Strategic Assessments: Assessing Opportunities and Strategies in the Obama Presidency
33 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2010 Last revised: 31 Jul 2010
Date Written: 2010
In The Strategic President, I argued that presidential power is not the power to persuade. Presidents cannot reshape the contours of the political landscape to pave the way for change by establishing an agenda and persuading the public, Congress, and others to support their policies. Instead, successful presidents facilitate change by recognizing opportunities in their environments and fashioning strategies and tactics to exploit them. These conclusions lead us to predict that governing strategies dependent on persuasion will fail. The Obama administration provides an excellent test for these predictions, because it adopted two governing strategies highly dependent upon persuasion: going public and bipartisanship in Congress. In this paper, I analyze the prospects of these strategies for governing adopted by the Obama White House. I find that Barack Obama is only the latest in a long line of presidents who have not been able to transform the political landscape through their efforts at persuasion. When he succeeded in achieving major change, it was by mobilizing those predisposed to support him and driving legislation through Congress on a party-line vote. Moreover, it is entirely possible that the president’s failure to understand the nature of presidential power has undermined his ability to govern in the remainder of his term.
Keywords: president, leadership, agenda, persuasion, Congress, public opinion
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