The Presidency: An Impossible Job?
White House photo in public domain
Dr C Harlen, University of Leeds
Recent Presidents Have All Failed
in Some Way
•
•
•
•
Military problems: Johnson, Nixon,
G.W.Bush
Economic problems: Nixon, Ford,
Carter, George H.W. Bush, George W.
Bush
Misconduct in office: Nixon, Clinton
Lack of policy knowledge: Reagan
Potential Explanations for Failure
• Faulty selection process
• Poor judgment of electorate
• Overly difficult job
Selection Process: Lengthy and
Expensive
• Candidates announce 1 year before
primaries
• Increased use of primaries instead of
caucuses.
• Frontloading of primaries
• End of reliance on public funding
• These factors restrict who runs
Does the Public Make
Inappropriate Choices?
President’s current roles: foreign policy,
work with Congress to pass legislation.
Overall: 25 of 44 presidents had Congress
experience (57%) versus 2 out of last six
(33%)
Governors mainly. Qualified to be
president?
Powers of the President Alone as Head
of State
• Slight similarities with governor’s role
• Commander in chief vs. control of state
national guard.
• Represents government.
Government of California photo in public domain
Powers Involving Work with
Legislature
Common
• Powers of appointment.
• Passing legislation with approval of
legislature.
Different
• Making treaties as head of state (+ 2/3
Senate approval)
• Governors often control issues public care
about most
Powers of President Alone as Head of
Government Not Involving Foreign
Policy
•
•
•
•
•
Granting reprieves and pardons
Convening State of the Union Address
Ensuring laws are faithfully executed
Wielding ‘executive power’
Appointing officials
Is the Job Too Demanding?
Jimmy Carter: Beginning and
soon after presidency
The Secret to Looking Younger:
Leaving the Presidency!
President as Head of State and
Government Creates High Expectations!
Source: U.S. National Portrait Gallery education use allowed
Mount Rushmore, South Dakota
As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain
Head of State Role Creates Great
Expectations
‘The president we get is the country we
get...’
Novelist E.L. Doctorow, 2004
Presidents Can Also Use the
Historic Presidency
As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain
Compared with Prime Ministers
• Less assured support in legislature
usually.
• Less unified cabinet.
Presidents’ Party Often Doesn’t Control Both
Branches of Congress
1951
53, 55
1961
1965
1969
1974
1977
1981
1989
1993
1995
2001
2003
2007
2009
11, 13
Truman
D
EisenhowerR
Kennedy D
Johnson D
Nixon
R
Ford
R
Carter
D
Reagan
R
G.H.W.Bush
R
Clinton
D
Clinton
D
G.W.Bush R
G.W.Bush R
G.W.Bush R
Obama
D
Obama
D
D
D
D
D
D
D
D
D
D
D
R
R
R
D
D
R
D
R
D
D
D
D
D
R
D
D
R
Varied
R
D
D
D
Challenges of the Presidency:
Managing the Government
• Over 3 million civilian employees, 1.4
million active military.
• 7,000 political appointments alone (a
government of strangers).
• No collective responsibility of cabinet.
Conclusion
• Presidents do not necessarily have or
need congressional experience
• Inflated expectations of the president
problematic.
• President heads large organisation with no
guarantees of loyalty.
• Lack of success not surprising.
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The Presidency: An impossible job?