chance to exert political influence – given that he or she is not a member of the chamber. He exercises the casting vote in the event of a tie, a step that may help ensure the passage of legislation desired by the White House. Tie votes have been a rarity. John Adams holds the record for the most casting votes (29), followed closely by John Calhoun (28). Since the 1870s, however, no vice president has cast as many as ten tie-breaking votes, only eighteen being cast in the forty years from the beginning of the Johnson vice presidency to the end of the Gore incumbency. Dick Cheney cast eight tie-breaking votes. In one way the Senate might be viewed as an ideal place in which a vice president can learn the art and practice of government from the inside, but most have not taken advantage of the opportunity. Usually, they leave their presiding role to be exercised in their absence by the President Pro Tempore. Apart from attending Cabinet and carrying out the other roles itemised above, vice presidents may take on ad hoc assignments, their number and character depending on the use that the president wishes to make of them. Bill Clinton gave his deputy the task of conducting a national review of the workings of the federal democracy. Most previous presidents were much less willing to use their running mate than he was. Until well into the twentieth century, vice presidents were expected to act as what Cronin and Genovese6 describe as ‘ceremonial ribboncutters’. The role was generally regarded as a ‘semi-retirement job for party stalwarts, acting as a resting place for mediocrities or a runner-up’.

The significance of the office since the 1970s More recently, the importance of the role has varied according to who has been in the White House. For some presidents, their deputies could be useful in an advisory capacity on matters of politics and policy. Jimmy Carter made more use of Walter Mondale than had been usual in the past, because he needed the support of a Washington ‘insider’ who could give good advice based upon his knowledge and experience. Reflecting on his experience, Mondale7 concluded: ‘What the president needs is not more information . . . He

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needs a few people who can honestly appraise and evaluate his policies. He needs to hear voices that speak from a national perspective.’ Accordingly, as Carter’s Secretary of State, Warren Christopher,8 explained: ‘[Mondale] was relied upon more heavily than any vice president in the past.’ Reagan allowed George H. W. Bush to attend many meetings and to represent him in many engagements. However, activity and influence are very different. Whereas Mondale was allowed a genuine role in the decision-making process, this was less true of his successor. During the Clinton administrations, it became fashionable for writers to describe Al Gore as probably the most influential vice president in American history. Not only did he preside over important projects such as the ‘Reinventing Government’ initiative; he also took an active interest in issues ranging from the environment to science and technology. On foreign affairs, he was deeply involved in discussions such as policy towards the Middle East, Russia and South Africa, as well as issues of nuclear non-proliferation. On these and other matters, Bill Clinton valued his advice. Often, he would remain in the Oval Office when all other advisers had departed, so that his voice was the last the President heard. He was apparently allowed considerable influence over the composition of the revamped Cabinet at the beginning of the second term, the idea being that this would give him influential supporters in key positions to help him prepare his bid for the November 2000 contest. Most unusually, Clinton seemed to feel less threatened by his vice president than had some of his predecessors. Dick Cheney, the 46th vice president In the events leading up to war in Iraq, the ‘most-influential’ label was also applied to Dick Cheney, who was often portrayed as ‘the power behind the throne’ in the George W. Bush presidency. Cheney’s is an unusual case of vice-presidential influence, for if he qualifies as the most powerful-ever vice president – as has often been suggested – he is also among the least visible. As a running mate, he was a surprise choice and had several apparent disadvantages. He was an uninspiring and rare public speaker, and a mediocre election campaigner who lacked an obviously warm and appealing personality to charm the electorate. He brought little electoral advantage to the

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presidential ticket, coming from a small, conservative state (Wyoming) that almost any Republican presidential candidate would expect to win. Moreover, from the time of his selection as vice-presidential running mate, there were serious doubts about his health. After all, he had had four heart attacks and used a ‘pace-maker plus’ to give his heart an electric shock should it lose its normal rhythm. A further potential source of weakness might have been the fact that, according to polls, he was not trusted by a significant element of those interviewed. His recent past as chief executive at Halliburton oil services company – at a time when it was alleged that the company dabbled in questionable accounting procedures – made him appear as the embodiment of America’s corporate ills. However, from a Bush point of view, Cheney had several assets and was a useful deputy. He was uncommonly and fiercely loyal to his boss, and George Bush trusted him with absolute confidence. Although he was taciturn and rarely showed his cards in meetings, he used private opportunities to speak his mind, and his judgement and views commanded respect. He was also able to say things that the President might have felt, but did not dare say publicly. Whereas – particularly in his early days – George Bush often spoke in terms of ‘compassionate conservatism’, Dick Cheney had licence to betray the innermost thinking of some Republicans within and around the White House. He famously derided environmentalism as a ‘personal virtue’ and broke the ‘no-gloating’ rule after the fall of Baghdad. The President is said to have viewed Cheney as a quietly solid man, a heavyweight with gravitas who would deal with day-to-day issues effectively. He delegated many administrative matters to him, as well as giving him special responsibilities, such as working on a long-term energy plan. Above all, he leaned on him for advice. This was particularly the case after 9/11, when disaster struck. Cheney saw an opportunity to advance his ideas on pre-emptive action over Iraq, an issue that mattered to him because he had always regretted that US-led forces had not pushed on to Baghdad during the 1991 Gulf War. At the time of Cheney’s selection, his appeal was that he had been White House chief of staff and defense secretary for the first President Bush during the 1991 Gulf War. He had the experience of handling foreign-affairs and national-security issues that the presidential

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candidate so obviously lacked. As vice president, he did not always get his way. His advice on some issues was rejected. Hawkish by instinct, he did not want the USA to take the UN route in the build-up to the Iraq War and he spoke of the ‘futility’ of the weapons inspectorate in that country. But the fact that he sometimes gave advice that did not confirm the President’s own thinking only served to make him more respected. It made his advice seem worthwhile, for he was thought to be a person who would say what he truly believed. Above all, Cheney had one quality that endeared him to Bush. He did not covet his office. He did not need to be seen often in public, for he was not seeking to build a popular reputation as part of a build-up to some presidential bid. He had no political ambitions and could therefore be trusted. The distinctiveness of his position was noted by one writer9 within a few months of Bush becoming president: ‘Cheney is the most powerful deputy ever, and he is also very much Bush’s subordinate; this is not a contradiction so much as a cause and effect. Bush trusts Cheney because he is loyal, discreet and very clear who is in charge; that trust in turn is Cheney’s trophy, upon the mantel for all to see.’ Despite avoiding the limelight, Cheney came to dominate the administration. His influence was much documented, most strikingly in Bob Woodward’s book Plan of Attack. He reported that many of those who knew and admired Cheney as a steady servant of the first George Bush were surprised at the extent to which he had become obsessional about the need to take action against Saddam. However unlikely Cheney may have seemed as an influential power behind the throne, his importance in the Bush administrations was recognised by admirers and critics alike. In his quiet way, the vice president sometimes appeared to enjoy the image that he developed as an insider who wielded power behind the scenes, sometimes in a rather sinister way. On one occasion,10 he surprised and delighted his audience when he responded to a question on how he would describe his role: ‘I would say that I am a dark, insidious force pushing Bush towards war and confrontation.’ That is exactly what his critics alleged. A more influential role In addition to the increased importance attached to the vicepresidential role by presidents from Carter onwards, two mid-

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twentieth-century constitutional amendments helped to raise the status of the office. The 22nd (ratified in 1951) limited the president to two full terms in office, and thereby increased the chances of the vice president taking over. The 25th, in 1967, confirmed the previous practice of making the vice president not an acting president but the real thing, in the event of a national emergency such as the incapacity of the president to fulfil his or her tasks. A procedure is laid down to determine if and when the deputy should take over, and to determine for how long and under what conditions he or she should exercise presidential duties. In 1985, George H. W. Bush was the first vice president to assume such responsibilities, when President Reagan had an operation for skin cancer. In June 2002, Dick Cheney briefly assumed the powers and duties of the presidency when George W. Bush underwent a medical exam involving anaesthetics. (The 25th Amendment also set out the mechanism via which vacancies in the vice presidency should be filled, a procedure used when Nixon selected Ford and Ford selected Rockefeller. The president nominates his choice, who takes office subject to congressional confirmation by both Houses on a majority vote). There has been discussion during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations of ‘a new vice presidency’. Yet, in spite of the growing trend towards providing vice presidents with a more worthwhile role, for much of the time they are effectively ‘waiting in the wings’ in case their services are called upon to assume the burden of the presidency. They stand in readiness to assume command, in the event of death (through either natural causes or assassination), or through resignation or removal from office. Nine presidents have failed to complete their allotted terms, eight through death, and one (Nixon) because of his forced resignation. The possibility of assassination is a real one, four presidents having been killed, two of them in the twentieth century (McKinley and Kennedy); several others have been the victims of life-threatening attacks. Because of this, Vice President Adams11 was right in his summary of the strengths and weaknesses of his position: ‘I am Vice President of the United States. In this, I am nothing, but I may be everything.’ Unsurprisingly, because he is a heartbeat away from the supreme office, there is often a tension between the vice president and the president he serves. Henry Kissinger,12 an eminent figure in the

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Nixon administrations, noted that the relationship between the occupants of the two posts was never easy: ‘It is, after all, disconcerting to have at one’s side a man whose life’s ambitions will be achieved by one’s death.’ Johnson13 was clearly aware of this unusual aspect of his office, on one occasion admitting that, whenever he was in the presence of JFK, he felt ‘like a goddam raven hovering over his shoulder’. In his case, a tragic death forced him to make the transition from acting as a standby to assuming the awesome responsibilities of the presidency. A frustrating role For those with presidential ambitions, the post of vice president takes them that much nearer the White House. There is always the chance that their services might be needed should a death or assassination occur, or electors choose them as the next president. About one-third of vice presidents eventually become president; five have done so since the Second World War: Truman, Johnson, Nixon, Ford and George H. W. Bush. Yet it can still be difficult for vice presidents to carve out a useful and distinctive role. The job has its frustrations, particularly when the administration is nearing its end – even more so, if it is unpopular. On the one hand, the vice president is expected to remain loyal and to act as a mouthpiece of the presidential team. On the other, he may wish to carve out a distinct persona and, if things are going badly for the president, to show a degree of detachment. Hubert Humphrey14 was in such a dilemma over Vietnam, in the latter days of the Johnson presidency. Whatever his personal reservations, he was unable to oppose official policy whilst he remained a member of the White House team. As he put it, he ‘did not become vice president to President Johnson to cause him trouble. I feel a deep sense of loyalty and fidelity . . . You can’t have two leaders of the executive branch at one time.’ Al Gore faced a similar problem. In his case, there was no dispute over political direction, but he was embarrassed by the scandals that so damaged the Clinton reputation. Especially in the latter days, he kept himself as detached as possible when it was apparent that the administration was in political difficulty. The office provides the incumbent with an opportunity to see the workings of government at the highest level and to gain a useful

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insight into the problems that arise and the way in which they are handled. But it is easy for the occupant to seem faceless and lacking independence of outlook. Few presidents would appreciate an outspoken understudy or one who diverted too much attention from them. Many have preferred to keep their number two in the dark on key issues. Roosevelt took this isolation of his vice president so far that he did not even tell him that America was developing the atomic bomb. Nixon did not find work under Eisenhower fulfilling, and neither did Johnson under Kennedy. In both cases, the relationship was a poor one before they were even chosen as running mates. Nixon’s own vice president, the much-despised Spiro T. Agnew,15 found it a ‘damned peculiar situation to be in, to have . . . a title and responsibility with no real power to do anything’. Indeed, Nixon barely knew Agnew at the time he chose him as his running mate. Having felt humiliated in the vice-presidential job himself, he ‘proceeded nonetheless to visit an even greater humiliation on Agnew. By most accounts, Agnew was scorned by the White House staff and given little of importance to do.’ 16 Johnson too found himself snubbed by White House staffers, who reputedly mocked him behind his back as ‘Uncle Cornpone’, and spent much of his time in a prolonged sulk about the way in which his views were either derided or totally ignored.17

Conclusion Presidents rarely feel that they can totally trust the person they have chosen to run with, for such associates have their own ambitions. The partnership is usually a ‘marriage of convenience’ on the part of the president, rather than an expression of deep regard for the person selected. Political rather than personal considerations dictate the original choice. The role of vice president has always lacked clarity. Its responsibilities are modest; the position assumes real significance only if the president dies, resigns or is temporarily incapacitated. Yet the general consensus since the 1970s – as long as the president has been willing to permit such a situation to develop – is that vice presidents have been used more extensively. Presidents have seen the value of having

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a seasoned and successful campaigner of national stature with whom to discuss the issues of the day.

