The American Presidency

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    • 00:12

      Hi.I'm Stephen Wayne and I'm a professor of governmentat Georgetown University.And for many years I've been teachinga course on the American presidents,and that's what I'd like to talk to you about today.Every contemporary American presidenthas a leadership problem.

    • 00:34

      That problem stems from the fact that the president has limitedconstitutional and statutory authority,but unlimited expectations, and has made a lot of promises.And as a consequence, most presidents, over time,

    • 00:57

      disappoint a lot of the people who voted for them.And we judge our president in part by what he's accomplishedand how he exercises power.And whenever we have a president that we like, and he exercises,and he gets frustrated because he can't do something,

    • 01:18

      we blame it on the government.And when we have a president we don't like,and he does something we don't like, we say he's too powerful.So he's caught in dilemma.How did he get there and how does he get out of it?That's what I'd like to talk to you about today.

    • 01:40

      Now the original design of the American Constitutionwas to have a limited presidency.One, whose job would be to faithfully execute the law,be the chief executive.And two, whose job would be to be there in times of crisis,

    • 02:01

      and help defend our country with his commander in chief roleand his ability to call Congress into sessionto make the policy that needed it to guide the government.That original design was predicated

    • 02:21

      on two basic assumptions.One assumption is that we didn't needan awful lot of government.With an ocean to protect us, with a huge frontier,with unlimited natural resources, a nation of farmersdidn't need a heck of a lot of government.

    • 02:42

      The second assumption was that too much power in any oneinstitution was dangerous.So a system of checks and balanceswas put in where the president had,for example, the veto power.If Congress passed laws that usurp presidential powers,

    • 03:02

      the president could veto those laws.If the president acted and violated the law,the Congress could impeach the president.The president could nominate the judges, the federal judges,but the Senate had to approve those nominations.

    • 03:23

      So in each case, the president wasdesignated with limited powers, albeit statedin a very broad way, but careful restraints as well.Now as the government got under way,

    • 03:47

      the president actually became more powerful.In the Washington administration,it was President Washington who setthe contours of American foreign policywhen he couldn't get along and getadvice he needed in a specific wayfrom the United States Senate.

    • 04:08

      And the foreign policy making powerhas more or less resided in the presidencyever since, with the exception of tariffs and trade.Congress has reacted to presidential policyrather than initiated foreign policy.

    • 04:30

      But what happened also in the 19th and the 20th century,is that presidents got involved in the formulationof domestic policy.And this was a consequence really of probably two factors.

    • 04:53

      One, was the development of political parties.Political parties are very important to presidentsbecause presidents were the nominal leaderof their political party.And what political parties providedwas brethren who thought alike and had

    • 05:14

      many of the same interests and values of the president.So parties connected what the framers of our constitutiondivided.Parties provided President Jeffersonwith a friendly caucus in Congresswhere he could send his secretaries

    • 05:36

      to listen to their deliberations and perhaps influence them.And incidentally, and it's interesting to note,he was the first president to have dinner partiesat the White House, where he invited members of his partyor the other party, wine, dine, and lobby themat the same time.

    • 05:58

      President Jefferson also was the first presidentto use the party to appoint partisansto the executive branch of government.So in both ways, reaching out to Congress,and reaching to the executive branch,presidents use their partisan leadershipto overcome the constitutional divide.

    • 06:22

      And that contributed to their influence.Jefferson, Jackson, Abraham Lincoln,were all very effective partisan presidents.And what they did created precedentfor some of their successes.The second thing that enhanced the president's power,

    • 06:44

      particularly during the period of the Civil War, was crisis.Congress, the American people, turned to the presidentin time of crisis.And his power to expand and lead, at least at the outsetof the crisis, expanded his influence.So parties and crisis enabled the presidency

    • 07:09

      to do more than simply execute the law,and be there in time of emergencies.At the beginning of the 20th century,presidential power expanded.And that expansion was due to a different theoryof the presidency, first promoted by Theodore Roosevelt,and later followed by Woodrow Wilson,

    • 07:31

      that the president was a steward of the people,and should do everything he could for the peopleunless the Constitution and the lawsspecifically prohibited it.Theodore Roosevelt is the first presidentto propose a comprehensive legislative programto Congress, and then use his influence privately

    • 07:52

      to get it adopted.And publicly to go around the country behind his bullypulpit, and make speeches to mobilize political support.And Woodrow Wilson followed in the same way.And both presidents were our first presidentswho got involved in international diplomacy.

