The Presidential Leadership Dilemma: Between the Constitution and a Political Party.
The Presidential Leadership Dilemma's collection of new research tackles a timely and compelling question: can presidents reconcile their national and partisan responsibilities to lead effectively? Members of the other two branches must also weigh their constitutional and institutional duties with attachments to specific constituencies, but the president's version of this "leadership dilemma" plays out in full public view daily. While the Constitution largely puts the executive branch in this precarious position, which has plagued all presidents in one way or another, Julia R. Azari, Lara M. Brown, and Zim G. Nwokora argue in their introductory chapter that this tension "seems to push and pull with greater force in the contemporary era" (p. 4), due to high expectations for presidential power over the past century and the intensely charged partisan environment. If one agrees with the editors' premise that "leadership is the essence of the presidency" (p. 4), then it is indeed important that scholars sort out the endogenous (individual) factors in presidential success, such as the power of persuasion (Richard E. Neustadt, Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents: The Politics of Leadership from Roosevelt to Reagan [Free Press, 1990]), from exogenous (historical and electoral) constraints, such as "political time" (Stephen Skowronek, The Politics Presidents Make: Leadership from John Adams to George Bush [Belknap Press, 1997], p. 30).
Four of the book's chapters examine the electoral and legislative coalition-building challenges that dot these presidential minefields. Nwokora's contribution creates a typology of nomination pathways, illuminated by miniature case studies, to assess "which route places a candidate in the best position to navigate the leadership dilemma" (p. 35). Brown examines the challenge facing presidents as they endure and absorb their first congressional midterm election. Through a model of third-year leadership choices, Brown argues that presidential "opportunism" is key to short- and long-term success in reframing the president's national or partisan legacy (p. 64). Lilly J. Goren examines the leadership dilemma in coalition-building through a history of the automatic base closure process, highlighting how President Bill Clinton's aggressive "third way" leadership style contrasted with the more subdued roles of his predecessors and successors in the process (p. 114). Benjamin A. Copeland and Victoria A. Farrar-Myers focus on another side of domestic military policy in the history and repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" (p. 139). In addition to the obvious shift in public opinion over 17 years, they conclude that President Barack Obama has led the military and Congress toward his preferences more skillfully than did President Clinton.
Two contributions to the volume concentrate on the leadership dilemma in the exercise of formal executive power. Daniel E. Ponder operationalizes the public opinion and institutional ingredients of presidential leverage. Ponder argues that "to understand a president's place in the system, one needs to understand how that 'place' situates the president in relation to public perception and trust in the government as a whole" (p. 106). Christopher S. Kelley, Bryan W. Marshall, and Deanna J. Watts look at how unified and divided government shape the underappreciated "rhetorical signing statement" that comes from executive agencies and political advisors (as opposed to the constitutional signing statement, largely forged in the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department). Analyzing almost 1,000 statements from Presidents Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush, the authors show how significant differences "on the legislation, Congress's role, and constituencies targeted in the statements vary by divided or unified government" (p. 179).
The two remaining chapters explore how the leadership dilemma is omnipresent in presidential communication. Azari analyzes presidential speeches and news conferences during the first 100 days of the Clinton, Bush, and Obama presidencies to compare how each connected their elections to specific policy questions and thus created differing mandate narratives. She concludes that "once a mandate narrative has taken hold, it proves to be relatively 'sticky,' resistant to presidential efforts to recast the mandate as political circumstances shift" (p. 56). Finally, Nancy Kassop and Steven R. Goldzwig trace Obama's campaign rhetoric on counterterrorism policies through his presidential inauguration and early challenges with Congress to find that "although there was a perceptible change in rhetoric from his predecessor, President Obama's policy positions on detention, military commissions, domestic wiretapping, rendition, and state secrets doctrine have remained largely the same as those of the Bush administration, disappointing many of his own party members and other voters" (p. 195).
Overall, this volume has three strengths. First, for scholars, it brings a variety of presidential theories up to date with fresh analyses of the Clinton, Bush II, and Obama presidencies. Second, the book would be useful in an upper-level presidency class for undergraduates. The chapters are crisp and thematically connected through a repetition of the leadership dilemma theme as well as through tensions between macrolevel "structure" and microlevel "agency." Third, the book would also be an excellent graduate-level primer on qualitative and quantitative approaches for the field of presidential studies in defining and researching the topic of leadership.
The weaknesses of The Presidential Leadership Dilemma can be recast as suggestions to expand the discussion on its own terms. First, there is little direct attention to presidential power in war and budget making, an unfortunate omission because these crucial areas of shared power with Congress have devolved into tricky presidential burdens. Second, one could argue that the volume's premise and themes derive from a sense of "institutional partisanship" (Jeffrey K. Tulis, The Rhetorical Presidency [Princeton University Press, 1987], pp. 9-10), which occurs when scholars consciously or unconsciously adopt the viewpoint of a political branch rather than maintaining a more systemic perspective. In this sense, sorting out presidential failures and successes can be mistaken for reinforcing an impossibly perfect leadership, which can further fan the broader cycle of enhanced expectations and disappointment. Unfortunately, such a full-throttle assumption of presidential power and place has helped to undermine Congress and has paved the way for a host of presidential-led policy debacles. Finally, scholars should extend the leadership dilemma lens to comparative executive scholarship. Executives in both established parliamentary systems and fetal democracies must navigate the pulls of national duty and parochial pressure. For example, President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt was recently ousted in a coup because, in addition to other missteps, he failed to understand the multiple meanings of a 52% electoral majority.
University of Louisville
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|Publication:||Presidential Studies Quarterly|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Feb 9, 2014|
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