D

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What you should have learnt from reading this chapter •

The choice of running mate is made at the party nominating convention. Vice presidents are initially selected as running mates by contenders for the presidency in order to strengthen the candidacy. Usually, there is an attempt to balance the party ticket politically or geographically, by choosing someone with an appeal to sections of the population or areas of the country that the presidential candidate cannot easily reach. Sometimes, the choice is made to assuage the discontent of a section of the party whose candidate has lost out in his presidential bid, as when Johnson was selected by Kennedy.



The two candidates campaign together in order to achieve victory in the general election in November, the vice-presidential candidate taking part in a televised debate with his or her opposite number. Fourteen vice presidents have later become president, nine succeeded to the presidency during the course of the administration. Four have been elected when they were sitting vice presidents.



Once elected to office, the vice president has two constitutional roles – to succeed the president should he die, be rendered incapacitated or be impeached/resign in office and to act as chair of the Senate and exercise the casting ballot in the event of a tied vote. Beyond that, vice presidents fulfil the roles that presidents allocate to them.



Traditionally, the position has been viewed as an insignificant office, its main significance being that it is ‘a heartbeat from the presidency’. From Carter onwards, most presidents have made greater use of their vice presidents, viewing them as useful policy advisers and often delegating to them particular responsibilities beyond the ceremonial ones that they have traditionally carried out.

Likely examination questions ‘[I do] not propose to be buried until [I am] already dead’ (Daniel Webster, the US Secretary of State under Presidents Harrison and Tyler, declining an invitation to become vice president). Why has the role of vice president often been regarded as a graveyard for ambitious politicians who wish to assume the presidency? ‘In this, I am nothing, but I may be everything’ (John Adams). Evaluate the role and importance of the vice presidency in the light of this remark.

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Examine the respective contributions of Al Gore and Dick Cheney as vice presidents during the presidencies of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

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Helpful websites www.whitehouse.gov/vicepresident The official White House site, which offers details about the office and the persons currently holding it www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/briefing/Vice_President The Senate Historical Office’s compendium of information about the office and the people who have held it

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CHAPTER 10

Support for the President: The Cabinet and the Executive Office of the President Contents The Cabinet The Executive Office of the President Conclusion

175 183 190

Overview The term ‘White House’ is regularly used as a label for the Executive Office of the President and for the president’s administration and advisers in general. Today, the White House complex includes the Executive Residence, in which the president and his wife reside; the West Wing, comprising the Oval Office, the Cabinet Room and the Roosevelt Room (the location for larger gatherings, e.g. with members of Congress); and the East Wing, comprising the office of the First Lady and White House Social Secretary, as well as the Old Executive Office Building (which houses the executive offices of the president and vice president). In this chapter, we examine the history, role and usefulness of both the Cabinet and the Executive Office.

Key issues to be covered in this chapter • • • • • • •

The position of the Cabinet in US government Varying presidential use of the Cabinet as an advisory body The factors involved in the choice of Cabinet members The operation of American Cabinets: the value of Cabinet meetings How and why the Executive Office of the President was created The leading elements of the Executive Office of the President The strengths and limitations of the Executive Office of the President as a source of presidential advice

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Much has been written about the ways in which presidents organise their staffing and support and where they look, or should look, for ideas and counsel. Traditionally, members of the Cabinet were seen as the people to whom the president should turn, but for many decades Cabinet meetings have rarely proved to be effective locations for useful discussion. Whatever their professed intentions, the longer they remain in office the more presidents prefer to lean upon the support of a tight circle of senior advisers chosen from among their White House staff.

The Cabinet Article II of the Constitution allows the president to invite ‘the opinion, in writing, of the principal officer in each of the executive departments, upon any subject relating to the duties of their respective offices’, but there is no mention of summoning them together as a Cabinet. Yet this has always happened, from George Washington onwards. He began the custom of consulting regularly with his department heads as a group. His assembling of his departmental Secretaries of State, Treasury and War in 1793 to discuss US neutrality in the French Revolutionary wars is often seen as the first use of the Cabinet. Gradually, as administrative duties increased and different problems arose, new executive departments were created by Congress, and Cabinets increased in size. The US Cabinet is, then, a board or committee that comprises the most senior appointed officers of the executive branch of the federal government of the United States. The Cabinet as such is not mentioned in the Constitution. Neither is there any explicit definition of the term ‘Cabinet’ in either the United States Code or the Code of Federal Regulations. However, the 25th Amendment laid down a procedure to be followed in the light of the president’s incapacity. Congress determines the lines of succession after the vice president. Beyond the Speaker and Senate president pro tempore, the Cabinet personnel are listed in order of status, starting with the Secretary of State. From time to time, individual presidents have begun their presidency with the intention of using the Cabinet more. A very few have fulfilled their initial promise. They have spoken of its value and how

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they intended to utilise the talents of those appointed to it. Truman1 spoke of ‘a body whose combined judgement the president uses to develop fundamental policies of the administration’. Reagan flattered his new appointees, saying that they were to be used rather like a board of directors in a corporation. He would discuss issues with them frankly and take on board their input when making decisions. In 1969, Richard Nixon saw the Cabinet members as having an important role in policy-making. Yet, whatever the promises, the relationship between president and Cabinet officers tends to deteriorate within a year or so. Any honeymoon romanticism about the office begins to wear off, and the more trusted White House staff come to outstrip the Cabinet in power and influence. In Truman’s administration, ‘important decisions were made by ad hoc groups consisting of cabinet officers and others. He did not wish to . . . formalise the meetings.’ 2 The number of meetings tends to decline as the years go by; by 1972, Nixon was down to eleven meetings in the course of the year. As Watergate enveloped his administration, he came to regard the Cabinet with intense suspicion and conceived a strong dislike for its individual members, whom he had originally appointed and praised as people capable of providing an ‘extra dimension . . . superior and even great leadership’.3 He got rid of more of them than most of his predecessors. Those who retained their positions found the meetings boring and rather ‘bland’: ‘Nothing of substance was discussed. There was no disagreement because there was nothing to disagree about. Things over which we might have disagreed were not discussed.’ 4 Similarly, Jimmy Carter’s good intentions were never fulfilled. The number of his Cabinet meetings declined significantly from 36 in the first year, to 23, 9 and 6 respectively. He found them less necessary or useful as time went on, and Cabinet members were known to complain that meetings lacked any proper agenda or coherent theme. Especially in the early years of his administration, Reagan was keen on the idea of Cabinet government. At meetings, he was likely to go round the table and invite individual views. He also made use of Cabinet councils of five or six Cabinet members on topics such as Economic Affairs and Human Resources. These worked with White House staff to provide a source of new ideas for the President – a

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system that was analogous to the British system of Cabinet committees. Bill Clinton formed committees of Cabinet and sub-Cabinet members, as in the case of the National Economic Council. Again, the purpose was better to integrate departmental heads and White House officials around particular policy areas. The original precedent for such committees was the National Security Council formed shortly after the Second World War with the intention of providing the president with quality advice on matters concerning the security of the nation against external threat. Choosing the Cabinet One of the first tasks of a new president before the inauguration is the choice of the Cabinet. The selection is watched by commentators eager to get an indication of the probable tone and style of the administration. The president can choose whom he wishes, although it is wise to nominate people who are likely to be acceptable to the Senate. The Cabinet is the president’s personal creation. Accordingly, he will seek out people felt to be useful, and effective within their departments. Few people can assume that they will be included, for it does not follow that prominent people in the presidential election campaign will be rewarded with a position in the Cabinet. Other rewards may be awarded and preferred. The president will want to include people who are loyal to him and to presidential programmes. Other considerations include the need to reward prominent politicians who helped the campaign nationally and within the president’s state. There are often political debts to repay. Kennedy, as a northern liberal, was even prepared to include a southern segregationist within the Cabinet – though this seemed to be in direct contradiction of his expressed support for civil rights. The choice did enable him to achieve a geographical balance, with representation of regions different from his own. A broad social balance is desirable. Recent presidents have been aware of the desirability of acknowledging the existence within the United States of women and of different racial groups such as the black and Jewish communities. The president will also want people of administrative competence who may bring expertise and specialist knowledge to their work. It does not matter if they have not previously served in a

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government position, and many have no political background. There will sometimes be an attempt to persuade congressmen from either house to serve the administration, but in most cases figures who have won re-election are unlikely to be interested in forsaking the Legislature for administrative responsibilities that are lacking in influence over the overall direction of policy. Moreover, from their own experience they will know what it is like to grill members of the administration and may be unwilling to submit themselves to the procedure. Republican Cabinet appointees often come from a business background. Eisenhower, Nixon, G. W. Bush and Reagan all plucked people from the worlds of commerce and manufacturing. The Democrats often favour people with a legal background or those who have worked in academia. In either case, those chosen may be elevated from obscurity, but, when the administration comes to an end, they often return to such a status – having made little impact on the public mind. Every Cabinet has its key players, who matter more as individuals than as members of a collective team. John Foster Dulles was a key figure in the Eisenhower administration, Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright had the same status under Bill Clinton. Along with Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell were important personnel in the first four years of the Bush presidency. Cabinets have their dominating figures, whose influence varies according to personalities involved and the department they represent. Their importance depends more on their individual worth to the president than on their role as part of team. Presidents lack the time and often the inclination to deal with individual Cabinet officers. Only those whose views are valued and who handle matters of national security and foreign policy are likely to gain regular access to the White House. The Cabinet in George W. Bush’s second administration comprised twenty-two members, including the President. It included the heads of the fifteen executive departments. Cabinet-level rank was also accorded to the Administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency; the Director of the Office of Management and Budget; the Director of the National Drug Control Policy; and the US Trade Representative, as well as the vice president and the White House Chief of Staff.

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Table 10.1 The Obama Cabinet, March 2009 Secretary of State

Hillary Clinton

Secretary of the Treasury

Timothy Geithner

Secretary of Defense

Robert Gates

[Justice] Attorney General

Eric Holder

Secretary of the Interior

Ken Salazar

Secretary of Agriculture

Tom Vilsack

Secretary of Commerce

Gary Locke

Secretary of Labor

Hilda Solis

Secretary of Health and Human Services

Kathleen Sebelius

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development

Shaun Donovan

Secretary of Transportation

Ray LaHood

Secretary of Energy

Steven Chu

Secretary of Education

Arne Duncan

Secretary of Veterans Affairs

Eric Shinseki

Secretary of Homeland Security

Janet Napolitano

Vice President of the United States

Joe Biden

White House Chief of Staff

Rahm Emanuel

Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers

Christina Romer

Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency

Lisa Jackson

Director of the Office of Management and Budget

Peter Orszag

Ambassador to the United Nations

Susan Rice

United States Trade Representative

Ronald Kirk

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The Obama Cabinet includes the Vice President and the heads of the fifteen executive departments. In addition, six other positions have the status of Cabinet rank. Presidents understand that meetings of the full Cabinet can be too large for meaningful and worthwhile discussion and decision-making. (Under Ford, there were nearly thirty people entitled to attend, though it was usual for about twenty to do so.) They sometimes prefer to make use of a Kitchen Cabinet, an informal group of unofficial advisers. The idea derived from the experience of President Andrew Jackson, whose selected advisters met in the White House kitchen. Today, the phrase is used to refer a president’s or presidential candidate’s closest unofficial advisers. They may or may not be in the actual Cabinet. They are people whose opinions the president wishes to hear. Clark Clifford was considered a member of the Kitchen Cabinet for John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, before he was appointed Secretary of Defense. Robert Kennedy was considered a Kitchen Cabinet member as well as a Cabinet member while he was his brother’s Attorney General. Ronald Reagan had a Kitchen Cabinet of allies and friends from California who advised him during his presidential terms. The role and practice of US cabinets The Cabinet is an advisory body only. In the final analysis, the president consults whom he wishes and may choose to ignore what the Cabinet members say – assuming they are consulted in the first place. As he does not have to refer to the Cabinet in times of crisis, the sole responsibility for decision-making rests with him. The role can be a lonely one. The president will seek out the advice of individuals whose counsel is trusted, but for many members of the Cabinet there is little incentive to offer support. Kennedy,5 who regarded the Cabinet as an anachronism as a consultative body and felt that full meetings were usually unproductive, recognised that Cabinet members could not be relied upon for their interest or backing. He posed the question that sums up the way in which many presidents regard Cabinet discussion: ‘Why should the postmaster sit there and listen to a discussion of the problems of Laos?’ In other words, members can more usefully employ their time on the work of their own departments rather than engage in general discussions.

