Franklin Roosevelt is sometimes considered the first "modern" president because of the massive expansion in the power of the state under his administration. Although other Cabinet departments had been added to the government such as the Department of Agriculture created by Lincoln, the Department of Commerce in 1903, and the Department of Labor created during the Wilson administration, Roosevelt drastically increased the power of the president by enlarging the personal staff of the president, creating the first chief of staff and many other positions.
According to Richard Neustadt, in his book Presidential Power, the power of the President is fairly limited, due to the checks and balances in the Constitution. Neustadt evaluates presidential power by considering three different areas: 1) the President's ability to persuade, 2) his or her professional reputation among political insiders, 3) and the prestige the President has with the public, or popular support. Being stronger or weaker in any of these areas critically determines how much power the President has, or as Neustadt says:
Effective influence for the man in the White House stems from three related sources: first are the bargaining advantages inherent in his job with which to persuade other men that what he wants of them is what their own responsibilities require them to do. Second are the expectations of those other men regarding his ability and will to use the various advantages they think he has. Third are those men's estimates of how his public views him and of how their publics may view them if they do what he wants. In short, his power is the product of his vantage points in government, together with his reputation in the Washington community and his prestige outside.How would Trump, Obama, or any other President rate according to these criteria? Are they able to persuade Congress and even their own Cabinets to act? Do they have a good reputation among other people of political influence? Are they popular? According to Neustadt, their overall power derives from these three factors. President Obama's greatest strength may have been his popularity, but in many cases he was unable to persuade the Congress to act, while many political insiders like Hillary Clinton publicly questioned his lack of experience. On the other hand, for legislative proposals he was able to get passed, if you examine the details of how these proposals were passed, the President's persuasive ability plays a great role, even meeting directly with members of Congress to persuade them to vote a certain way. Although insiders may have questioned Obama's lack of experience, on the other hand, he had a good reputation as far as personal ethics went, unlike the Clintons and many other career politicians. Finally, there is good reason to think failure to pass legislation really originates from the Congress' refusal to compromise with the President on most issues. Both interpretations seem credible in their own way. Perhaps, a more critical question would be how well did the President use his popularity, especially compared to past President like Theodore Roosevelt, Andrew Jackson, FDR, and even Lyndon Johnson in the mid 1960s?
A President, himself, affects the flow of power from these sources, though whether they flow freely or run dry he never will decide alone. He makes his personal impact by the things he says and does. Accordingly, his choices of what he should say and do, and how and when, are his means to conserve and tap the sources of his power. Alternatively, choices are the means by which he dissipates his power. The outcome, case by case, will often turn on whether he perceives his risk in power terms and takes account of what he sees before he makes his choice. A President is so uniquely situated and his power so bound up with the uniqueness of his place, that he can count on no one else to be perceptive for him (Neutstadt p. 150).
Stephen Skowronek, in The Politics Presidents Make, describes "presidential cycles" in three parts: that establish "regimes," consolidate regimes, and destroy regimes, leading to another cycle. The idea of cycles, or regimes, suggest there are common features running through successive Presidents, that is, similar norms, values, and ideas. In Skowronek's view there have been at least five presidential cycles beginning with Jefferson: The Jeffersonians, Jacksonians, Republicans, the New Deal, and the Reagan era. Within each cycle, President's perform the role of Reconstruction (starting the cycle), Articulation (strengthening the cycle), and Destruction (ending the cycle beginning a new one). FDR, for example, is seen as beginning the New Deal cycle, articulated by Lyndon Johnson's vision of the "Great Society" in the 1960s, which ended with the Carter administration of the late 1970s. The end of the New Deal cycle has led to a conservative cycle beginning with Ronald Reagan in 1981. George Bush I could be seen as articulating that cycle (or arguably even Bill Clinton since many of his economic ideas were conservative) and perhaps deconstructed with George W. Bush. This would presume that the Obama administration has begun a new cycle, however some would argue that the conservative Republican cycle has still not ended, given the power conservatives still have over politics. In this case, Obama would fit into the pattern similar to Clinton, or even Nixon during the New Deal era.
