Monday, February 14, 2011

Presidential Weakness

Matthew Dickinson, deep in the Jimmy Carter archives, has an excellent post on the weakness of the president within the presidential branch. As he points out, in many (most?) cases presidents wind up only choosing from a menu of choices delivered by others. One way to think about it is how easily an incurious president can be manipulated by others; another way is to remember that even a president who is very good at expanding his influence is going to have to be careful about how he uses his time, and is going to rely on staff in many cases. I like how John Sides puts it:
It is common not only to overestimate the influence that the president has on public opinion and policy, but to overestimate the influence the president has on even the decisions that he does make.
And remember, Dickinson's example about Executive Office of the Presidency reorganization is in some ways an extreme case: the president really does have very broad authority within the White House, and the people who work there have no dual loyalties to Congress, or to long-term civil servants (as do cabinet secretaries and other presidential appointees in the executive branch).

Indeed, it may be worse for Barack Obama than it was for Jimmy Carter. There's no one in Obama's White House, at least not at the senior levels, whose career is as tied to Obama as Hamilton Jordan's was to Jimmy Carter. Virtually all of Carter's top White House staff were long-time Carter loyalists, and few had similar ties to the Democratic Party or to interest groups. That was generally true for presidents from Kennedy through Carter. These days, a more typical White House staffer would be Rahm Emanuel or, perhaps, Rob Nabors -- people who have worked for a succession of different politicians from their party, often with White House experience from a previous administration. Institutionally, the White House staff is still loyal to only the president, but personally Obama's White House staff is likely to have a strong loyalty to the Democratic Party (although, to be sure, working for a president will usually lead one to conflate the two).

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Who links to my website?