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President Nixon’s ideas on the utility of the Cabinet underwent change as his presidency became increasingly mired in difficulties. At first he had talked – admittedly rather vaguely – of the value of having an inclusive body including the best brains, be they liberal or conservative, that could offer sound advice. He also recognised the usefulness of having able secretaries of state who would keep their departments under control and help sell the presidential message in the country. But he came to see the difficulty of having a meaningful discussion between people whom he increasingly came to see as disloyal to him. Indeed, he became increasingly disparaging about their abilities, according to Ehrlichman,6 seeing many of them as weak ‘crybabies’ whom he did not wish to meet. He resented time spent with them and on occasion threatened to fire or transfer those who displeased him. According to Ehrlichman, ‘most of the cabinet members were discontented most of the time, and many of them failed to manage their departments well’. The quality of Cabinet meetings – as well as members – varies considerably. Former Vice President Dan Quayle7 was unimpressed by those that he attended: ‘Cabinet meetings in the G. H. Bush White House were stilted, boring affairs. Instead of creative ferment and the clash of ideas, there were droning reports . . . The truth is, Cabinet meetings are an anachronism.’ Bush’s successor, Bill Clinton, had a larger Cabinet, eleven people being accorded Cabinet rank, in addition to the fourteen departmental heads then in existence. Membership was more stable than in many administrations, but members were not often brought together for full Cabinet meetings. There were only twelve in the first thirty months, and thereafter the number declined further. Such gatherings were unwieldy, with too many present to allow for effective decisionmaking. Accordingly, the President tended to use smaller, informal groupings or meet Secretaries of State on a bilateral basis, as the need arose. In his study of the operation of the early Clinton Cabinet, James Pfiffner8 found that key decisions were not often taken either in Cabinet or in the National Security Council; rather ‘actual policy deliberations were most often conducted in informal subsets of the groups’ members along with the staffs of the groups who actually did most of the policy development work’. Cabinet unanimity does not exist in the sense to which the British are accustomed. It may be desirable where it can be achieved, but it

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is not a constitutional principle such as collective responsibility. Members of US Cabinets differ in their views, sometimes publicly, as happened at the time of the Vietnam, Falklands and Iraq hostilities. In each case, spokespersons reacted in different ways when questioned about their reaction to policy decisions. No Cabinet member feels he or she has to rush to defend a colleague (or president) under attack, and, when there are disagreements, no one feels obliged to resign – though members may choose to do so, if they are at odds with the president. Disagreement is not in itself an automatic reason for resigning, and Congress would not call for resignation, as Cabinet members are not responsible to the Legislature, only to the president. Abraham Lincoln is usually credited with the comment ‘seven noes, one aye – the ayes have it’, following a Cabinet discussion in which his proposal was unanimously rejected by those around the table. True or otherwise, the remark indicates the view that most presidents have of the people they appoint to serve under them. Presidents tend to view them as spokespersons for their departments who have nothing to contribute on other matters. This means that presidents lack the political support that the British Cabinet gives to the prime minister. The US Cabinet does not contain party notables, high-ranking members with a power base and standing in their own right. Neither do Cabinet members have a place in the Legislature, so that they are of little assistance to the president in pushing his programme through Congress. A US cabinet bears little relation to one operating in a parliamentary system. It does not work as a team, as the British one does. American and British Cabinets have little in common other than the name. There is no question of the president seeking and feeling the need to act upon the advice of all of the Cabinet members. As we shall see, he may prefer to seek the advice of the White House Office and the Office of Management and Budget when advice is needed. Presidents use the Cabinet as they feel appropriate or necessary. They may (unusually) choose to hold meetings frequently, Polk’s 350 or so in four years being highly untypical. They may hold them regularly, as Eisenhower did. More often, they allow the Cabinet to meet only irregularly, and consult individuals only when they are likely to be in a position to contribute usefully.

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The influence of the Cabinet has varied according to the tastes and inclinations of the president. As a broad generalisation, it was a more powerful body before the 1930s than it has been subsequently. Yet the ‘decline’ has not been a steady, continuous one since the creation of the Executive Office of the President, in 1939.

The Executive Office of the President As presidential responsibilities widened in the years following the Great Depression, it became increasingly difficult for the president to cope with the demands of the job. He lacked the necessary support, a point noted by the President’s Committee on Administrative Management (1937), which proclaimed: ‘The president needs help.’ Franklin Roosevelt had placed as many New Deal agencies as possible under his own administration, and others were ordered to report to him. But the staffing resources in the White House were too small and rudimentary to enable him to exercise the supervisory role he favoured. The system was too antiquated; there was a need for modernisation and reform. The Committee, chaired by Louis, produced a document that made far-reaching recommendations. The outcome was the Reorganisation Act (1939). A Commission on the Organization of the Executive Branch of the Government (1949), set up by President Truman and headed by Herbert Hoover, was troubled by the lack of clear lines of authority from the president down to the civil service. Again, members felt that the modern president faced an impossible task. It urged an extensive regrouping of executive departments and agencies into a number of smaller, non-overlapping units, and an increased use of the Cabinet. These changes, it was argued, would give the president the chance to achieve an effective supervision of the governmental activities for which he was constitutionally responsible. Both analyses drew attention to the burdens of the presidency, and argued the case that, because executive power was centred on one person, he needed help from stronger support services rather than from other people. The Cabinet might have seemed a possible choice to relieve the burden. But, as the officers who serve in it are non-elected and therefore lack political or moral authority – and, in any case, are not usually front-rank politicians – they have little

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incentive to relieve the president of any duties. In particular, they have little experience of managing relations with Congress. In other words, even if the president wished to make greater use of the Cabinet, several of its members have little interest in offering the necessary backing, for their reputation does not depend on the president’s political success. Each Secretary looks after his or her patch. However, the president looks after his own duties, but also has to answer for any of their shortcomings. The president is in a solitary position, with overall responsibility for the activities of an enormous governmental machine that he must direct and coordinate. To do this, the president requires information about operations, assessments of policy needs and means of ensuring that his decisions and those of Congress are efficiently carried out, in the ways and spirit in which they are intended. The establishment and operation of the Executive Office As a result of the recommendations of the 1937 Committee, Roosevelt agreed that new machinery should be established. Two years after it reported, an enlarged presidential office was created, far larger in scale than had existed previously. Instead of a few clerks and secretaries, there was to be a new Executive Office of the President (EOP). In the words of Clinton Rossiter,9 the presidency was converted ‘into an instrument of twentieth century government . . . it gives the incumbent a sporting chance to stand the strain and fulfil the constitutional mandate as a one-man branch of our three-part government’. In his view, the innovation saved the presidency from paralysis and the Constitution from radical amendment. From the earliest days, it was obvious that the new EOP would be highly significant, but even so the extent of its eventual impact on US government could not have been judged. At the time, it comprised barely 1,000 staff, whereas by the end of the Nixon presidency the total had risen to 5,142. Post-Watergate, it was much slimmed down, and it has remained at around the 1,600–1,800 level ever since. But the extent of its operations and of its importance is not to be judged by numbers, but more by the centrality of its position in the workings of the executive branch. It has become what Maidment and McGrew10 call ‘the principal instrument of presidential government’. The modern president relies on the EOP to come up with the

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background information, detailed analysis and informed policy recommendations that are needed to enable him to master the complexities of a task. It has taken its place at the heart of the administration, giving the president the advice upon which he depends, conducting many dealings with Congress and helping to publicise and supervise the implementation of presidential decisions. The president is freed to deal with top-level matters of the moment and to engage in future planning. The component parts of the EOP change from president to president (see Table 10.2 for its key elements), for it is the president’s personal bureaucracy. Individuals have varied in the use made of it and amended its internal organisation to reflect their own priorities, interests and needs. New parts of the EOP have been established, some have been developed or transformed from their original character and others have become redundant. The EOP is an umbrella under which exist a number of key agencies which cover the whole range of policy areas and which serve him directly. The Office of Management and the Budget already existed in 1939, but otherwise only the White House Office has been there since the original machinery was set up. Elements have changed in different administrations, but central to the work of the Executive Office of the President are the White House staff, personal appointees who are likely to be the closest advisers for general and particular policies. Assessment of the Executive Office It was because of the growing demands on the president that some help was necessary if he was to be adequately equipped for the necessary tasks. As his responsibilities grew, so did his need for expert assistance. At the time of the creation of the Executive Office few commentators realised just how important it would become. In the twenty-first century it is far larger than in the year after its establishment, but its influence has grown even more dramatically than its number of personnel. What makes it so important for the president is that it is beholden only to him. He appoints its members. They know that they owe their position to him and therefore seek to serve him loyally. The Executive Office is the main instrument of presidential

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Box 10.1 Leading components of the Executive Office The White House Office The president’s closest aides, his personal staff, work in the White House Office, the nerve centre of the Executive Office. Of those located in the White House, only a few dozen of the most senior advisers will see the president regularly. There are special assistants to advise on foreign and domestic affairs, speech-writers, liaison officers, who maintain contact with Congress, and, of course, the Press Secretary. There is nowadays a Special Counsellor to the President. There are also many whose services are more concerned with basic personal needs, such as a personal secretary, a social secretary and a physician. The White House Office ensures that urgent priority issues reach the president’s desk quickly. Members seek to ensure compliance by the departments with presidential policies and so obtain for the president control over the federal administration. These assistants obtain their real authority from their closeness to the president, and the trust that he places in them. By deciding who should see the president and the issues to prioritise, they have much discretionary power. The danger is that the office can so ‘protect’ the president that he becomes remote from the political world. He becomes surrounded with ‘yes-men’ who say what they think the president wants to hear and thus prevent him from making a balanced assessment. Under Kennedy, several members were used more to help the president carry out the tasks he set himself, rather than to act as key advisers. In contrast, other presidents have given this inner circle enormous influence, so that some administrations are remembered in terms of the president himself and the immediate associates with whom he surrounded himself – Nixon had Haldeman and Ehrlichman; Carter had Jordan and Powell; Reagan had Baker (later his Secretary of State), Deaver and Meese. During the Nixon presidency the size of the White House Office grew substantially, with well over 500 personnel. Nixon downgraded his Cabinet, and so, to get the coordination of policy that he required, he established the post of Counsellor to the President. The appointee was given the prime responsibility for coordinating the handling of home and overseas affairs, and was included within the Cabinet – a status denied to previous White House aides.

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The National Security Council Established in 1947, the National Security Council (NSC) was given the role of advising the president on domestic, foreign and military matters relating to national security. Its duty was to consider ‘policies on matters of common interest to the departments and agencies of the government concerned with national security, and to make recommendations’. As with the Cabinet, the National Security Council does not make decisions for the president, but it provides evidence and advice from which the president can come to his own conclusions. At times of crisis, the Council does not usually seem to be the place where key assessments are made. The Office of Management and Budget Nixon reconstituted the Bureau of the Budget into the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in 1970, as a major managerial instrument for the president. Its main task is to prepare a federal budget to submit to Congress, and all appropriations requests from the departments come through the OMB for approval. The departments use their influence to retain maximum financial autonomy, and the president needs support if he is to keep overall control of their plans. The OMB can be a powerful instrument, for it also provides a mechanism by which the president can coordinate governmental activities, and ensure, in his role as manager of the executive branch, that programmes are carried out as efficiently as possible. The Council of Economic Advisers Economic policy is increasingly important to the performance and reputation of any administration, and for presidents, few of whom are economic experts, assistance is needed. Since 1946, a three-person panel of professional economists has been appointed with the consent of the Senate to advise on key issues. Often they are university academics, but new presidents select people of their own persuasion and outlook. It is a purely advisory body, but it is an important counter to the Treasury and the OMB, which have a narrower and more immediate focus. Such advice helps presidents to bear in mind longer-term considerations in their economic thinking. One specific responsibility is to assist in the preparation of an annual economic report to be given by the president to Congress; this outlines the administration’s view of economic trends. The Domestic Policy Council The Domestic Policy Council (DPC) coordinates the domestic policymaking process in the White House and offers advice to the presi-

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dent. It also supervises the execution of domestic policy and represents presidential priorities to Congress. Some form of domestic policy unit had existed in the White House since the 1960s. President Johnson assigned a senior-level aide to organise staff and develop domestic policy. President Reagan’s establishment of the Office of Policy Development was a further reflection of the presidential need for systematic and coherent advice on matters of internal policy. President Clinton split the office, forming the Domestic Policy Council and the National Economic Council. The National Economic Council The National Economic Council (NEC) has four principal functions: to coordinate policy-making for domestic and international economic issues, to coordinate economic policy advice for the president, to ensure that policy decisions and programmes are consistent with the president’s economic goals and to monitor implementation of the president’s economic policy agenda. There are other bodies in the Executive Office, such as the Council on Environmental Quality, the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board.

government. All modern presidents rely upon it to a greater or lesser degree, for information, analysis and policy recommendations. In some cases, their dependence is greater than others, and certain key aides emerge as the linchpin of the administration. For them, their focus of attention is inevitably the presidency, as it must be. It is easy for them to become so obsessed by the protection of the president that they ignore the limitations of the office designed by the framers of the Constitution. In other words, the Executive Office – and especially those assistants who serve in the White House Office – can become out of touch with the viewpoints and requirements of those who inhabit other areas of the system of government. The danger can be that, having appointed an advisory team of people who share his personal and political preferences, the president receives advice only from those who share the same outlook. Other people in different branches of the governmental process also have insights worthy of an audience, and some congressmen

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Table 10.2 The EOP and White House Office under President Obama The EOP •

Council of Economic Advisers



Council on Environmental Quality



Domestic Policy Council



National Economic Council



National Security Council



Office of Administration



Office of Management and Budget



Office of National AIDS Policy



Office of National Drug Control Policy



Office of Science and Technology Policy



Office of the United States Trade Representative



President’s Intelligence Advisory Board



Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board



White House Military Office



White House Office

The White House Office •

Advance



Appointments and Scheduling



Office of the Cabinet Liaison



Chief of Staff’s Office



Office of Communications

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and bureaucrats may find that their route to the president is barred. Table 10.2 (cont.) •

Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy



Office of the First Lady



Homeland Security Council



Office of Legislative Affairs



Office of Management and Administration



Oval Office Operations



Office of Political Affairs



Office of Presidential Personnel



Office of Public Liaison and Intergovernmental Affairs



Office of the Press Secretary



Office of Social Innovation



Office of the Staff Secretary



Office of Urban Affairs Policy



Office of the White House Counsel



White House Fellows

Details as provided on www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop (22 Jan. 2009)

Presidents can come to rely too much on those around them, and in that way allow themselves to become out of touch with the views of a wider section of the American public.