When Roosevelt ran for president, he was Governor of New York (Herbert H. Lehman, Roosevelt's Lieutenant, was then elected Governor of New York in 1932, the college is named after Lehman––more infamously, the same family as the Lehman Brothers, formerly of Wall St.) Roosevelt advertised what he called his "Brain Trust" a collection of renegade intellectuals who analyzed data, did research, and created the policies that became known as the "New Deal," or new "social contract," between the public and government, leading to a much more active government, the modern welfare state. The FDR administration is known for its "first hundred days," where it created many of the institutions that defined the New Deal, less well known is the great expansion of presidential power in the late 1930s, especially as the U.S. begins to prepare for war with Germany and Japan. In 1939, on its second attempt, The Reorganization Act is passed by Congress, giving Roosevelt the power to create additional federal offices.
Once the president was given the authority by Congress, Roosevelt created several new offices within the executive staff, the Executive Office of the President (EOP) that forms the foundation of the modern White House Office (WHO) today. The executive office is headed by the Chief of Staff who runs the day to day affairs of the president and in many cases controls access to the president. Also, an earlier version of today's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) was created to oversee the expenses of the executive branch in the budget, as well as earlier versions of the National Security Council (1947) and the Council of Economic Advisors (1946).
In all of these cases, offices were to be staffed with scientifically trained officials, overseeing the complex functions of the government. These offices, along with the office of the Vice-President, are "Cabinet-level," equal to Cabinet department. In many cases, presidents have come to rely on the advisors in the EOP more than the Cabinet. Since then, more executive offices have been created like the Office of the Trade Representative (1962); Office of Environmental Quality (1969); and the Office of National Drug Control Policy (1989), as well as others.
After FDR was elected for a completely unprecedented four terms, many began to fear the growing power of the President. The 22nd Amendment was introduced in 1947 and ratified in 1951, explicitly limiting the number of terms a president could serve to two–or a maximum of 10 years if they assumed office as a Vice-President. In between this time, the Republican Party once again came to dominance which culminated the following year when Dwight Eisenhower (1953-1961), the Allied Commander during World War II, was elected President. Despite briefly winning Congress in 1952 when Eisenhower is elected, by 1954 Congress was still in Democratic control again, and would remain so for decades.
The major issue of the election was foreign affairs, specifically the threat of Soviet Communism. During World War II, U.S. propaganda referred to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin as "Uncle Joe" when the Russians were allies against the Germans. After the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, a new conflict emerged between the U.S. and the Soviet Union over the fate of Germany and the rest of Europe. By the end of the 1940s, the conflict had extended throughout the world. It is after this period of time that the U.S. begins to transition into the role of global superpower, a reversal of its traditional non-interventionist, or isolationist, position throughout most of its history dating back to George Washington's administration. The shape and design of many international institutions today are clearly influenced by the U.S. political system, as is the still vague notion of "international law." This has created impressive new challenges to balance the requirements of democratic government with the sensitive nature of geopolitical affairs. In many regards, the demands of specialized technical knowledge has only increased the distance between the government and the public.
The most traditional role the President has had is dealing with foreign nations, especially the command of the military, or "commander-in-Chief." In the post-war era, the Presidency took on the role of maintaining global order.
In 1950, the Korean War began after communist North Korean (supported by China and the Soviets) forces overran the South. The U.S. intervened. This was the first war the U.S. fought since World War II, only five years later. The war turned into a stalemate, after China and the United States both entered the war against each other. The inability to resolve this conflict, contributed to the Democrats' defeat. In 1953, under Eisenhower, a ceasefire was signed, today North and South Korea are still separate. 3-4 million North and South Koreans are estimated to have been killed, and approximately 1 million Chinese soldiers, in what was only a preview of the devastation in East and Southeast Asia in the ensuing decades.
During World War II, Japan conquered the colonial empires of the British and the French in the Pacific and Southeast Asia. The unintended consequence of this created nationalist movements in these countries, fighting, first, the Japanese, and later the European colonial empires. The most important French colony was Indochina. France claimed a right to rule after the war, until 1954 when communist forces in Indochina under Ho Chi Minh defeated the French, leading to the province being split into different countries: Cambodia, Laos, and most notably North and South Vietnam. The French appealed to the U.S. for assistance, filling the void of the departing French. The U.S. tried supporting the South Vietnamese government, until 1963, when the CIA ordered the leader of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem, to be overthrown, and eventually murdered. The US took direct control over the war (20 days later President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas).
