Presentation on theme: "Prepared for GVPT 475 Instructor: James M Curry. There are three theories of presidential power… Neustadt’s “Power to Persuade” Theory Kernell’s."— Presentation transcript:
Prepared for GVPT 475 Instructor: James M Curry
There are three theories of presidential power… Neustadt’s “Power to Persuade” Theory Kernell’s Theory of “Going Public” Skowronek’s Theory of “Political Time”
Argues that presidents cannot lead directly. In other words, just because a president says he wants something done does not mean it will be so. Instead presidential power is a function of his or her ability to persuade relevant Washington actors that it is in their interest to cooperate. Assumes a small Washington community with identifiable leaders who the president can negotiate with directly. These leaders (whether legislative, bureaucratic, or from an interested group) can then marshal their followers in support of the president. This arrangement is known as “institutionalized pluralism”.
The system of “institutionalized pluralism” hinges on a couple of norms: Comity/Honor: Actors in the policy-making process are expected to keep their promises, act amiably, and general try to work out compromises. No one, including the media, is out to get anyone else. It is understood that everyone is working towards a common good, even if there are disagreements. Seniority: More senior members of Congress and of the bureaucracy are expected to be deferred to. These institutional leaders can marshal the support of others. Powerful, or successful, presidents are those that can bargain effectively with the relevant actors. FDR is portrayed as the most successful president in the world of institutionalized pluralism.
Kernell’s theory is a response to Neustadt’s theory. Kernell argues that the Washington community has changed since the time Neustadt wrote, and as a result changes in presidential strategies were necessary. Kernell argues specifically that the Washington community has become more individualistic, less hierarchical, less amiable, and harder to win the support of. Rather than being able to bargain with just a few members of Congress, a few relevant bureaucrats, and a few relevant interest group leaders, presidents now must interact with all 535 members of Congress, a vast bureaucracy, and an innumerable number of interested groups and lobbyists. Kernell labels this arrangement as “individualized pluralism”.
As a consequence of this new arrangement, Kernell argues presidents cannot effectively bargain within the Washington community. Instead, it is in their interest to “go public” or take their case directly to the people. The logic is that if presidents can win over public support they will pressure other actors, particularly members of Congress, to support their initiatives. Of course, Kernell does not believe that “going public” will always work. He presents numerous examples of failed attempts. Power, or successful, presidents are those who can effectively communicate their message and sway public opinion. Ronald Reagan is seen as the archetypical powerful president under this theory.
Skowronek’s theory of presidential power differs dramatically from Neustadt’s and Kernell’s. Rather than looking to presidential activity for indicators of presidential power or success, Skowronek looks to the political environment a president faces. Skowronek envisions American history as cycles of political time. Each cycle is marked by the rise and fall of political regimes. A regime, in this sense, is a party or faction that rises to power in what Skowronek calls “reconstructive elections”. In these elections, a faction or party soundly defeats the opposing party with a mandate to make dramatic and sweeping changes to public policy. Some reconstructive elections were the elections of 1800, 1828, 1860, 1932, and to some degree 1980.
Presidents elected as reconstructive presidents have the most leeway to take dramatic action and have the best opportunity to be powerful and successful. Subsequent presidents will have a harder and harder time finding success because either the platform the regime was elected to implement will slowly be completed, or the regime fall out of favor with the public. Eventually, the regime will fall by being soundly defeated by a new regime. Presidents at the end of a regime’s time will have the most difficulty finding success. To Skowrownek, presidents do not have complete control over their destiny. Their ability to be powerful is, to a large degree, a consequence of what has happened before their time and the political environment they face in office. Jefferson is portrayed as the most powerful president by this theory. Other powerful presidents were Jackson, Lincoln, FDR, and to some degree, Reagan.