Conclusion Presidents need high-quality administrative support. They have to decide whether or not they wish to emphasise the role of the Cabinet

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or depend more upon the Executive Office and in particular those who staff the White House Office. The decline of the Cabinet dates back to the New Deal era, when Roosevelt preferred to rely on his key advisers in his ‘brains trust’. Since then, its value has fluctuated according to the person in the White House. It can change over the duration of an administration, usually becoming less significant after the president has been in office for two or three years. The more the president downgrades the Cabinet, the less its members are likely to feel disposed to back him when he is in political difficulty. Moreover, by then the level of tension between aides and Cabinet members has intensified. In the words of one member of the White House staff:11 During the first six months or so, the White House staff is not hated by the cabinet, there is a period of friendship and cooperation and excitement . . . After that, after priorities are set, and after a president finds he doesn’t have time to talk with cabinet members, that’s when the problems set in, and the White House aides close off access to cabinet members and others.

The development of the EOP has been contentious, particularly with members of the Cabinet. In particular, those who inhabit the White House Office tend to inflate their own importance. Sometimes, they forget that they should be exercising power on behalf of the president and do not allow for the ambitions, enthusiasm and ideas of others who serve him. James Pfiffner12 makes the point that ‘many of the most embarrassing blunders that have done the most damage to recent presidencies were not the result of external “enemies” sabotaging the president but resulted from the actions of loyal subordinates in the White House . . . [presidents] should be aware of what their immediate staff aides are doing in their names’. Aides tend to speak on the president’s behalf, placing themselves in between the man they serve and his departmental heads. Unsurprisingly, some of the latter have resigned because of their unwillingness to function in a situation where they are denied access and feel that their influence is undermined. Some observers would like to see a pruning of the powerful and yet unaccountable EOP, which they feel has on occasion been beyond presidential control. They argue that policy issues should be handed back to the Cabinet and the departments. But this is unlikely, for

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presidents prefer to operate via aides whom they can trust, for their loyalty is unquestioned.

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What you should have learnt from reading this chapter •

The Cabinet is not mentioned in the Constitution, although all presidents have had one. It comprises the president, vice president and departmental heads, plus other non-departmental heads who may be given ‘Cabinet-level rank’ and invited to attend Cabinet deliberations.



The Cabinet acts as an adviser body to the president, but he alone is responsible for decision-making; there is no collective responsibility. Whatever their initial intentions, presidents tend to make little use of the Cabinet – often preferring to lean upon alternative sources of advice within the Executive Office of the President (EOP).



The EOP includes bodies such as the National Security Council and the National Economic Council, as well as a range of other senior policy advisers and staff in the White House Office.

Likely examination questions How important is the Cabinet in US government? Examine the evolution and present importance of the Executive Office of the President. Which is the more useful to the president, the Cabinet or the Executive Office?

¡

Helpful websites www.whitehouse.gov Official White House site; provides updated listing of Cabinet membership and information re links to the EOP and White House Office www.usa.gov/Agencies/Federal/Executive Links to the various offices and departments in US government

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CHAPTER 11

Conclusion: The Presidency and Presidential Power Reviewed Contents The Constitution in practice The presidency in the twenty-first century How presidential power is constrained Limiting presidential power by constitutional amendment What else might be done? Conclusion

194 195 197 198 200 201

Overview The Founding Fathers created a system of divided power, in which it was hoped that the executive, Legislature and Judiciary would each act to restrain the other elements. Ideally, they would work together. As the system has evolved, there has been a more or less continuous expansion of presidential power, most obviously in the era of modern government since 1933. Yet many presidents have found that their initiatives and preferences cannot easily be translated into practice. They have to convince others of the merits of their proposals, their key power being that of persuasion. In this chapter, we review how the system has worked in the past and what changes might be introduced if it were considered desirable to limit presidential power more than it is now.

Key issues to be covered in this chapter •

• • • •

The presidency and the Constitution: the intentions of the Founding Fathers and the ways in which the office has been developed and transformed The impact of the George W. Bush years: a threat to constitutional balance? The accountability of presidents Constitutional amendments designed to limit presidential power The case for a single-term presidency

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The Founding Fathers deliberately created a presidency with limited powers. They envisaged an office that would be powerful enough to act as a balance to Congress, but not so strong as to overpower it. The president would be a kind of elected monarch, possessing personal authority, serving the common good and minimising the impact of factions or parties. Although independent from the Legislature, the president was expected to share power with it. To achieve progress and reform, the elements of government would need to work with one another in a spirit of cooperation. The president and Congress would each have powers to control the actions of the other. This was a circumscribed presidency, but even with the checks and balances in place there were Americans who were alarmed at the prospect of excessive presidential power. The framers of the Constitution deliberately handed the president some discretionary power, so that he would be able to act when the other agencies of government failed to do so and also to allow him to respond in times of crisis. To some observers, this was a situation fraught with danger.

The Constitution in practice At first, the presence of George Washington was reassuring to many observers. But more than 200 years of experience has shown that things have not worked out as planned at Philadelphia. Under the politics of shared power, sometimes Congress has had the upper hand. At others, the president has been able to impart real leadership to the nation and to the Legislature. The ambiguity of the wording of the Constitution has allowed for a broader interpretation of presidential power than many of those gathered at Philadelphia imagined. Whereas Article I, dealing with Congress, confers on the Legislature ‘all legislative Powers’ and then limits the powers to those ‘herein granted’, which are duly itemised, Article II grants the president ‘the executive Power’ with no mention of ‘herein granted’. The vagueness of the wording can lead to the interpretation that the president was given a broad remit to promote the national well-being, limited only by the specific constitutional restrictions. If this interpretation prevails, then the president is not

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confined to those powers itemised in the Constitution, but can exercise all the executive powers of his country. Many academics and commentators would doubt the interpretation of such ‘inherent powers’ or would wish to restrict the exercise of them to times only of extraordinary urgency and/or catastrophe. Certainly, since the days of Washington, presidents have often exercised such implied or inherent powers, and in times of national danger few would quibble about their actions. As Louis Fisher1 has explained, it is understood that the leader in the White House ‘may have to act promptly without clear constitutional or statutory support’. Over more than 200 years, the formal powers of the presidency have remained unchanged, but few today would deny that the office is considerably more important than when it was created. There has been an accumulation of power within the executive branch; this has not happened at a consistent rate; rather there has been an ebbing and flowing of power that nonetheless has resulted in a more powerful presidency than was ever intended. More active presidents such as Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Truman and Lyndon Johnson have exercised their political and constitutional powers boldly and vigorously in times of national difficulty, thereby developing the potential of the office and creating precedents. The development of a mature industrial economy at the turn of the twentieth century and the increasing involvement of the United States in world politics in the decades that followed placed new demands on the national government to which Congress was inadequately equipped to respond. Presidents such as the two Roosevelts and Wilson stepped in to fill the void. Domestic emergencies, international crises and the realities of leadership in the nuclear age and of the Western world have – in addition to a range of other factors – combined to enhance the presidential role, so that by the mid twentieth century the office had reached its full stature.

The presidency in the twenty-first century The Fathers had wanted to restrain and decentralise the exercise of power. But the experience of past presidents suggests that they have been able to exercise it not for their own self-aggrandisement or

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status, but rather to help resolve real difficulties and lead the country through to better and safer times. For Franklin D. Roosevelt,2 the presidency was ‘pre-eminently a place of moral leadership’. Adopting the phrase of one of his predecessors, his distant cousin Theodore Roosevelt, he believed that the office was a ‘bully pulpit’ from which the president could seek to appeal to the best instincts of Americans and show that in a democracy it is still possible to give people a display of vigorous leadership. Of course, our perception of presidents as too weak or too strong can reflect our own reactions to particular individuals. For many Republicans in the 1930s, Franklin Roosevelt’s programme and exploitation of the presidential office to implement it were deeply troublesome. They complained of dictatorial tendencies in the White House. Yet, armed with some historical perspective, Republicans today usually accord him a very high ranking in any listing of presidential greats or near-greats. The modern presidency has been criticised for being both too weak and too strong. Cronin and Genovese3 have explained the dilemma of presidential power effectively: A too-strong presidency jeopardises freedom. A too weak one jeopardises stability. An imperial presidency is not democracy, yet an imperilled presidency is equally troubling. The dilemma for any democracy is both to empower and to control those who govern.

In the post-Watergate era, some presidents have found it difficult to assert their leadership and to carry out the programmes that they promised the voters at the time of their election. Yet for many commentators, the experience of the George W. Bush presidency indicates that the office is too strong. Seeing the office as having been seriously undermined by the Watergate scandal and surrounding revelations about presidential misuse of powers, Bush consciously set out to reassert the powers of the office in a way that most of his predecessors had been unable to do. It was not simply a matter of restoring dignity to the presidency. As we have seen in Chapters 3 and 7, Bush adopted a range of procedural devices that enabled him to bypass Congress, from the use of executive orders and proclamations to the issuing of national security orders and the making of signing statements. As part of his

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conservative strategy, he wielded the power of judicial appointment to establish his nominees in key positions and also employed the device of making appointments in the recess to avoid the difficulty of securing senatorial approval. The events of 9/11 and the subsequent fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq placed America on a war footing. The attack on the Trade Center galvanised a presidency that until that moment had sometimes seemed lacklustre and inert. It provided the opportunity for George W. Bush to display qualities of leadership and take command, a situation in which the Republican-dominated chambers of Congress were willing to acquiesce. It enabled him to introduce measures such as the US Patriot Act that would have been unthinkable in different circumstances. Such an assertion of presidential leadership troubled some commentators and not only those whose leanings are to the opposing party. It may be acceptable – indeed arguably necessary – in times of crisis, but as Gillian Peele4 has observed, it sits ‘uncomfortably with the notion of shared powers and constitutional balance’.

How presidential power is constrained Cronin and Genovese outline three types of accountability to which presidents are subjected: • •



Ultimate accountability, which is secured via the draconian weapon of the impeachment process. Periodic accountability, which is provided for by the requirement of congressional elections every two years and a presidential one every four, should the president seek re-election. Occasional Supreme Court decisions may also impact upon presidential actions. Daily accountability, which is secured by the separation of powers.

In the system of shared power, constitutional authority and political resources are spread across the president, Congress and the courts. Governing responsibilities are shared and assertions of power are controversial. However, the presidential role is one of considerable influence within the system; in the words of Stephen Skowronek,5 standing out as ‘the chief point of reference . . . it is the executive

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office that focuses the eyes and draws out the attachments of the people’. But the president cannot compel others whose support he needs to carry out his wishes. He can articulate his goals and cajole congressmen in the hope that they will see the desirability and urgency of what he is proposing.