In the 1960s, the conservative movement started to reassert itself after its devastating losses in the 1930s and 1940s. What had happened to the Republican Party in the 1930s was similar to the Democratic Party in the 1860s. It became so identified with something so negative (slavery, or causing the Great Depression in this case) that it took literally decades for it to repair the damage to its image. In the 1950s, a Republican president reigned, but Eisenhower had adopted virtually every major program introduced by the New Deal. It was under Eisenhower the first school desegregations were ordered, like Little Rock, Arkansas in 1954. In 1964, the Republicans ran Arizona Senator, Barry Goldwater against Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969), Kennedy's former Vice-President, and someone who modeled himself after FDR, even calling himself LBJ. Johnson won in one of the biggest landslides in American history.
|1964 U.S. Presidential Election|
At the time, in American political culture, there was a strong commitment among the public for social welfare policies and programs for the poor. Programs like Medicare and Medicaid were created under the Johnson administration as well as the new Cabinet Department, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Johnson also presided over the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, outlawing legal segregation and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Along with these landmark legislative acts, the "Civil Rights" Amendments were passed in the Constitution:
- 23rd Amendment (1961): Allows Washington D.C. to vote for president which previously had no representation in the electoral college.
- 24th Amendment (1964): Prohibits a poll tax, literally a fee paid to vote used especially in the South.
- 25th Amendment (1967): Establishes the presidential line-of-succession, like the 20th and 22nd amendments, this amendment reflects the growth of executive power and its importance.
- 26th Amendment (1971): Passed during the height of the Vietnam War, this amendment lowers the voting age to 18 from 21.
Three of these Constitutional amendments deal with the crucial issue of the right to vote in a democracy which was also the focus of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. However, electoral laws are mainly decided by the state, and there has recently been a determined effort by many Republican governors of states like Florida to "purge" registered voters from the voting lists and thus take away their right to vote under the pretext of preventing "voter fraud." It might seem strange that a party that claims to be working in the interest of the majority of people would put so much effort into reducing the number of eligible voters, and many liberals have argued this is an attempt to undermine the Voting Rights Act.
After Kennedy's suspicious assassination in late 1963, plans were set in motion to start the war in Vietnam in 1964, a fake assault on U.S. naval vessels in the Gulf of Tonkin was used as a justification. By 1968, over 500,000 U.S. military personnel were in Vietnam. The combined stresses of Johnson's spending on domestic social programs and foreign wars, creates inflation, and confidence in the dollar declines worldwide.
The United States became the dominant economic power in the world after World War II. At one point, responsible for almost half of the world's entire industrial output. This was the material basis of the so-called "Baby Boom" in the United States, reaping the full benefits of U.S. post-war prosperity in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. It is during this period of time, with the assistance of Hollywood movie magic, the mythical image of the American way of life is created. Always a suburban fantasy to a large extent, as many older American cities show significant signs of decay by the 1960s. Of course, it was basically only a fantasy for white men as well. Often unacknowledged is the super prosperity of the U.S. during this time was due to other major industrial powers of the world rebuilding from World War II. The two most dominant industrial powers besides the U.S., before World War II, were Germany and Japan. By the late 1960s, and especially in the 1970s, exports from these countries were eroding U.S. economic power. Arguably, the U.S. has never recovered from this and has pursued a series of artificial means of preserving itself largely through uncontrolled deficit spending, both public and private.
|Trade Statistics 1930-2005|
Bureau of Economic Analysis
The public assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, was echoed by the deaths of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, the brother of John, assassinated in April and June 1968.
Robert Kennedy had been the favorite in the upcoming Democratic primary for the election in November. Instead, they nominated pro-war Hubert Humphrey. Republican Richard Nixon was elected president in 1968, and re-elected again in 1972, although the illegal tactics used during his re-election, such as Watergate, would lead to his downfall and resignation in 1974, the only president so far to resign in office.