    • 08:13

      Roosevelt's won, in fact, a Nobel Peace Prize for his helpin settling the Russo-Japanese War,and Woodrow Wilson won the Nobel Peace Prize for helpwith the Versailles Treaty and the League of Nations.The next three presidents, all Republicans,

    • 08:34

      limited the president's power and limitedtheir expansive role.But Congress wouldn't let them go back to the old presidency.In fact, in 1921, Congress passeda law called The Budget and EmpowermentAct, which made the president responsiblefor an executive branch budget.

    • 08:55

      Now you may ask, why would Congress, a rival institution,given the power of the purse, so enhance the president's power?And the answer is that Congress wasn't thinkingof presidential power, they were thinkingabout something else, which we'vebeen thinking about ever since, and that is balanced budgets.

    • 09:18

      We had just fought World War I, and we allknow when you fight a war, you spend a lot of money.And our budget was unbalanced for only the second decadein our country's history.Congress thought all this red inkwould jeopardize the full faith and credit of the US

    • 09:40

      government and its debt.So they did what any other rational forward-lookingCongress would do.They put the finger on the president,and said Mr. President you get the budget in line.Which Presidents Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover did.They turned the deficit into a surplus,until the Great Depression hit.And for the most part, we've had deficits since that time.

    • 10:06

      There was a brief period under President Eisenhower,and also under President Clinton,and the first year of President George W Bushwhen we had a surplus.But we've continued to have pretty large deficitsever since.Roosevelt came in, Franklin Roosevelt,

    • 10:28

      during the Great Depression.He initiated a lot of public policyat a Democratic Congress.That policy became part of his New Deal legislation.And by the end of Franklin Roosevelt's presidency,he had done three things that presidents

    • 10:49

      hadn't done in the past, but wereexpected to do in the future.One, he had become an economic policy maker,and after Roosevelt, from then on,when the economy was broken, peoplelooked primarily to the president to fix it.If he didn't do a good job, as people thoughtJimmy Carter and George Herbert Walker Bush didn't, they

    • 11:12

      weren't reelected.Secondly, Franklin Roosevelt established,with the permission of Congress, an Executive Officeof the President, and established what we nowknow as the modern presidency.In today's executive office, thereare about 1,850 people who work in the White House

    • 11:35

      on the economic, domestic, and national securitypolicy staffs, with the trade agency,with the Bureau of the Budget-- now calledthe Office of Management and Budget.These are the president's people, and most of them,not all them, but most of them, do not require Senate consent,because they're the president's people who he nominates.

    • 11:60

      And that has a large and centralized powerin our government in the presidency.And the third thing Franklin Roosevelt didwas through the use of radio, begin to communicate directlyto the American people.Expand Theodore Roosevelt's bullypulpit so everybody could hear him.

    • 12:21

      And this not only added to the president's popularityand power, but it gave him a charisma,an emotional attachment, which enhanced the presidencyand, in the short run, enhanced his influence.

    • 12:46

      The constitutional system still works.And even though we expect presidents to do a lot,they have limited authority.They can nominate, but they can't confirm.Presidents have about 3,500 nominations and at least 1,500are subject to Senate confirmation.

    • 13:06

      Presidents can enter into treaties,but the Senate has to ratify the treaty.Yes, you can circumvent the treaty by executive agreementas President Obama has done with Iran,but an executive agreement is that.It's between the executives of two countries.

    • 13:28

      And once the executive changes, theycan not abide by the agreement.The president is expected to set the legislative agendafor Congress, but doesn't control the enactment.And during divided government, mostpresidential legislative proposals

    • 13:49

      are either not enacted or are modified.And while the president still has a bully pulpit, and onethat now is readily televisable and digital,and can be reached out, there are a lot of other peoplewho make a lot of noise in the environment.So presidents really have to shout out to be heard.