Limiting presidential power by constitutional amendment Throughout the history of the Union the fear has been expressed by some critics of the presidency that a strong incumbent might try to transform himself into a permanent one, in effect becoming a constitutional dictator by securing repeat election victories. The Founding Fathers did not limit the president to a certain number of terms, but Washington provided the precedent for two terms. Even if his own advancing years may have figured in his calculations, in his Farewell Address he specifically warned Americans against the danger of someone serving for too long. Jefferson6 also contributed to the convention of a two-term limit, writing that ‘if some termination to the services of the chief Magistrate be not fixed by the Constitution, or supplied by practice, his office, nominally four years, will in fact become for life’. Jefferson’s immediate successors adhered to the two-term principle. Indeed, prior to Franklin Roosevelt, few presidents attempted to serve for more than two terms. Grant sought a third term, but his party failed to nominate him. Theodore Roosevelt sought a third term (election for a second time), but this was after a four-year break and in any case was an abortive bid for the White House. The growth in presidential power in the New Deal years and in particular Franklin Roosevelt’s securing of four election victories led to suggestions that presidential power should be curbed. The Republican-dominated 80th Congress proposed a constitutional amendment limiting the president to two terms. The thinking was that, without such limits, the presidential position might come to resemble that of a benevolent dictator, lasting not for a few years but for a lifetime. Such a development would have transgressed the separation of powers and enabled the president to become so powerful that elections would lose their meaning.

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Critics of the four-term presidency understood that the length of time spent in office is relevant to the power that can be accumulated. An incumbent is in a strong position to be re-elected, but once it is known that the end of the presidency is in sight, much of the presidential armour appears weakened and the so-called lameduck phenomenon comes into play. This effect was referred to George W. Bush7 when, shortly before winning his second term, he told the media: ‘I’m going to come out strong after my swearing-in. We have to move quickly, because after that I’ll be quacking like a duck.’ The Republican proposal was ratified in 1951 as the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution. The effect was that a president and vice president continue to serve a term of office for four years. They may be re-elected to the office only once. Neither may be elected more than once, if they have held the office of – or acted as – president for more than two years of another’s term. A president may therefore hold the office for no longer than ten years in all (two fouryear terms plus one of less than two years, if he had succeeded to the presidency). Eisenhower8 expressed opposition to term limits, arguing: ‘The United States ought to be able to choose for its president anybody it wants, regardless of the number of terms he has served.’ Reagan supported repealing the Amendment, again believing that people should be able to re-elect a president as many times as they wish. He also added that there are times when a veteran president needs to be able to stay in office to see the country through a national crisis, as with Roosevelt in the wartime circumstances of 1940. Clinton9 did not agree with repeal, but would have liked the Amendment modified in a way that would have preserved the limit on two consecutive terms but allowed a person to stand again for election after an intervening term. A further attempt to limit presidential power was introduced by Senator John Bricker of Ohio in the same year. He wanted to make executive agreements subject to the same control as treaties. But his and later attempts did not succeed, although the Case Act (1972) did ensure that presidents had to inform Congress of every foreign-policy commitment they made.

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What else might be done? Some commentators, as well as some presidents, have been attracted by the idea of a single six-year presidential term. It is an old idea, first mooted in the early nineteenth century, but in recent decades Presidents Johnson, Nixon and Carter have supported it. They have suggested that, without the possibility of the president seeking re-election, much of the partisan atmosphere of political debate would cease and presidents would be able to concentrate on providing effective leadership rather than on avoiding steps that might endanger their prospects of re-election. Presidents would have a sufficiently long period in office to concentrate on developing and implementing their programme, six years being sufficient for policies to be tried and tested. Opponents argue that it is a good thing that presidents have to seek a new mandate after four years, for this keeps them sensitive to popular opinion and makes them think carefully about pursuing courses of action that might damage their electoral prospects. A second term also provides the party with the chance to dump an unpopular incumbent and seek a new face. In their view, four years is long enough to allow the voters to assess any presidential performance, allowing sufficient time for the president to make an impact and demonstrate the direction in which he wishes to chart his country. Six years might be too long in the case of failed presidents, any fixed time being, of course, arbitrary. For a good incumbent, if four years does not allow him to complete the initiatives on which he has embarked, there is always the chance of re-election. Six years might not be long enough in the case of someone who is performing well and would at present benefit from two years longer in office. A further and highly radical proposal was advanced by Arthur Schlesinger Jr10 in the mid-1970s. Writing just after the Watergate episode and in a decade when there was twice a vacancy for the office, Schlesinger was in favour of dispensing with the vice presidency altogether. He and other scholars who shared his view were unhappy about the way in which choices had been made by Nixon and Ford, whose nominees had not had to stand for election. Moreover, they saw the position as not only a pointless but even a dangerous office. A person is nominated for vice president for reasons unconnected with his presidential

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qualities and elected to the vice presidency as part of a tie-in sale . . . If he is not a first-rate man, he should not be in a position to inherit or claim the presidency. Why not abolish this mischievous office and work out a more sensible mode of succession?

Schlesinger et al. favoured allowing a designated Cabinet minister to act as president for perhaps 100 days, in the event of a death or resignation whilst the president is in office. There might then be a special election to elect a new president. If we believe that government should be of and by the people, then the way in which vice presidents who may not have been elected can inherit the position (as in the case of Gerald Ford) might seem offensive to democratic principles. But of course there is no provision for special elections, which would run counter to the idea of quadrennial elections as laid down in the Constitution. Moreover, it would create instability at the very time when stability is necessary (as on the death of Kennedy) and be an unnecessary change, for there is little evidence that the electorate is dissatisfied with those who take over in unplanned circumstances.

Conclusion In a nuclear age, presidential power may today seem greater than ever before, but this does not mean that presidents have sole power to promote positive change and implement their plans. They share power with a range of actors, justices, congressmen, party supporters, bureaucrats and lobbyists among them. To be effective, they must be able to deal with limitations and pressures at home and abroad. Above all, the most compelling restraint is the American people. Lincoln11 may have overstated his case, but the essential truth of his observation is difficult to question: ‘With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it, nothing can succeed.’ Presidents listen when the people send a message, either by not turning out to vote, splitting their ticket, changing their allegiance or by voting in a particular way when some controversial initiative is held. In his classic defence of the separation of powers, Madison12 wrote: ‘If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary . . . A dependence on the people is,

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no doubt, the primary control of the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.’ Congress, parties, the courts, the press, the Bill of Rights and an informed and concerned citizenry are all necessary if democracy is to flourish and there are to be adequate safeguards against the danger of arbitrary presidential rule.

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What you should have learnt from reading this chapter •

Presidential power is constrained by the terms of the Constitution and various political considerations, yet presidents from Washington onwards have found means of circumventing these restrictions. In their defence, they have relied on the inherent powers in the office that many commentators detect in the original document.



Following the example of some of his more recent predecessors, President George W. Bush was able to exploit the potential of the office by using some of the devices available and dressing them up under the broad umbrella of unitary executive theory. Because of this, the powers exercised could appear formidable.



If it is considered desirable to limit presidential power, this might be done by further limiting the time that presidents can spend in the White House, perhaps by opting for a single six-year presidency. Furthermore, the office of vice president might be abolished, thereby limiting the power of presidents to choose inappropriate people who are then within a heartbeat of the presidency.



Individual presidents have varied in their approach to presidential power, some seizing the opportunity to assert their influence. However, even those who have wished to deploy fully the powers available have on occasion found difficulty in achieving their objectives. All of them need to be able to persuade others of the need for the actions they commend, by skilful handling of Congress and congressmen, and the use of their rhetorical powers to appeal to the American people and convince them of the cause they support.

Likely examination questions ‘The presidency changes from season to season, occupant to occupant, issue to issue. We may never unravel most of the paradoxes of the American presidency. Strong individuals in demanding times, with the support of Congress and the public, can greatly expand the parameters of the office and its powers. Less skilled or less powerful presidents, in less

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demanding times, especially when facing an uncooperative Congress and an unconvinced public, can be weak and helpless. The presidency is a dynamic, elastic office. Its shape and powers change over time’ (M. Genovese, The Power of the American Presidency, 1789–2000). Is this an adequate summary of the power of modern presidents and of the presidency? The presidency today – imperial or imperilled? ‘Both presidents and Congress have occasionally overstepped their powers in recent years . . . yet the two branches do cooperate, and somehow the business of government does get done’ (J. Burns et al., Government by the People). Is this a fair assessment? ‘Presidential power should be more than the power to persuade, but less than supporters of unitary executive theory would have us believe.’ Do you agree? Is the idea of an all-powerful president a myth? Distinguish between the powers of the presidency and the power exercised by individual presidents. ‘Presidents hold a powerful office which is restrained by a range of historical, political and legal limits.’ Do these limitations seriously weaken the powers of modern presidents? ‘Presidential power ought to be diminished’. Do you agree? Should presidents be allowed to serve only for a single six-year term?

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Further Reading

T. Cronin and M. Genovese, The Paradoxes of the American Presidency, Oxford University Press, 2004. A thorough explanation of the presidency and presidential leadership, which explores the institution by presenting a series of paradoxes that shape and define the office. L. Fisher, Presidential War Powers, University Press of Kansas, 1995. The author presents historic and constitutional arguments against the post-war trend for presidents to usurp the decision to use military force, thereby violating both the letter and spirit of the Constitution. T. Franck (ed.), The Tethered Presidency: Congressional Restraints on Executive Power, New York University Press, 1981. A series of chapters showing the weakness of the presidency in handling foreign policy in the post-Vietnam era. F. Greenstein, The Presidential Difference: Leadership Style from FDR to Clinton, Martin Kessler Books (Free Press), 2000. A comparison of modern presidencies, showing the importance of individual skills to the ability of presidents to influence events and achieve their goals. William Howell, Politics without Persuasion: The Politics of Direct Presidential Action, Princeton University Press, 2004. As opposed to Neustadt’s ‘power to persuade’, in this important study Howell uses case studies to argue that presidents can act unilaterally, free from congressional constraints, using devices such as executive orders, signings and proclamations to make an impact. C. Jones, The Presidency in a Separated System, Brookings Institute, 2005. The author stresses the importance of the USA having a separated system in which the president shares power with Congress and the courts and argues that the institution can and does work. He explains how too exclusive a focus on the presidency distorts the picture of how national government really works, for, powerful though it may be, the Oval Office is not the source of all authority in government.

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S. Kernell, Going Public: New Strategies of Presidential Leadership, Congressional Quarterly Press, 1997. The author argues that presidents have in recent decades increasingly employed a strategy of ‘going public’ rather than relying on traditional bargaining in order to achieve their agenda. An appeal to the people can be a potent weapon, both for advancing a president’s own programme and for blocking initiatives from his political adversaries in Congress. Thomas Langston, With Reverence and Contempt: How Americans Think about their President, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995. Langston argues that the great and near-great presidents have abused their power and created unrealistic standards for subsequent presidents as well as unrealistic public expectations. Eleven case studies chart the trend away from constitutional restraints on presidential power and show how the president has become a ‘priest-king’. M. Nelson (ed.), Congressional Quarterly’s Guide to the Presidency, Congressional Quarterly Press, 2000. A leading reference source on the persons who have occupied the White House and on the institution of the presidency itself. R. Neustadt, Presidential Power: The Politics of Leadership, Wiley & Sons, 1960, and Presidential Power and the Modern President, Free Press, 1990. The 1960 classic, in which the author explains the weakness of the presidency and his belief that an activist president must employ ‘the power to persuade’ in order to achieve his goals. In his revised edition, the author confirms his earlier findings, arguing that the president’s position had weakened in the intervening years. James Pfiffner, The Character Question: How We Judge America’s Presidents, Texas A&M University Press, 2004. The veteran author tackles three aspects of presidential character that have caused difficulties for some recent chief executives since the times of FDR – lies, promise-keeping and sexual probity – recognising that flawed men can still be capable and effective leaders. J. Pfiffner, The Modern Presidency, St. Martin’s Press, 2005. An examination of the evolution of the modern presidency that concludes that it is not a powerful office. Echoing Neustadt, Pfiffner argues that ‘presidents cannot command obedience to their wishes, but must persuade others that their best interests lie with presidential preferences’.

