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date: 23 October 2019

Introduction

Abstract and Keywords

This book addresses approaches to studying the American presidency. It also discusses presidential transitions and agenda setting, critical precursors to governing. It thoroughly examines the president's key relationship with the public, including the public's expectations of the president, the president's responsiveness to the public, the president's ability to lead the public, and the related topics of presidential rhetoric and the public's evaluations of the president. Moreover, the president as party leader, the impact of presidential legislative skills and public approval on congressional support, the consequences of divided government, and the role of interest groups in presidential politics are described. The article then covers the president's influence on the composition of the courts and the courts' checks on the president. Furthermore, it reports the key themes on the presidency, the efforts of different scholars to understand it, and directions for future research.

Keywords: American presidency, presidential transitions, governing, president, public, presidential politics, courts

The quantity and intensity of attention to the American presidency exceeds that devoted to any other political institution. And well it should. As the central feature on the American political landscape, it is only natural that scholars and commentators focus on the presidency. So much is written about the subject, in fact, that it is often difficult to know where we stand in our understanding of it.

We have designed this volume to help scholars assess where we are and the directions in which we need to move in presidency research. Never before has the academic literature on the American presidency received such an extended, and seemingly exhaustive, treatment. We have commissioned nearly three dozen essays that critically engage the scholarship on different dimensions of the American presidency. These chapters trace out common themes, debates, and controversies that define different areas of study; and, in one way or another, identify how recent research extends, corrects, or fine‐ tunes arguments and evidence offered by older works.

Each of these essays will quickly bring readers up to speed on scholarship on the American presidency during recent decades. The chapters in this volume, however, do not provide encyclopedic summaries of the literature. Rather, the essays critically assess both the major contributions to a literature and the ways in which the literature has developed. What are the major questions in a line of research? How satisfied should we be with the answers scholars have provided to these questions? To what significant questions have scholars devoted too little attention?

As this last query implies, we hope that this volume helps set the agenda for research on the presidency for the next decade. The authors of each chapter seek to identify weaknesses in the existing literature— be they logical flaws, methodological (p. 4) errors, oversights, or some combination therein— and to offer their views about especially productive lines of future inquiry. Equally important, perhaps, the authors also identify areas of research that are unlikely to bear additional fruits. These chapters offer a distinctive point of view, an argument about the successes and failures of past scholarship, and a set of recommendations about how future work ought to develop.

Organization

Although this volume is large, it does not cover every aspect of the American presidency. Nor does it allot space to those topics it does cover in equal proportion to existing scholarship. Most obviously, we do not focus on presidential elections, for the simple reason that other volumes in the Oxford Handbook of American Politics series cover them in considerable detail. The preponderance of this volume is devoted to issues of governance, beginning at the moment a newly elected president forms a transition team, develops a policy agenda, and prepares to take office.

Our essays do not necessarily reflect the balance of current scholarship on the presidency. We made difficult but important decisions regarding the importance of the questions that various streams of research address and their contributions to our understanding of the presidency. Other subjects, which we think offer particularly promising avenues of research, receive considerably more attention than they currently do in the existing presidency subfield.

The first three chapters of this volume focus on approaches to studying the presidency— in particular, those that utilize the methods of quantitative analysis, game theory, and American political development. These essays delineate the distinctive characteristics of these approaches, their strengths and weaknesses, and, crucially, the substantive insights they have generated into the presidency itself. We do not argue that these are the only ways of studying the presidency, of course. Over the years, important research on the American presidency has employed sociological, psychological, and legal modes of inquiry. Several of the substantive essays that appear later in the volume reflect the contributions of these approaches to understanding specific areas of the presidency.

As we mentioned earlier, our focus is on governing. We include chapters on presidential transitions and agenda setting, critical precursors to governing. These also are areas representing emerging literatures where scholars can, and need to, make important strides in understanding these critically important topics.