    • 14:12

      And they really have to create a national situation, usuallyspeaking before Congress, to gain the attentionof the American people.So presidents have a dilemma.They're expected to take the initiative,but in the domestic and economic area,they cannot by themselves usually take that initiative

    • 14:36

      into practice.They're expected to exercise partisan leadership,but they have to do so more of the timewhen government is divided than when it's united.And they have to do so in their second term, when they havelost power, because they can't run for re-election,and they're limited, and the power within their own party

    • 14:59

      begins to dissipate as that party looksfor a new presidential candidate.So what can presidents do?How can they meet these expectations?And it's interesting to note that presidential candidatesas candidates are their own worst enemies as presidents,

    • 15:23

      because they've done two things with regularitysince the age of television and running for offices.They've made multiple promises.Candidate Obama made over 500 promises in his 2008 election.And the press and the opposition keep track of those promises

    • 15:43

      and how they are fulfilled.And presidential candidates, alsopromise something else, which reallyruns against our whole constitutional structure.They say I am going to exercise strong leadership.I'm going to create these jobs.I'm going to give these people some power.

    • 16:05

      I'm going to have a more equal tax base.I'm going to try to reduce the incomegap between the rich and poor.But they usually don't add if Congress lets me.Or if the Supreme Court judges are to be constitutionalor not.So that's the leadership dilemma.

    • 16:26

      Great expectations, great leadership imagery,many promises, a long set of precedence,but constitutional, statutory, and political limits.So what is a president to do?Well the answer to that question is number one,

    • 16:49

      you're likely to have your best, mostfavorable partisan composition of Congress in your first term.So whatever policy change you want to make, do it then.Do it when you know the least, but move it fast.So that's one thing.And most of the major initiatives

    • 17:10

      of the Obama administration, and of the Clinton administration,and certainly the Bush administration.The tax cut under President Bush,the No Child Left Behind policy, and thenall the legislation after 9/11, cameat the beginning of President Bush's term, not at the end.

    • 17:33

      So you move it or lose it.Number two, when government control is dividedin your first term you articulate your positions,so that you have a campaign to run on whenyou run for re-election.And you use your power of suggestion,

    • 17:55

      and then your powers of persuasion,to try to keep the public behind you.As your term progresses, you begin to use moreyour executive powers.You issue what are called Executive Orders.These are orders to subordinates to do certain things

    • 18:16

      in a certain way.Presidents have difficulty making domestic policy,but they have a lot of discretion in exercising it.So President Obama, for example, issued an executive orderwith respect to immigrants who are here illegally,

    • 18:36

      that he wasn't going to export parents of children whowere born in the United States, even though parents came hereillegally.That question is being contested in the judicial system.But you see, Congress has problems with executive powers.They can override executive powers,

    • 18:59

      but the president can veto their override,and usually presidents have one more than one thirdin one house to sustain their vetoes.In their second term, presidents arelikely to have more difficulty with Congressthan in their first term.And they're likely to have more political opposition.

    • 19:20

      So what you do in your second term,in addition to issuing executive orders,in addition to making speeches, isyou do a lot more within the foreign policy arena.Where you have a little more power.Where you have the initiative.Where you have a lot of expertisein the executive branch.

    • 19:40

      And when there isn't an expectation, even by Congress,that you will take the lead.So going back to the initial question, of the president'sleadership dilemma, a dilemma createdby precedent and by promise.What presidents tried to do is move quickly,

    • 20:03

      take the initiative, try to have an effect,and then use their executive powers as time goes on.Most presidents decline in popularity in officein the course of their administrations.Within the modern presidency, the only two presidents

    • 20:24

      who have gone up rather than down in popularitywere President Reagan in his second termand President Clinton in his second term.Both had strong economies, and Clintonhad a backlash from the Republican impeachment.So we come into the presidency with great promises

    • 20:46

      and with great expectations.And more often than not we're disappointed,and the press is critical, and the opposition is critical,because they want to control the White House.Presidents are the most powerful figureswithin our political system, but the Constitution,and the law, and the political system,

    • 21:09

      normally limits those powers.Thank you very much.

The American Presidency

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Abstract

Professor Stephen Wayne discusses American presidency and the troubles American presidents face. The American constitution created a system of checks and balances, which limits power and can make it hard for the president to create change. During presidential campaigns, candidates make promises that they cannot enact without Congress and promise more than they could ever accomplish.

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The American Presidency

Professor Stephen Wayne discusses American presidency and the troubles American presidents face. The American constitution created a system of checks and balances, which limits power and can make it hard for the president to create change. During presidential campaigns, candidates make promises that they cannot enact without Congress and promise more than they could ever accomplish.

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