A major factor was that after 1964, the Democratic party largely lost the Southern vote to Republicans. The Democrats had been a force in the South since the founding of the party in the 1790s. Johnson reportedly remarked as he was signing the Civil Rights Act in 1964, "we have lost the South for a generation." Many have accused Nixon and other Republican presidential candidates as playing to Southern racism without being explicit about it, sometimes called "symbolic racism" or "institutional racism."
|1968 U.S. Presidential Election|
George Wallace was a segregationist third party candidate
In 1968, Nixon had won the Republican primary against a number of challengers including Ronald Reagan, the Governor of California. After three attempts, Reagan would be elected president in 1980, thus signaling a backlash against the progressive values of the 1960s and 70s.
The Reagan administration was defined by the phrase "government is the problem" and tried to eliminate most government regulations of business. Despite claims to reduce the deficit, the budget deficit of the federal government tripled through the decade, along with an increasing trade deficit growing rapidly since the 1970s.
The budget deficit grew largely because of a combination of increased military spending and significant tax cuts given to the highest income brackets in the country. Reagan was later forced to reverse many of these tax cuts and ended up raising taxes several times. Much of the increased military spending was used to finance covert wars in Latin America and the Middle East, but also to "outspend" the Russians on defense, a process that some believe helped pushed the Soviet Union into its downward spiral.
The trade deficit continued to grow in the face of competition from Germany and Japan after the 1960s, and the inability of major U.S. corporations like General Motors to adapt and innovate their product designs, as well as decreasing quality in the automobiles, compounded by multiple Arab oil embargoes in 1973 and 1979. Despite advances in several high-tech U.S. industries revolving around the emerging computer industry in the 1980s, the U.S.'s overall trade deficit continues to rise even today. This did not prevent President Reagan from winning the largest landslide in American history, over a weak Democratic party, still haunted by its past. Despite this, the House of Representatives maintained a Democratic majority throughout the entire Reagan administration. The Senate was recaptured for the first time in 30 years by the Republicans in 1980, but reverted back to Democratic control in 1986 after numerous Reagan scandals. It was not until 1994 when Republicans were able to take both houses of Congress and hold on to them for more than one election.
|1984 U.S. Presidential Election|
The U.S. economy grew during the Reagan administration, but the distribution of the wealth is concentrated in fewer hands. Poverty increased during the Reagan administration at the same time in which scandals emerged over Reagan's administration misallocating funds for the poor (literally stealing from the poor to give to the rich) and secret funding of right-wing "contras" in Nicaragua. Many commentators pronounced the return of the "Gilded Age."
In 2008 the biggest stock market crash since the Great Depression occurred resulting from financial speculation in the U.S. housing markets. This was in large part a result of the "deregulation" of the financial industry beginning in the 1980s, overturning laws established in the 1930, but it was the repeal of legislation separating commercial and investment banks, signed into law by Bill Clinton, that many economists argue greatly increased the magnitude of this crisis. Unlike the Great Depression which began in the middle of a Republican administration and helped to discredit the Republicans for more than 40 years, this one exploded, or was timed to explode, shortly before a presidential election, the 2008 election which saw the election of Barack Obama.
|2008 U.S. Presidential Election|
"Battleground" states are states that do not have either a solid Republican or Democratic majority
In many regards the divisions into North and South regions still exists
President Obama tried to adhere to a "consensus" approach to politics which produced mixed results at best. Much like Jefferson, another controversial figure of his time, appeals to the unity between Federalists and Republicans, Obama has in many of his speeches appealed to common sentiments between Democrats and Republicans. However, unlike Jefferson whose party came to dominate politics in America, the Obama administration did not have a clear majority in Congress (at least since 2011). As a result, he has had great difficulty in getting legislation passed, although, despite this opposition, some of the signature legislation passed during this time were the economic stimulus program in 2009 that supporters argue helped avert another great depression, the Dodd-Frank bill that provides some limited oversight and regulation of the financial industry, and the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as "Obamacare." The ability of Congress to limit the President is a function of the system of checks and balances, as intended in the Constitution, but as critics have pointed out, often this system creates paralysis in government.
President Obama, for obvious ideological reasons, seeks to portray himself in the lineage of Jefferson and Lincoln. Obama addresses the issue of race in a way Lincoln never could by drawing upon his own experiences with racism, especially as a child of mixed race who has insight into the attitudes of whites and blacks, in his speech on race, considered by many to be his best speech.
