Tuesday, November 23, 2004

The Partisan Presidency

Political scientists have tended to view the Modern Presidency as the enemy of strong parties. Through an “objective” media, presidents appeal directly to voters, over the heads of party leaders, seeking a non-partisan image. They build ad hoc coalitions of support in Congress without regard to party lines. They preside over an executive branch staffed by non-partisan experts, more interested in policy than politics. Presidents show little interest in their party’s performance in down-ballot races, let along its long-term fate.

All of these propositions held true for presidents of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, especially Eisenhower, Johnson and Carter. But since 1980, we have seen the rise of a new kind of presidency – a Partisan Presidency.

The following statements apply to the last four presidents, but most especially to Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush:· “Partisan Presidents” have polarized the electorate along partisan lines to an extent unimaginable a generation ago, experiencing an “approval gap” of 40 points or more. (The “approval gap” is the difference between the approval given to a president by his partisans, as opposed to that given by members of the other party. Relatively few members of the other party have voted for them.· (Even Reagan's 1984 performance, winning 1/4 of all Democrats, was well below Nixon's carrying 1 in 3 Democrats in 1972. In no subsequent presidential election has any presidential candidate carried a comparable percentage of cross-partisans).

“Partisan Presidents” have received overwhelming support in Congress from their party. More notably, they have confronted strong – sometimes near-unanimous – opposition from the other party. They have often relied heavily on their party’s leadership to deliver votes on Capitol Hill, and they have been unable to enjoy the cozy relationship that earlier presidents had with the opposition, e.g. Eisenhower and the Democrats. Even a president disposed to such a relationship – George H.W. Bush – was unable to have one.

“Partisan Presidents” have sought to put a stronger partisan imprint upon the executive branch, centralizing personnel decisions, and favoring ideological loyalists over career civil servants or non-partisan experts. It’s hard to imagine presidents less interested in “objective,” non-ideological notions of “good public policy” than Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush.·

“Partisan Presidents,” particularly Reagan and George W. Bush, have actively campaigned for their party’s candidates and sought to use the national party committees as tools of governance. (Compare to Eisenhower’s apathy towards the GOP, or Johnson’s and Nixon’s distrust of their national party committees). George W. Bush has famously recruited strong candidates for competitive Senate races (and "de-cruited" weak ones). Reagan, Clinton and George W. Bush have all shown an interest in their party’s long-term fortunes that escaped, say, Jimmy Carter.·

George W. Bush, our most recent “Partisan President,” has shown little interest in wooing the conventional, “objective,” media. Instead he has sought to get his message out through arguably more partisan outlets – Fox News, conservative talk radio, the “Christian” media.

We need to move beyond out-dated notions of presidents rising above party politics and instead understand presidents who are passionately engaged in them, and seek to use their parties as tools of governance.


dillon said...

Excellent analysis.

It reminds me of the British system. We've even come to using the phrase, "party of opposition" more and more in our discourse. How about if we make Bush go to the Well of the House and just have it out with them like Blair does?

I'm serious.

Thomas said...

Why isn't this the story of the rise of the Republican party?

Reagan and Nixon needed to win a significant portion of the Democratic vote, because there weren't enough Republicans.

And Nixon and Eisenhower wouldn't have gotten much done is they'd relied on Republican support in the Congress. The story for George W. Bush is much different.

Anonymous said...

"It's hard to imagine presidents less interested in 'objective', non-ideological notions of 'good public policy' than Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush."

When I read that, I laughed out loud. It's hard to imagine a more subjective, ideological comment than that one.

Richard Skinner said...

There's a reason why I put "objective" and "good public policy" in "scare quotes." I'm not suggesting that Reagan and George W. Bush were not interested in serving the nation's best interest. I am suggesting that both presidents set policy much more based on their own ideological views than on those of sources of traditional "objective" public policy advice. For example, in both 1981 and 2001, most "objective" economists (both inside and outside government) thought the big tax cuts were a bad idea. Reagan and George W. Bush didn't care, not because they didn't want to help the U.S. economy, but because they dismissed most "objective" sources of advice as either irrelevant or hostile.

ric ottaiano said...

Implicit in the use of the terms "objective" and "non-ideological" when used to describe public policy is the suggestion that there exists public policy that is not informed by some ideology. I would suggest that public policy, by its very nature, can only be the result of the application of certain subjective beliefs or understandings of, for example, human nature. The argument over welfare reform was a battle in large part between two ideologies, neither one objectively verifiable. The decision when and where to use military force must be based in large part, if not entirely, upon an ideology. There is no greater and immutable non-ideological public policy on any given issue that is then corrupted by partisan political concerns. Policy is political. It is just a question of whether it is effective to accomplish the stated goal(s).

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Click Here To Enter

Anonymous said...

Hi, my name is alizee_bi
from United States
, i like your web site, very good job !
, my web site , my e-mail: alizee_bi@hotmail.com

Anonymous said...

Hi, my name is sexy-girl
from United States
, Hi, my name is Gauge, i'love your Website. Very Good Job.
, my web site , my e-mail: gauge_amatrice@hotmail.com

Anonymous said...

Hi, my name is britney_et_samantha
from United States
, Join The Orgie
, my web site , my e-mail: samantha_brinks@hotmail.com

Anonymous said...

Hi, my name is bimbo
from United States
, Download The Video Paradise Here !
, my web site , my e-mail: cyntia_bimbo@hotmail.com

Anonymous said...

Hi, my name is http://alizeevideosx.free.fr
from alizee_bimbo
, hi, your site is very good, please look at mine too !
, my web site , my e-mail: United States

Anonymous said...

Hi, my name is divx videos x
from United States
, hello !
, my web site , my e-mail: divx.videos.x@sexbot.com