Thursday, April 15, 2010

Skowronek: The Politics Presidents Make

This is a short summary of Skowronek's 1993 article "The Politics Presidents Make"

i. There is a cycle to all presidencies, and so presidents in similar political times can be compared with each other, even through they may be separated by decades of time.

1. The idea of great presidents and incompetent presidents is not a difference of individual skills and ability (Neustadt) but arises out of the current political order (see below).

ii. Presidents can be classified over two dimensions

1. Their affiliation with, or opposition to, a given regime order

2. The extent to which that order is robust or vulnerable

a. Reconstruction: the great regime over-throwers and builders – opposed to a vulnerable order.

i. Thomas Jefferson is best example because he operated in a near void of organized opposition at a very early moment in government development.

ii. Jackson, Lincoln, FDR, Regan

1. Can reconcile the order-shattering and order-affirming needs by creating new constitutional governance – so they are successful.

b. Articulation: affiliated with a robust order.

c. Disjunction: affiliated with a collapsing order.

d. Preemption: opposed to a robust order

iii. The presidency is order-shattering, order-affirming, and order-creating in its properties.

iv. Finds there are 4 eras in presidential time (secular time)

1. Patrician Era (1789-1832)

a. Leaders who stood above faction and interests and governed on the strength of their personal reputation among notables.

2. Partisan Era (1832-1900)

a. Leadership was a form of executive patronage to party factions and local machines.

3. Pluralist Era (1900-1972)

a. The rise of bureaucracy and institutional elites required more complex bargaining and negotiating between competing interests.

4. Plebiscitary Era (1972 – current)

a. More candidate-centered presidential campaigns and a greater emphasis on direct political relationships with the public.

b. Government has become so “thick” that it resists presidential initiatives and change – impasse is the result.

v. Closes with the idea that all presidents should be preemptors now because the government is robust, and they should stand in opposition to this.

1. Gives no examples or descriptions of someone who would be this way.

2. Gives no clear reasons why there should be a preemptor.