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J. Pfiffner and R. Davidson (eds), Understanding the Presidency, Longman, 2003. A comprehensive portrayal of the presidency, containing chapters that examine traditional approaches and blend them with more recent scholarship. J. Pika and J. Maltese, The Politics of the Presidency, Congressional Quarterly Press, 2006. An engaging analysis of the increasingly political nature of the presidency, which examines the historical foundations and development of the office and focuses on the skills of its incumbents. It includes an assessment of Bush’s impact on the Judiciary and the domestic agenda. R. Pious, The Presidency, Allyn & Bacon, 1996. A useful and comprehensive study of the US presidency, its development and powers. C. Rossiter, The American President, Harcourt Press, 1957. A classic text that viewed the presidency as ‘one of the few truly successful institutions created by men in their endless quest for the blessings of free government’. A. Schlesinger, The Imperial Presidency, André Deutsch, 1974. The famous study in which the writer draws upon his experience of recent presidencies – in particular that of Richard Nixon – to show how the institution had become too powerful and insufficiently accountable. S. Skowronek, The Politics Presidents Make: Leadership from John Adams to George Bush, Harvard University Press, 1993. The author shows how circumstances permit some presidents to make an impact and produce change more than others, and stresses the importance of the political context in which they begin their presidencies. He elaborates on the concept of ‘political time’, in which he notes ‘the various relationships incumbents project between previously established commitments of ideology and interest and their own actions in the moments at hand’. S. Skowronek, Presidential Leadership in Political Time: Reprise and Reappraisal, University Press of Kansas, 2008. A re-visit to the ‘political time’ thesis, focusing on how it was relevant to the Clinton and G. W. Bush presidencies. The book takes note of recent innovations, such as the 24-hour news cycle and the development of the unitary executive theory.

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207

A. Wildavsky, ‘The Two Presidencies’, in Perspectives on the Presidency, Little, Brown, 1975. See also ‘The Two Presidencies Thesis Revisited at a Time of Political Dissensus’, Society, 26:5, 1989. The author advances his theory that presidents have greater discretion and can achieve more in foreign than in domestic policy, and then recants it in the light of changed circumstances.

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References

Chapter 1 1. G. Wasserman, The Basics of American Politics, Longman, 1997. 2. T. Cronin and M. Genovese, The Paradoxes of the American Presidency, Oxford University Press, 2004. 3. C. Jones, The Presidency in a Separated System, Brookings Institute, 2005. 4. S. Skowronek, The Politics Presidents Make: Leadership from John Adams to George Bush, Harvard University Press, 1993. 5. L. Koenig, The Chief Executive, Harcourt Brace, 1996. 6. E. Hargrove and M. Nelson, Presidents, Politics and Policy, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984. 7. As quoted in A. Gitelson, R. Dudley and M. Dubnick, American Government, Houghton Mifflin, 2001. 8. M. Genovese, The Power of the American Presidency, 1789–2000, Oxford University Press, 2001. 9. T. Cronin, Government by the People, Prentice Hall, 2004 10. Jones, The Presidency in a Separated System. 11. R. Neustadt, Presidential Power: The Politics of Leadership, Wiley & Sons, 1960. 12. A. Schlesinger Jr, The Imperial Presidency, André Deutsch, 1974. 13. T. Franck (ed.), The Tethered Presidency: Congressional Restraints on Executive Power, New York University Press, 1981. 14. H. Truman, as quoted in Cronin and M. Genovese, The Paradoxes of the American Presidency, and several other works. 15. Neustadt, Presidential Power. 16. W. Howell, Politics without Persuasion: The Politics of Direct Presidential Action, Princeton University Press, 2003. 17. A. Wildavsky, ‘The Two Presidencies’, Trans-Action, 4 (December 1966); repr. in Perspectives on the Presidency, Little Brown, 1975. 18. E. Vullami, Observer, 23 November 2001.

Chapter 2 1. As quoted in R. Ketchum (ed.), The Anti-Federalist Papers and the Constitutional Convention Debates, Signet Classic, 1986.

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2. E. Corwin, The President: Offices and Powers 1978–1984, New York University Press, 1984. 3. R. Maidment and D. McGrew, The American Political Process, Sage/Open University, 1992. 4. D. Webster, as quoted in D. Ericson, ‘The Federal Government and Slavery’, Studies in American Political Development, 19, Spring 2005. 5. T. Roosevelt, An Autobiography, Scribner, 1913. 6. W. Taft, Our Chief Magistrate and his Powers, Columbia University Press, 1916.

Chapter 3 1. F. Greenstein, The Presidential Difference: Leadership Styles from FDR to Clinton, Martin Kessler Books (Free Press), 2000. 2. M. Nelson, The Presidency and the Political System, CQ Press, 2005. 3. C. Rossiter, The American Presidency, Harcourt Brace, 1960. 4. S. Weissman, A Culture of Deference: Congress’s Failure of Leadership in Foreign Policy, Basic Books, 1995. 5. A. Schlesinger Jr, The Imperial Presidency, Houghton Mifflin, 1973. 6. As quoted in M. Small, The Presidency of Richard Nixon, University Press of Kansas, 1999. 7. J. Beatty, as quoted in D. Mervin, The President of the United States, Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1993. 8. T. Franck, The Tethered Presidency, New York University Press, 1981. 9. T. Cronin and M. Genovese, The Paradoxes of the American Presidency, Oxford University Press, 2004. 10. Greenstein, The Presidential Difference. 11. J. Hart, The Presidential Branch: Executive Office of the President from Washington to Clinton, Chatham House, 1995. 12. B. Rottinghaus of The American Presidency Project, www.presidency.ucsb.edu.

Chapter 4 1. A. Schlesinger Jr, ‘It’s a Mess, But We’ve Been Through It Before’, Time, 20 November 2000. 2. M. Vile, Politics in the USA, Hutchinson, 1978. 3. R. Strother, former Democratic Party consultant, as quoted in L. Rees, Selling Politics, BBC Books, 1992.

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4. R. Hague and M. Harrop, Comparative Government and Politics: An Introduction, Palgrave, 2004. 5. Vile, Politics in the USA. 6. J. Madison, A. Hamilton and J. Jay, The Federalist Papers, New American Library, 1961 edn. 7. J. Carter, interviewed as a co-chairman of the National Commission on Federal Election Reform, in Online NewsHour, 19 September 2005.

Chapter 5 1. A. Wildavsky, ‘The Two Presidencies’, in Perspectives on the Presidency, Little Brown, 1975. 2. T. Cronin and M. Genovese, The Paradoxes of the American Presidency, Oxford University Press, 2004. 3. As quoted in B. Schwartz, George Washington: The Making of an American Symbol, Cornell University Press, 1990. 4. L. Johnson, as quoted in B. Baker and L. Nixon, Wheeling and Dealing, Norton, 1978. 5. R. Byrd, New York Times, 27 July 1985. 6. R. Neustadt, Presidential Power: The Politics of Leadership, Wiley & Sons, 1960; see also Presidential Power and the Modern President, Free Press, 1990. 7. R. Rubins, ‘2008 Vote Studies: Presidential Support – An Unpopular Lame Duck Prevails’, Congressional Quarterly, 15 December 2008. 8. R. Evans and R. Novak, Lyndon B. Johnson: The Exercise of Power, New American Library, 1966. 9. C. Rossiter, The American Presidency, Harcourt Brace, 1960. 10. J. Burns et al., Government by the People, Prentice Hall, 1994. 11. Wildavsky, ‘The Two Presidencies’. 12. B. Marshall and R. Pacelle, ‘Revisiting the Two Presidencies: The Strategic Use of Executive Orders’, American Politics Research, 33, January 2005. 13. D. Lewis, ‘The Two Rhetorical Presidencies: An Analysis of Televised Presidential Speeches, 1947–1991’, American Politics Quarterly, 25, 1997. 14. J. Yates and A. Whitford, ‘Presidential Power and the United States Supreme Court’, Political Research Quarterly, June 1998. 15. B. Canes-Wrone et al., ‘Towards a Broader Understanding of Presidential Power: A Re-Evaluation of the Two Presidencies Thesis’, Journal of Politics, 70:1, 2008.

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16. W. Howell, Politics without Persuasion: The Politics of Direct Presidential Action, Princeton University Press, 2003. 17. T. Hames and N. Rae, Governing America, Manchester University Press, 1996.

Chapter 6 1. J. F. Kennedy, as quoted in R. Nixon, RN: Memoirs of Richard Nixon, Grosset & Dunlap, 1978. 2. T. Cronin and M. Genovese, The Paradoxes of the American Presidency, Oxford University Press, 2004. 3. W. Fulbright, statement to subcommittee on Separation of Powers of the Judiciary Committee, 19 July 1967, as quoted in B. Canes-Wrone et al., ‘Towards a Broader Understanding of Presidential Power: A Re-Evaluation of the Two Presidencies Thesis’, Journal of Politics, 70:1, 2008. 4. R. Maidment and D. McGrew, The American Political Process, Sage/Open University, 1992. 5. ’100 days into his Second Term and Bush’s Authority Starts to Dwindle’, Daily Telegraph, 30 April 2005. 6. A. Wildavsky, ‘The Two Presidencies’, in Perspectives on the Presidency, Little Brown, 1975. 7. Wildavsky, ‘The Two Presidencies’. 8. D. Oldfield and A. Wildavsky, ‘Reconsidering the Two Presidencies’, Society, 26, July/August 1989, in which Wildavsky describes the two presidencies as ‘time and culture bound’. 9. B. Canes-Wrone et al., ‘Towards a Broader Understanding of Presidential Power: A Re-Evaluation of the Two Presidencies Thesis’, Journal of Politics, 70:1, 2008. 10. T. Baldwin (House Democrat), as quoted in Badger Herald, 8 July 1999, as quoted in Canes-Wrone et al., ‘Towards a Broader Understanding of Presidential Power’.

Chapter 7 1. C. Jones, The Presidency in a Separated System, Brookings Institute, 1994. 2. J. Burns et al. Government by the People, Prentice Hall, 1994.

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3. S. Skowronek, The Politics Presidents Make: Leadership from John Adams to George Bush, Harvard University Press, 1993. 4. J. F. Kennedy, cited by J. Rosati and S. Twigg, ‘The Presidency and US Foreign Policy after the Cold War’, in J. Scott (ed.), After the End: Making United States Foreign Policy in the Post-Cold War Era, Duke University Press, 1998. 5. R. Hague and M. Harrop, Comparative Government and Politics: An Introduction, Palgrave, 2004. 6. H. Laski, The American Presidency: An Interpretation, Harper & Brothers, 1940. 7. J. Pika, The Politics of the Presidency, CQ Press, 2006. 8. M. Genovese, The Power of the American Presidency 1789–2000, Oxford University Press, 2001. 9. A. Wildavsky, ‘The Two Presidencies’, in Perspectives on the Presidency, Little Brown, 1975. 10. A. Schlesinger Jr, The Imperial Presidency, Houghton Mifflin, 1973. 11. T. Franck, The Tethered Presidency, New York University Press, 1981. 12. R. Neustadt, Presidential Power: The Politics of Leadership, Wiley & Sons, 1960. 13. R. Neustadt, Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents: The Politics of Leadership from Roosevelt to Reagan, Free Press, 1990. 14. R. Pious, The Presidency, Basic Books, 1979. 15. L. Fisher, Presidential War Power, University of Kansas Press, 1995. 16. A. Schlesinger Jr, The Imperial Presidency, Houghton Mifflin, 1973. 17. J. Nichols, ‘Arthur Schlesinger v. The Imperial President’, The Nation, 2 March 2007. 18. G. Peele, ‘The Presidency’, in G. Peele et al., Developments in American Politics 5, Palgrave, 2006. 19. C. Kelley, ‘Re-thinking Presidential Power – The Unitary Executive and the George W. Bush Presidency’, paper delivered to the Midwest Political Science Association, April 2005. 20. S. Calabresi and K. Rhodes, ‘The Structural Constitution: Unitary Executive, Plural Judiciary’, Harvard Law Review, Apr. 1992. 21. R. Barilleaux, ‘Venture Constitutionalism and the Enlargement of the Presidency’, in C. Kelley (ed.), Executing the Constitution: Putting the President Back into the Constitution, New York Press, 2006. 22. T. Moe and W. Howell, ‘Unilateral Action and Presidential Power: A Theory of Unilateral Action’, Presidential Studies Quarterly, 29:4, 1999.

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23. Kelley, ‘Re-thinking Presidential Power’. 24. ‘Signing Off’, nationalreviewonline, 28 July 2006. 25. P. Cooper, ‘By Order of the President: Administration by Executive Order and Proclamation’, Administration & Society, 18:2, August 1986. 26. C. Salzberg, ‘A Sign of the Times: Signing Statements and Executive Power’, Znet, 31 October 2006. 27. W. Howell, Politics without Persuasion: The Politics of Direct Presidential Action, Princeton University Press, 2003. 28. T. Hoe and W. Howell, ‘Unilateral Action and Presidential Power: A Theory of Unilateral Action’, Presidential Studies Quarterly, 29:4, 1999. 29. W. Howell, Politics without Persuasion: The Politics of Direct Presidential Action, Princeton University Press, 2003. 30. S. Skowronek, The Politics Presidents Make: Leadership from John Adams to George Bush, Harvard University Press, 1993.