As most Democrats look to the New Deal era of FDR and LBJ as the high-point of the Democratic party in the modern era, he has tried to expand upon these policies. Most notably, healthcare which Roosevelt declared was a right, and advanced by Johnson who established Medicare and Medicaid. The current president has also kept in place the coercive and surveillance apparatus created during the Bush administration to fight the "war on terror."
Although winning the election of 2012, it is obvious that the Obama administration has been unable to achieve the massive victories that other Presidents were able to, notably: FDR, LBJ, Nixon and Reagan. Note also the similarities between the election results of the previous election, and the changes in certain "battleground states." Although President Obama has presided over one of the most polarized presidential administrations, it is likely the incumbent after the 2016 election may face an even more embattled presidency, as the intense political and social antagonisms that run through American life, and reflected in its government, show no signs of relaxing.
After the 2016 election, what lessons can be drawn? If we think of each election as a specific outcome, what explanations or what causes can we find that gives us a clear understanding? First, racism, sexism, homophobia, and bigotry in general play a role in every election. If you look at the number of votes, less people voted for Trump than voted for Mitt Romney or Bush in 2004, so the notion of a white backlash might not be as strong as people think, the real question is why did so few people vote for Hillary Clinton? As we all know, Trump lost the popular vote, and both candidates failed to get a majority of the popular vote (about 48% each). Trump won in many Mid-West states that have been particularly hard hit by economic policies over the last 20-30 years, and many feel it was Trump's vague promises of bringing jobs back that won his support even among unionized workers who normally vote Democratic and who voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012 (Clinton won just over half of union workers). Trump also did surprisingly well among minority voters, "According to exit polls, Trump lost Hispanics 65–29, besting the performance of the mild-mannered and courtly Mitt Romney, who, despite being about as likely to utter an ethnic slur as Pope Francis, lost Hispanics 72–27." To get almost 30 percent of the vote is pretty astounding considering Trump's racial rhetoric. Also:
"With blacks, exit polls show Trump claimed 8 percent of the vote to the previous Republican nominee's 6 percent.
That means Trump — who called Mexicans "rapists" and "killers" — garnered more support from Hispanics than a candidate whose most controversial position was telling undocumented immigrants to "self-deport."
Trump has frequently linked blacks to "inner city" slums and crime at rallies. Yet he performed better among African American voters than a considerably more moderate Republican nominee."
The electoral college also amplifies the influence of certain states and regions of the country, and so by losing all those industrial states, Clinton lost just enough electoral votes to put Trump over the top, even though again as in 2000 winning the popular vote. Voter suppression in states like Florida and North Carolina most likely played a role as well. Democracy Now states that almost 900 polling places were closed between the 2012 and 2016 election, making it harder to vote, increasing the wait time at some places, as well as other restrictions designed to make it harder to vote. I think the lingering question though, is what would have happened if Bernie Sanders ran against Trump, would he have won? Also, how will Democrats in Congress fight against Trump and a Republican majority in Congress? During the first years of the Obama administration, Republicans were able to stall most legislative attempts because the Democrats lacked a 60 vote "supermajority," something the Republicans lack now. Democrats in the Senate, including Bernie Sanders, will have to play this role now, and to some extent have.
After two years, Trump got his Muslim ban through the courts. His immigration policy is being carried out every day, something carried on under Democrats as well. He has pushed through another massive tax cut with no public debate. He has had little resistance in Cabinet, judicial, or other appointments including Gina Haspel. The now filled Supreme Court has already made several decisions restricting civil, political, and social rights. He made the Democrats cave in over funding the government without providing funding for DACA. Many Democrats voted for his appointments, his tax bill, and lifting regulations on banks, as well as increases in military spending (which would be affected by a government shutdown). Again, this is helped by a Republican majority, but where are all the Democrats ready to filibuster, where is the so-called resistance? If anything, the most common complaint is that Trump is not displaying enough militaristic strength with Vladimir Putin. It would seem Trump is a fairly powerful president in Neustadt's terms, but where does the source of his strength lie?
Assignment: Choose a passage from the speeches by JFK, Reagan, or Obama. Write out the passage, explain the meaning of it, and why you chose this particular passage.