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Evolution of the Presidency

By Levi Clancy for Student Reader on

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The Evolution of the Rhetorical Presidency (Jeffrey Tulis). Tullis examines the growth of the presidency from a unique perspective. Examined changes in the way presidents communicate to members of Congress and citizens. Found three ways representing three different ways presidents have conceived of their roles in office. Presidents were originally not meant to play roles in policy changes and were meant to only use their vetoes when Congress tried to pass unconstitutional laws. While presidents were originally involved with foreign policy, Congress held domestic policies as their domain.

The Old Way

(Washington until TR)

Communication patterns of presidents:

  1. Rarely spoke to the public;

  2. “Speeches” delivered in writing;

  3. Language was very formal and legalistic;

  4. President never made partisan (fellow party members) nor popular appeals

  5. Presidents did not publicly engage in policy disputes

The disadvantage to this approach in modern day is that there would extremely infrequent lofty and constitutional speeches.

The Middle Way

(Teddy Roosevelt).

Industrialization spawned railroad companies, which rivaled the federal government for power. President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt supported regulation of the railroad industry. He supported The Hepburn Act which regulated railroad rates, breaking from tradition so that he could travel the country advocating the bill.

  1. Language in TR speeches was not formal or legalistic'

  2. TR made popular, common and partisan appeals to agitate and mobilize people;

Theodore Roosevelt is different from modern presidents because he backed off and stopped making his fiery speeches once Congress agreed to fulfill its deliberative function and debate the issue. He merely wanted to use his power to support regulation by bringing it to American consciousness and making it an issue that would even be deliberated.

The New Way

(Woodrow Wilson to present)
  1. Speeches rarely speak in a formal or legalistic language;

  2. Talk about issues and policies in a way that people can understand;

  3. Frequently make policy- and issue-specific, popular dramatically partisan appeals.

Presidents now go public (Samuel Kernell): president attempts to force Congressional compliance by going over their heads to appeal to constituents. Rather than compromising and bargaining, they direct constituents to direct Congress. New Way presidents now attempt subversion and control of Congress.

Limits of Presidential Power

A. Richard Neustadt in Presidential Power: "Presidential power is the power to ________________"

1) Presidents must depend on others' to get things done.

2) To be successful, presidents need to be good at:

a) Bargaining with allies

b) Dealing with adversaries

c) Choosing priorities

3) President's influence is related to reputation and prestige

a) A popular president is more persuasive than an unpopular president.

(1) Public support is a resource in the bargaining process

(2) Members of Congress have more incentive to cooperate with a popular president.

b) Going public is a risky strategy.

4) Presidents, Policy, and Public Opinion

a) Presidents are most successful when they have the least experience.

b) As they become more experience, they have less influence.