Chapter 8 1. W. Wilson, Mere Literature and Other Essays, Houghton Mifflin, 1896. 2. A. Schlesinger Sen., as quoted in A. Schlesinger Jr, ‘Rating the Presidents: Washington to Clinton’, Political Science Quarterly, 179, 1997. 3. F. Greenstein, The Presidential Difference: Leadership Styles from FDR to Clinton, Martin Kessler Books (Free Press), 2000. 4. G. Healy, The Cult of the Presidency: America’s Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power, Cato Institute, 2008. 5. G. Wasserman, The Basics of American Politics, Longman, 1997. 6. A. Brinkley, as quoted in J. Taranto and L. Leo (eds), Presidential Leadership: Rating the Best and the Worst in the White House, Wall Street Journal Books, 2004. 7. J. Burns, speaking at Hofstra University on presidential rankings, as recorded in White House Studies, 3:1, Spring 2003. 8. H. Macmillan, response to a journalist when asked what is most likely to blow governments off course, as quoted in D. Sandbrook, Never Had It So Good: A History of Britain from Suez to the Beatles, Little Brown, 2005. 9. E. Hargrove, Jimmy Carter as President: Leadership and the Politics of the Public Good, Louisiana State University Press, 1988. 10. T. Cronin and M. Genovese, The Paradoxes of the American Presidency, Oxford University Press, 2004.

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11. M. Landy and S. Milkis, Presidential Greatness, University Press of Kansas, 2000. 12. T. Cronin and M. Genovese, The Paradoxes of the American Presidency, Oxford University Press, 2004. 13. Greenstein, The Presidential Difference. 14. J. Burns, speaking at Hofstra University on presidential rankings, as recorded in White House Studies, 3:1, Spring 2003. 15. A. Schlesinger Jr, ‘The Ultimate Approval Rating’, New York Times Magazine, 15 December 1996. 16. J. Lindgren, ‘Methodology of Rankings’, in J. Taranto and L. Leo (eds), Presidential Leadership: Rating the Best and the Worst in the White House, Wall Street Journal Books, 2005. 17. Greenstein, The Presidential Difference.

Chapter 9 1. J. Adams, letter to Abigail Adams (his wife), 19 December 1793. 2. J. Garner, as originally quoted in R. Tugwell, The Brains Trust, Viking Press, 1968. 3. W. Mondale, as quoted in D. Broder and B. Woodward, ‘Waiting in the Wings to Play the Lead Role’, Washington Post National Weekly Edition, 27 January 1992. 4. C. Dawes, as quoted in T. Cronin and M. Genovese, The Paradoxes of the American Presidency, Oxford University Press, 2004. 5. R. Reich, Locked in the Cabinet, Knopf, 1997. 6. T. Cronin and M. Genovese, The Paradoxes of the American Presidency, Oxford University Press, 2004. 7. W. Mondale, lecture on ‘The American Vice Presidency’, University of Minnesota, 18 February 1981. 8. W. Christopher, as quoted in F. Lewis, Mondale: Portrait of an American Politician, Harper & Row, 1980. 9. D. Shribman, ‘He is the very Model of a 2nd Fiddle’, Boston Globe, 2 February 2002. 10. As quoted in N. Gibbs, ‘Double Edged Sword’, Time Magazine, 30 December 2002. 11. J. Adams, speaking to Senate, as originally quoted in L. Wilmerding Jr, Atlantic Monthly, May 1947. 12. H. Kissinger, White House Years, Little Brown, 1979.

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13. L. Johnson, as quoted in D. Kearns, Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream, Harper & Row, 1976. 14. H. Humphrey, in ‘A Conversation with Vice-President Hubert H. Humphrey’, National Educational Television, April 1965. 15. S. Agnew, as quoted in Cronin and Genovese, The Paradoxes of the American Presidency. 16. Cronin and Genovese, The Paradoxes of the American Presidency. 17. S. Johnson, My Brother Lyndon, Cowles, 1970.

Chapter 10 1. As quoted in H. Goswell, Harry S. Truman, Greenwood Press, 1980. 2. H. Goswell, Harry S. Truman, Greenwood Press, 1980. 3. As quoted in T. Cronin and M Genovese, The Paradoxes of the American Presidency, Oxford University Press, 2004. 4. A. Richardson, The Creative Balance, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1976. 5. As quoted in T. Sorenson, ‘Advising the President: A Panel’, Bureaucrat, April 1974. 6. J. Erhlichman, Witness to Power: The Nixon Years, Simon & Schuster, 1982. 7. D. Quayle, Standing Firm, Harper Paperback, 1995. 8. J. Pfiffner, The Managerial Presidency, Texas A&M University Press, 1999. 9. C. Rossiter, The American Presidency, Harcourt Brace, 1960. 10. R. Maidment and D. McGrew, The American Political Process, Sage/Open University, 1992. 11. T. Cronin and M. Genovese, The Paradoxes of the American Presidency, Oxford University Press, 2004. 12. Pfiffner, The Managerial Presidency.

Chapter 11 1. L. Fisher, Presidential War Power, University Press of Kansas, 1995. 2. As quoted in J. Burns, Roosevelt: the Lion and the Fox, Harvest/HJB Book, 1956. 3. T. Cronin and M. Genovese, The Paradoxes of the American Presidency, Oxford University Press, 2004.

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4. G. Peele, ‘The Presidency’, in G. Peele et al., Developments in American Politics 5, Palgrave, 2006. 5. S. Skowronek, The Politics Presidents Make: Leadership from John Adams to George Bush, Harvard University Press, 1993. 6. T. Jefferson, Reply to the Legislature of Vermont, 1807, as quoted in M. Nelson, ‘Guide to the Presidency’, Congressional Quarterly Press, 1996. 7. G. W. Bush, as quoted in R Suskind, ‘Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush’, New York Times Magazine, 17 October 2004. 8. D. Eisenhower, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1956. 9. W. Clinton, as quoted in S. Bennen, ‘Bill Clinton causes quite a stir with talk of “modifying” the 22nd Amendment’, The Carpetbagger Report, posted 5 June 2003. 10. A. Schlesinger Jr, ‘Is the Vice Presidency Necessary?’, Atlantic, May 1974. 11. A. Lincoln, as quoted in R. Basler (ed.), The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln vol. 3, Rutgers University Press, 1955. 12. J. Madison, The Federalist Papers (51), New American Library, 1961 edn.

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Index

Bold indicates that the term is defined Abu Ghraib, 8 Adams, John, 15–16, 76, 162, 165, 169 Advice and Consent clause, 41, 77, 84–5, 93, 118, 126 Agnew, Spiro, 162, 171 American Dream, 58, 72, 150 Anti-federalists, 14, 25 Articles of Confederation, 10, 25 attack on Twin Towers/World Trade Center, 7, 8, 40, 103, 113, 147, 150, 167, 197 backgrounds of presidents, 67–8 Obama, B., 68 Bay of Pigs, 97, 105, 114 ‘bearded presidents’, 20 25 Biden, Joseph, 162 Bowsher v. Synar (1986), 129 Buchanan, James, 18, 21, 23 ‘Bully pulpit’, 22, 25 Budget and budgetary roles of president and Congress, respectively, 76, 81, 84; see also OMB Bureaucracy see federal bureaucracy Bush, George H., 70, 121, 132 Cabinet posts/use of Cabinet, 180 Congress, 83 84 domestic policy, 38, 92 elections and electioneering, 56 foreign policy, 98, 102, 103, 107–8 personal characteristics/qualities, 38 popularity and historical regard for, 5, 151 Vice Presidency, 169 Bush, George W., 39–42, 45, 46, 67, 70, 80, 94, 138, 155, 199 Cabinet posts/use of Cabinet, 178 Congress, 40, 41, 42, 43, 82, 84, 85 domestic policy, 40–2, 80–2, 84, 85, 91–2 election 2000, 8, 64, 65 election 2004, 8, 137

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electioneering, 61 foreign policy, 98, 103, 108–9, 112 Hurricane Katrina, 8, 9 imperial presidency reborn?, 112, 115, 127–37, 196–7; see also Neustadt, R., Schlesinger, A., unitary executive theory Iraq, 4, 8, 40–2, 98, 101, 103, 108–9, 127, 147 personal characteristics/qualities, 147 popularity and historical regard for, 5, 42, 143, 147, 149 relationship with Cheney, R., 162, 166–8 ,169 terrorist attack and impact on presidency, 7, 8, 40, 98 unitary executive theory, 8, 9, 10, 93, 111, 129–37 waning popularity, 42, 82, 113, 137, 145, 147, 155, 199 War on Terror, 8, 40–2, 103, 109 Cabinet, ch.10, 15, 175–83, 186, 187, 190–2 appointments to, 177–80 background of appointees, 178 departments, 178–80 Obama, B., 179–80 role and practice of, 175, 180–3 use by and relationship with presidents of, 5, 175–7, 180–3, 186 candidate-centred electioneering, 55, 72 Carter, James, 4–5, 6, 34–6, 51, 60, 67, 68, 69, 70, 100–1, 136, 146, 162, 165–6, 176, 177, 186, 200 Congress, 35–6, 82, 83, 84, 92 popularity and historical regard for, 146, 148, 149–50, 151 caucuses, 49–50, 72 Iowa caucus, 50 Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), 102, 105, 114, 125–6, 132

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Cheney, Richard, 127, 178 impact on Vice Presidency, 165, 166–8, 169 relationship with Bush, G. W., 162, 166–8, 169 chief diplomat, 99 chief executive, 76–8 chief legislator, 17, 42, 78–9, 94–5 Civil War, 18–9, 24, 25, 45, 119 Clinton, William, 38–9, 45, 46, 67, 70, 80, 115, 125, 132, 137, 188, 199 Cabinet posts/use of Cabinet, 178, 181 Congress, 38, 82, 83, 84 domestic policy, 80–2, 83, 92 election 1992, 55–6, 57, 60 election 1996, 60 foreign policy, 98, 103, 108 health care proposals, 38, 82, 89 impeachment, 4, 9–10, 38, 86–7, 94, 98 performance in office, 5, 78, 89, 94, 121 personal characteristics/qualities, 33, 39, 62, 150–1 popularity and historical regard for, 5, 147–8, 150–1, 157 relationship with Gore, A., 162–4, 165–6, 169, 170 scandals, 38–9, 62, 86, 87, 88, 94 use of media, 39, 58 Clinton, Hillary, 53 Clinton v. Jones (1997), 77 Clinton v. New York (1998), 81, 94 Cold War, 29, 44 Commander-in-chief, 99–102, 107, 109, 199 Congress, 59, 184, 185, 186, 187, 194, 195, 197; see also ch.5, 6 and 7, and Neustadt, R., Schlesinger, A. assertive/unassertive/relations with presidents, 3, 6, 13–15, 17, 18, 19, 20, 22, 23–4, 28–38, 40, 41, 42, 43, 79, 80–1, 82, 83–7, 88, 90–1, 92, 99, 142–3, 196, 197, 202 legislative role of president and, 25, 76, 78–9, 80–2, 83–5, 94–5 President and domestic policy, ch.5 President and foreign policy, ch.6 veto power see presidential veto and its override

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Constitution, 4, 14–19, 22–3, 32, 93, 127–32, 175, 194–5; see also unitary executive theory constitutional amendments, 88, 169, 184, 199; see also Twentieth Amendment, Twenty-second Amendment, Twenty-fifth Amendment on powers of president and Congress, respectively, 8, 12–3, 22, 30, 76–7, 88, 93, 98–102, 109, 110, 113, 118, 127–8 separation of powers, 3, 8, 32, 88; see also separated system of government constraints on presidents, 76, 77–8, 80–2, 82–9, 197–202 Coolidge Calvin, 3, 21, 162 Council of Economic Advisers, 187 court-packing (of FDR), 87, 93–4 crisis leadership/management, 19, 102–4 Cronin, Thomas, 5 Cronin Thomas and Genovese Michael, 2, 102, 150, 165, 196, 197, 204 Cuba, 97, 102, 105, 106, 114 Cuban Missile Crisis, 102 Democratic Party, 21, 38, 51, 53, 56, 57, 82, 89, 149, 178; see also references to individual presidents break-in party headquarters, 10 Domestic Policy Council, 187–8 Economy budgets, 187; see also OMB credit crunch/recession, 92, 42 Great Depression, 42 Eisenhower, Dwight, 2, 6, 30, 60, 61, 70, 80, 83, 102, 105, 114, 122, 171, 178, 182 Popularity and historical regard for, 146, 157 election of the president, ch.10 candidate-centred electioneering, 55, 72 method reviewed, 60–9, 71 qualities desirable in presidential candidates, 61 presidential debates 55, 73 ‘Super Tuesday’, 59, 62, 73 elections (presidential) and electioneering, ch.4

