Strategically Speaking: A New Analysis of Presidents Going Public
35 Pages Posted: 30 Jun 2008
Date Written: July 2004
A new approach to studying the presidency has recently emerged from the formal theory of American politics that is being applied to a variety of presidential activities including vetoes, unilateral action, and appointments. We use the phenomenon of presidential public activities to illustrate the contribution this new approach for our understanding of the presidency. We argue that it is a mistake to undertake an analysis of presidential activities like public speeches without considering both the political environment - specifically the preferences of important congressional actors - and the policy change being pursued (i.e., the location of the status quo policy). Abstracting away from the idiosyncratic features of individual presidents and embedding presidential public activity in the larger separation of powers system illuminates three different logics undergirding public activity, namely changing legislator preferences, claiming credit for the passage of legislation, and making veto threats credible. Examining presidential activity without accounting for the different possible motivations for going public or the fact that presidents are a single actor in the policymaking process operating under both institutional and political constraints risks overestimating presidential influence. We conclude that the new approach to the study of the presidency can illuminate important theoretical insights and improve empirical analysis.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation