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 structutre of checks and balances set up in the Constitution. Neustadt tries to evaluate the power of different presidents by considering three different areas which he feels gives power to presidents. The power of the president, depends on he says: the President's ability to persuade, his or her professional reputation among political insiders, and the public prestige the President has with the public. 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.
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).
Stephe Skowronek, another influential theorist on the powers of the Presidency, in his book The Politics Presidents Make, he describes presidents as being part of presidential cycles that establish "regimes," strengthen those regimes, then eventually destroy those regimes, leading to the beginning of another cycle. This idea of cycles, or regimes, suggest that there are common features that run through successive Presidents, similar values and ideas that they try to put forward. In Skowronek's view there have been at least five presidential cycles beginning with Jefferson: The Jeffersonians, The Jacksonians, the 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 an extremely conservative presidential 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.
When Roosevelt ran for president, he was the Governor of New York (Herbert H. Lehman, Roosevelt's Lieutenant, was then elected Governor of New York in 1932, Lehman is who the college is named after––somewhat more infamously now, also one of the Lehman Brothers formerly of Wall St.) Roosevelt advertised what he called his "Brain Trust" a collection of university-trained 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 the government, leading to a much more active government. The FDR administration is known for its first hundred days, where it created many of the institutions that defined the New Deal, but 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 intellectuals, overseeing the complex functions of the government. All of these offices, along with the office of the Vice-President, are "Cabinet-level," equal with Cabinet departments, and again, in many cases the presidents have come to rely on the advisors in the EOP more than the Cabinet. Since then, even 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 including the command of the military. In the post-war era, the office of the Presidency was reformulated into the role of maintaining global order.
After the war, Germany was divided up between the allied powers before being finally separated into East and West Germany in 1949. The period between 1945 and 1949 is a strange period of time because it is a lull in between the end of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union which continued on and off until the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991. During these four years the U.S. and Soviets were unlikely allies who slowly became bitter enemies. The Soviet Union exploded their first atomic bomb in 1949, ending a brief four year dominance of when the U.S. was the sole nuclear power in the world, after becoming the first, and so far only, country to use atomic weapons in war in 1945 against Japan.
In 1949, the Chinese Communist Party under Mao Zedong defeated the opposition led by Chiang Kai-shek, whose defeated Kuomintang party was forced to flee to the isle of Formosa, now known as Taiwan, an island claimed by the communists on the mainland as well. This conflict is still unresolved today. Republicans in the United States attacked Democrats for their perceived weakness towards the Soviet Union and blamed them for "losing China to communism" something they swore would not happen again.
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. 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 also 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 had conquered the colonial empires of the British and the French in the Pacific and Southeast Asia. This had the unintended consequence of creating nationalist movements in these countries that fought, first, the Japanese and then later the remnants of the European colonial empires. The most important French colony was the province of Indochina. France continued to claim a right to rule this territory after the war which it tried to enforce until 1954 when the 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 who filled the void of the departing French. Ho Chi Minh also appealed earlier to the U.S. writing several letters to then President Truman (1945-1953), invoking The Declaration of Independence as a model for what the Vietnamese were trying to accomplish in their own country. Truman never responded. The U.S. tried to support the capitalist South Vietnamese government, until 1963, when the CIA ordered their own puppet leader of South Vietnam to be overthrown and killed. This signaled the direct take over of the war effort by the U.S. (only 20 days later U.S. President John F. Kennedy was also assassinated in Dallas, Texas).
Kennedy represented to many, the kind of "New Americans" that were taking shape in a new United States, one that had now undoubtedly become a superpower that had tremendous influence across the world. By 1890, the U.S. had already become the dominant economic power in the world with more wealth than Great Britain, Russia, and Germany combined, but it took almost another fifty years until the U.S. became the dominant military power in the world as well (or arguably the second most powerful after the Soviet Union at that time). JFK was also, like FDR, a very media friendly politician. However, while Roosevelt was still limited to the technology of radio, Kennedy made great use of the television medium. It is around the same time that conservatives start creating the ideology of the "liberal media," to attack the credibility and reliability of the media mostly coming from the Nixon campaign who is running against Kennedy in the 1960 election and is the Vice-President under Eisenhower. Ironically, many of the claims made about Nixon turned out to be true.
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, in other words Eisenhower was a very moderate republican and in many ways tended to be liberal especially on domestic policy. In fact it was under Eisenhower the first school desegregations were ordered like in 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 was used as a justification. By 1968, over 500,000 U.S. military personnel were in Vietnam. The combined stresses of Johnson's domestic social programs and foreign wars began to take its toll on the American economy, which began to show signs of inflation, and the confidence in the dollar began to decline worldwide.
The United States became the dominant economic power in the world after World War II. At one point it was responsible for almost half of the world's entire industrial output. This was the material basis of the so-called "Baby Boom" generation in the United States, which reaped the full benefits of the U.S. post-war prosperity in the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s. It is during this period of time the mythical image of the American way of life is created. Often unacknowledged is the super prosperity of the U.S. during this time was primarily because other major industrial powers of the world were 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 was seriously 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.
During this period of time a book entitled The Wise Men (1986) was published, chronicling the events of several of the most influential political operatives in foreign policy (the term wise men of course also has religious significance). It followed the careers of six men: W. Averell Harriman, Robert A. Lovett, William Bohlen, George Kennan, John J. McCloy, and Dean Acheson. The authors spend the majority of the book convincing their readers that these men were non-ideological, bipartisan, in short "above the biases" of conflicts that normally characterize politics.
However, the notion that they were above ideology seems strange when it is so obvious how militantly anti-communist these men were. Harriman, McCloy, and Lovett all had connections with Nazis stemming from before World War II. These men helped create the "containment" strategy that was invoked in the Korean and Vietnam wars, and the coups or attempts at a coup in several countries including: Iran, Egypt, Greece, Turkey, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Colombia, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, South Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia, Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and of course Cuba (and many other states). Several other men were not included in the circle of wise men even though they had the same background, like John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State under Eisenhower, and his brother Allen Dulles, director of the CIA until the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961. Both so directly involved in overthrowing foreign governments and assassinations that including them as "wise men" would probably be too controversial. Another notable omission is James Forrestal, the last Secretary of Navy before the Navy and War departments were combined into the new Department of Defense after World War II, and became the first Secretary of Defense. Forrestal another militant anti-communist who was became increasingly paranoid later committed suicide in 1949, something covered up at the time.
It is reasonable to question how appropriate it is to call someone wise when they were unable to foresee that the consequences of establishing brutal and corrupt "puppet dictators" who oppressed their own people would one day come back to haunt the U.S. The term used for this by intelligence operatives is "blowback," and the most famous example could be the Iranian revolution in 1978-79 which began after enduring 25 years of the tyrannical Shah of Iran after a U.S. sponsored coup in 1953. Although many of these men were too old to play a direct role in the late 1970s and beyond, these same ideas were put into effect to train and fund men like Osama Bin Laden to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, and Saddam Hussein to fight Iran in the 1980s. Most Americans are not even aware of the huge death tolls as a result of U.S. wars in Southeast Asia, according to some estimates, almost 4 million Vietnamese killed and maybe more than 2 million neighboring Cambodians and Laotians. Between half a million to a million Indonesians were killed in another U.S. supported coup running parallel with the Vietnam war in 1967. If you add in the death toll number from the Korean War which, then you have almost 12 million Asians killed between 1950-1980, or roughly twice as many as the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust by the Nazis from 1942-1945, and about the same as all the people who died in World War II.
To label people as ruthless as this wise is not so shocking. In the 1980s especially there was a strong tendency to mythologize the American way of life in what can be seen as an attempt to break away from the terrible legacy of the Vietnam War, and a stagnant economy since the late 1960s, aided greatly by the ever-developing mass media industries which recreates history when the moment calls for it.
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 scandals during the Reagan administration. 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 has so far tried to adhere to a "consensus" approach to politics which has so far 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 has not had a clear majority in Congress. 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.
Assignment: Due 4/30 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.