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Index

1952, 61 1960, 60, 61, 65 1972, 10 1976, 60, 69 1988, 38 1992, 55–6, 57, 60, 63, 68 1994, (congressional), 38 1996, 60, 61, 82 2000, 8, 40, 49, 57, 60, 64, 65, 66, 69, 149, 166 2004, 41, 61 2006, (congressional), 42 2008, 56, 59, 62, 68 Electoral College, ch.4, 17, 49, 56–60, 68, 72 close elections, 59–60, 63 relationship with popular vote, 60, 63, 65, 68 reform proposals, 64–9 executive agreements, 92, 99, 100–1, 114 Executive Office of the President (EOP), 33, 125, 126, 183–92 assessment of, 185–90 components, 186–8, 189 establishment and operation, 184–5 need for, 183–4 problems with, 191–2 under Obama, B., 189–90 executive orders, 18, 25, 45, 101 Ex-parte Milligan and Youngstown Sheet & Tube v. Sawyer (1866), 132 executive privilege, 34, 44, 77 Federalist Society, 128, 138; see also ch.8 Federalists, 14, 25 federal bureaucracy, 76, 77, 89 federal system, as check on presidency, 15, 88 Ford, Gerald, 6, 34–5, 67, 69, 70, 77, 83, 88, 92, 136, 137, 169, 180, 200, 201 gaffe, 88, 94 popularity and historical regard for, 5, 151 foreign policy, ch.6, 7, 8, 13, 21, 23–4, 30–2, 33, 35, 36–7, 38, 90–2 Founding Fathers, 2, 3, 12–13, 14, 42, 63, 66, 72, 93, 118, 119, 125, 127, 194, 195, 198 front-loading, 51, 72

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Genovese, Michael, 5, 120 Gore, Albert, 64, 65 impact on Vice Presidency, 165–6 relationship with Clinton, W., 162–4, 165, 170 Goldwater v. Carter (1979), 100–1 Grant Ulysses, 146, 198 Great Depression, 42; see also Roosevelt, R., Depression/New Deal Great Society, 31, 44 Greenstein, Fred, 28, 39, 144, 155–6, 158–9, 204 Guantánamo Bay, 8, 42, 137 Gulf War, 38, 44, 61, 103, 167–8 Hamilton, Alexander, 12, 15, 127 Harding, Warren, 21 Harrison, Benjamin, 3 head of state, 76 Hoover Herbert, 4, 21–2 House of Representatives, 67; see also Congress deciding presidential election outcome, 56–7, 63 elections, 68 impeachment, 9–10, 86–7, 94 relationship with presidents, 13, 109 Howell, William et al., 5, 7, 91–2, 101, 128–37, 204 Humphrey, Hubert, 170 Hurricane Katrina, 8, 9, 137 imperial presidency, 6, 10, 32–4; see also Bush, G. W., imperial presidency reborn, Schlesinger, A,. unitary executive theory Impeachment, 4, 9–10, 38, 69, 86–7, 94, 197 impoundment, 34, 44 incumbency, 69, 72 invisible primary, 59, 73 Irangate, 36, 45 Iran hostage crisis, 4, 102 Iraq/invasion of (2003), 4, 8, 40–2, 46, 98, 101, 102, 103, 108–9, 127, 137, 147, 167, 197 Jackson, Andrew, 3, 17–18, 22, 103, 180, 195

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Jefferson, Thomas, 2, 3, 15–17, 18, 44, 195, 198 Johnson, Andrew, 25, 86 Johnson, Lyndon, 4, 5, 32, 42, 45, 67, 69, 70, 77–8, 80, 83, 94, 100, 125, 126, 188, 200 Cabinet, 180 imperial presidency, 100, 121, 125–6 ‘Johnson treatment’, 84 popularity and reputation, 147, 157 relationship with Kennedy J., 162, 171 social programme/Great Society, 44 Vietnam, 4, 6, 10, 105 Vice Presidency, 162, 170, 173 Jones, Charles, 3, 5, 118, 204 Jones, Paula, 10, 87 Kennedy, John, 6, 25, 30, 42, 45, 55, 65, 67, 69, 70, 84, 94, 119, 123, 125, 169, 201 Cabinet posts/use of Cabinet, 177, 180 Bay of Pigs/Cuban Missile Crisis, 97, 103, 105, 114 foreign policy, 97–8 imperial presidency, 122 personal characteristics/qualities, 2, 33, 61–2, 67, 88 popularity, 148, 150, 151 relationship with Johnson. L., 162, 170, 171 use of media, 33, 58 Vietnam, 10 Kerry, John, 61, 67 Korean War, 101, 105, 114 lame duck presidents, 86, 94, 199 legislative role of president/use of veto, 17, 42, 78–9, 83–5 Lewinsky, Monica, 86, 94; see also Monicagate Lincoln, Abraham, 20, 102, 118, 195, 201 attitudes and qualities, 2, 3, 17–18, 19, 22, 35, 141 Civil War, 18–19, 24, 25, 45, 119 Proclamation of Emancipation, 18, 25 popularity and historical regard for, 118, 148, 157 Presidency, 18–19, 182

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line-item veto, 81, 94 Louisiana Purchase, 17, 134 Madison, James, 12, 15, 25, 128, 201 mass media, 53, 62 check on presidents, 88 elections and electioneering, 51, 55, 57, 58, 60, 71 use by presidents, 29–30, 37, 76, 122, 125, 150 McCain, John, 56, 67, 68, 108 ‘modern government’/‘modern Presidency’, 3, 6, 25, 120 Mondale, Walter, 165–6 Monicagate, 88, 94; see also Lewinsky, Monica Monroe, James, 18 Morrison v. Olson (1988), 129 National Economic Council, 188 national party nominating conventions, 49, 53–5, 73 National Security Council (NSC), 94, 126, 177, 181, 187 national security directives, 41, 45, 92, 94 Neustadt, Richard, 6, 7, 82–3, 90, 121–5, 134–5, 205 New Deal, 4, 9, 28–9, 31, 88, 119, 120, 125, 191, 198 New Right, 38, 45 Nixon, Richard, 6, 32, 44, 64, 67, 70, 77–8, 80, 121, 169, 170, 186, 200 Cabinet posts/use of Cabinet, 176, 178, 181 Congress, 83, 92 election 1968, 64 executive privilege, 34, 44 foreign policy, 97, 98, 100 imperial presidency, 125–6, 134–5 impeachment threat/resignation, 69, 87 popularity and historical regard for, 146–7, 151 Vice President, 171 Vietnam, 32 Watergate, 4, 10, 32, 87 Obama, Barack, 5, 53, 56, 67, 68 Cabinet, 179–80

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Index

Choice of Vice President, 164 EOP and White House Office, 189–90 Office of Management and the Budget (OMB), 126, 179, 185, 187 OSHA, 132, 138 Palin, Sarah, 56, 57 party leader, 79–82 party platform, 54, 73 Patriot Act, 41, 45, 197 Perot, Ross, 38, 54, 55, 56, 63 photo-opportunities, 55, 73 pocket veto, 80, 94 Polk, James, 17–18, 23–4, 182 Powell, Colin, 61 President’s Committee on Administrative Management, 183, 184 presidential debates, 55, 73 Ford gaffe, 88, 94 presidential effectiveness, greatness and success, 155–8 presidential power; see especially ch.1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7 and 11, and references to individual presidents constraints upon presidents, 76, 77–8, 80–2, 89, 127, 197–202; see also Neustadt, R. presidential primaries see primary elections/primaries presidential qualities/leadership, ratings; see ch.8, especially 155–8 presidential roles, 76–82, 98–104, 121; see also individual roles (chief executive, chief legislator, head of state, party leader etc.) presidential veto and its override, 17, 42, 79, 80–1 presidents and how they lose office see removing the president presidents, by background, 67–8 presidents, by popularity, ch.8 pressure groups, as check on president, 89 primary elections/primaries, 49, 50, 51–3, 73 advantages and disadvantages, 52–3 invisible primary, 59, 73 Proclamation of Emancipation, 25 proclamations, 41, 45, 92 professional consultants, 55 73

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Progressive Era, 20, 25 public opinion/polls, 71, 89, 147 Quayle, Daniel, 181 ranking presidents, ch.8 difficulties with, 145–50 effectiveness, greatness, leadership and success, 155–8 popular assessments, 150–5 qualities admired, 150–5 scholarly assessments, 141–50, 151–5 value of, 158–9 Reagan, Ronald, 6, 36–7, 42, 45, 57, 70, 80, 84, 92, 100, 115, 121, 127, 132, 155, 186, 199 Cabinet posts/use of Cabinet, 176–7, 178, 180 Iran–Contra scandal/Irangate, 36, 44 personal characteristics/qualities, 33, 58, 61, 144–5, 169 popularity and historical regard for, 144–5, 148, 150, 151 use of media, 37, 58, 150 recess appointments, 133, 138 removing the president, ch.4, especially 69–70 Republican Party, 23, 38, 41, 61, 82, 87, 89, 149, 178, 196, 197, 198, 199; see also references to individual presidents Riders, 81, 94–5 Roosevelt, Franklin, 3, 4, 6, 24, 44, 55, 69, 70, 80, 82, 90, 99, 100, 122, 134, 171, 199 court-packing proposal, 87, 93–4 Great Depression/New Deal, 5, 28–9, 31, 42, 58, 88, 119, 156, 191, 198 multiple terms, 198–9 popularity and historical regard for, 4, 5, 118, 156, 157 Presidency, 28–30, 33, 42–3, 44, 195, 196, 198 use of media, 29, 58 Roosevelt, Theodore, 198 approach to presidential power, 3, 22–3, 25, 28, 195, 196 popularity and historical regard for, 118 presidency, 20–1

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Schlesinger, Arthur ( Jr), 6, 32, 34, 120, 125–7, 134–5, 200–1, 206 Secretary of Defense, 101 Secretary of State, 99, 179 Senate, 67, 68, 100 deciding presidential election outcome, 56–7 impeachment, 9–10, 86–7, 94 presiding officer, 164–5 ratification of appointments, 41, 77, 84–5, 93, 99, 118, 126 relationship with presidents, 14–15, 41, 109 role in treaty-making, 93, 99, 100, 118 separated system of government, 3, 92, 204 separation of powers, as check on presidency, 3, 8, 32, 88 September 11th/terrorist attacks; see attack on Twin Towers/World Trade Center signing statements, 10, 41, 45–6, 111, 129, 130–2 Skowronek, Stephen, 4, 119, 136, 197–8, 206 State Department, 99, 178 State of the Union Addresses, 78 Superpower, US as a, 97, 115 ‘Super Tuesday’, 59, 62, 73 Supreme Court, 87, 88, 91, 197 appointments to, 84, 94, 164 election 2000, 65 judgments, 33, 77, 81, 87, 100–1, 106–7, 129, 131–2 Taft, William, 3, 23 ‘Take Care’ clause, 8, 10 term limits for presidents, 15, 198–9 six-year term for president, 200 Twenty-second amendment, 70, 72, 88, 199 terrorism, the War on Terrorism and its impact on presidential power, 7, 8, 40, 103, 109 Truman, Harry, 6, 7, 31, 42, 64, 70, 103, 122, 176, 195 Truman Doctrine, 104, 115 popularity and historical regard for, 5

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Truman Doctrine, 104, 115 Trusts, 20, 26 Twentieth Amendment, 94 Twenty-second Amendment, 70, 72, 88, 169 Twenty-fifth Amendment, 169, 175 two presidencies theory, 7, 90–1, 110–13, 120 unitary executive theory, 8, 10, 93, 111, 128–37 United States v. Belmont (1937), 106 United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corporation (1936), 33, 106 United States v. Nixon (1974), 77, 129 veto power see presidential veto and its override Vice Presidency; 57, 67, 200–1 choice of Vice President, 162–4 frustrations of role, 170–1 growing power/‘new’, 166–70, 171–2 relationship of presidents and vice presidents, 171 role, 164–5, 171–2, 201 status, 162, 165–70 Vietnam War, 4, 9, 32, 37, 100, 101, 102, 104, 105, 125, 126 War of Independence, 2, 12 War Powers Act, 101–2, 105, 107–8, 115 Washington, George, 2, 3, 12, 14–15, 17, 18, 76, 132, 175, 194, 195 waterboarding, 79, 94 Watergate, 4, 10, 32, 37, 39, 77, 86, 87, 105, 126, 176, 184, 200 weapons of mass destruction (WMD), 41, 46, 147 ‘Whiskey Rebellion’, 15 White House Office, 182, 186, 188, 189–90, 191 Wildavsky, Aaron, 7, 90–1, 110–13, 120, 206 Wilson, Woodrow, 3, 4, 17, 20–2, 28, 99, 118, 145, 195 Yoo, John, 130

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