Modern presidents have frequently adopted governing strategies based on obtaining public support. We explore thoroughly the president's key relationship with the public, including the public's expectations of the president, the president's responsiveness to the public, the president's ability to lead the public, and the related topics (p. 5) of presidential rhetoric and the public's evaluations of the president. We also include a chapter on the mass media, the key intermediary between the White House and the citizens.

Central to every president's job description, and most presidents' legacies, is working with Congress. One of the most established areas of presidential research focuses on the White House's attempts to influence the legislature. We have included chapters on the president as party leader, the impact of presidential legislative skills and public approval on congressional support, the consequences of divided government, and the role of interest groups in presidential politics.

We have also commissioned three essays on the politics of unilateral action. In the last decade, the study of presidential power has undergone an important reorientation, as scholars have cast their attention on the politics of direct presidential action. We no longer strictly equate power with persuasion, with an ability to convince others to do the president's bidding. Rather, scholars have recognized, presidents use executive orders, executive agreements, National Security Directives, proclamations, memoranda, and any number of other tools to act, to remake the policy landscape, and to place upon others the onus of coordinating a response. Since 2000 alone, dozens of journal articles, multiple books, and a special edition of Presidential Studies Quarterly have set their sights on these politics. We think their efforts warrant careful consideration.

One could argue that the essence of the president's job is making decisions— about foreign affairs, economic policy, and literally hundreds of other important matters. We devote three essays to examining various influences on decision making. It is easy to describe presidential decisions but much more challenging to explain them. We know a great deal more about how presidents have organized their White House staff, for example, than about how these arrangements have affected the kinds of advice they have received. These essays should be helpful to scholars wishing to pursue research focused on the very heart of the presidency.

Similarly, every president implements policy. Scholars devote relatively less attention to this topic than to many others in the presidency field, but the White House's performance in both the recovery from the destruction of Hurricane Katrina and the occupation of Iraq remind us again just how important it is for us to increase our understanding of implementation. Thus, we are pleased to have two chapters devoted to this topic.

An increasingly critical relationship for presidents is with the courts. In the ongoing war on terror, for example, the courts have asserted themselves, placing new checks on the exercise of presidential power, and new obligations on Congress to either authorize or revamp unilateral actions taken by the president. Twenty years hence, we hope that scholars will have a great deal more to say about president–judicial relations than they currently do. Thus, we include chapters focusing on the president's influence on the composition of the courts and the courts' checks on the president.

Distinctively, this book also considers how presidents operate in the international arena and how the international arena, in turn, affects the presidency, areas of (p. 6) research that remain in their infancy, at least among presidency scholars. Certainly these topics have received extensive treatment in international relations, public law, and history. Until recently, however, presidency scholars have largely ceded topics that relate to international affairs to other disciplines and subfields within political science. Although they have assembled extraordinary datasets on legislative success rates, public appeals, and appointments, presidency scholars have paid considerably less attention to the many things that presidents do on the international stage: negotiating bi‐ and multilateral agreements, building international coalitions, waging war, imposing economic sanctions, and interacting with international organizations. Although such topics stood at the very center of presidency research in the 1940s and 1950s, with scholars like Edwin S. Corwin and Clinton Rossiter offering extended treatments of presidential war powers, they no longer do. This volume's section on international politics, therefore, recognizes the extraordinary range of actions presidents take in the international arena, an emergent interest among international relations scholars in domestic politics, and the possibilities this presents for presidency scholars to recommit themselves to studying topics of monumental importance to both the presidency and nation.

In the final section, four senior distinguished presidency scholars step back and take a broad view to reflect on key themes on the presidency, the efforts of different scholars to understand it, and directions for future research.

A Final Word

Over the past quarter century, the community of presidential scholars has functioned as just that— a group dedicated to the joint enterprise of increasing our collective understanding of the single most important public office in the world. It is our hope that the essays in this volume will help these and future scholars clarify the issues in existing research— its strengths, weaknesses, and tensions— and identify promising areas for new research. We are excited by the prospects for future scholarship and hope we have provided some of the tools to do the job.