(Richard Neustadt, 1960)
Richard Neustadt’s Presidential Power and the Modern President, published in 1960, was considered such an important work at the time that Presidential Chief of Staff H.R. (Bob) Haldeman had all White House staff members read it when Richard Nixon took office in 1969. Even though the book only used the presidencies of FDR, Truman, and Eisenhower for its analysis it was such a fresh, new take on presidential power that it became a “go-to” book when discussing Executive power in the 1960’s and 1970’s. (And Neustadt released "updated" editions as years went on) In continuing a theme started yesterday, as we watch Donald J. Trump improvise daily while blatantly lying to the American public, Neustadt’s book, like Clinton Rossiter’s (discussed yesterday), could provide the Chief Executive with important guidelines as to how a President should wield his significant power.
Significantly, Richard Neustadt stated:
"The presidency is not a place for amateurs. The sort of expertise can hardly be acquired without deep experience in political office. The presidency is a place for men of politics, but by no means is it a place for every politician (p. 152)."
Clearly, we are seeing, on a daily basis, why “The presidency is not a place for amateurs.” In a review of Neustadt’s book by Leif Ellington, written later in the 1960’s, he notes:
Neustadt implies that a president should think and act prospectively, so the decisions he makes today will aid his ability to persuade tomorrow. The president must utilize all his knowledge of politics and policy to aid in his decisions so he may maintain a high reputation among Washingtonians and his prestige with the public.
This statement illustrates the core of Neustadt’s analysis of Presidential power. In the Columbia professor’s view, the President’s power rests in persuasion, in professional reputation, and in public prestige. Ellington, in his review, elucidates how each of those elements contributes to effective use of presidential power. Summaries of each are presented here.
The power to persuade is perhaps the most important aspect of the presidency that Neustadt writes about. The president is one man and needs others to get things done. The president must bargain and persuade others that what he wants is in their best interest.
Neustadt illustrates an example of such a need for power of persuasion with a case study regarding presidential action or lack of it. Failed integration of African American students into a central high school in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957 triggered a meeting with president Eisenhower and governor of Arkansas Orval Faubus. The president as stated by the constitution, is required to execute all laws. Actual presidential strategy to achieve this goes beyond the Constitution, and Eisenhower's failure to persuade can be seen here in this situation’s failure.
Regarding the second element of Presidential power, professional reputation, Ellington sums up Neustadt as follows:
Another aspect of political power is the president's professional reputation in Washington and abroad. The idea of the president's reputation concerns how the Washingtonians as Neustadt refers to them, view the president. Some Washingtonians for example are governors, military leaders, leading politicians, foreign ambassadors and Congress. The president's reputation comes into play by how reliant the government's infrastructure is on the president’s ability to carry out his legislation. The better the reputation of the president, the easier it will be to facilitate negotiations to implement policy. The president must act always keeping in mind the interests of those powerful enough to publicly bludgeon or scrutinize his policies to maintain his reputation.
And, finally, regarding public prestige, Ellington summarizes Neustadt this way:
The last token of presidential power that Neustadt delves into is public prestige. Public prestige is basically how the public views the president. Even though the public has no direct associations with policymaking, the public's view of the president affects how legislation moves through the web of American government. Public prestige is also seen in the private sector as well. If a private organization looks highly upon the president, the easier it will be to execute the president's politics.
It is clear, at this point, that no one in the Trump administration has read either Neustadt or Rossiter --- or anything else that may have helped prepare this amateur to take over the Executive Branch of the Federal government. If we simply look at the three elements Neustadt considers most significant for a President to be effective, in relation to these first 181 days of Donald Trump’s presidency, we can see just how poorly this President is faring.
The president must bargain and persuade others that what he wants is in their best interest.
Watching the Republican Health Care die a long, slow death during the first 181 Days of Trump is probably the best example of the current President’s inability to either “bargain” or “persuade.” As noted in a Wikipedia summary of Neustadt’s work: “When a president has to resort to commanding people, he is showing weakness.” Trump only knows “commanding” and, despite his braggadocio about “the art of the deal” he is lost at sea when it comes to genuine wheeling and dealing.
The president's reputation comes into play by how reliant the government's
infrastructure is on the president to carry out his legislation.
Contrary to what Trump would have us believe, his “reputation” among those in the Congress is hardly sterling. His incessant use of Twitter, his blatant lying (today’s claims that he only spoke to Putin about “adoption,” for example) and his “unpredictability” does not sit well with Senators, in particular. So, while Paul Ryan is willing to throw the Senate under the bus and continue to kiss up to Trump, the Senate Health Care debacle revealed where Trump’s “reputation” sits with Republican Senators.
Finally, even though the public has no direct associations with policymaking,
the public's view of the president affects how legislation moves through the web of American government.
Once again, the Health Care disaster, along with the never-ending Russia saga, has severely damaged the public prestige of this President and his administration.
The old adage about “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it” (George Santayana) seems particularly sanguine in light of the daily show put on by the current White House circus. The sheer arrogance of Trump, his family, and his cronies who believe they somehow “know better” and needn’t learn how the American Political System operates is not only repugnant but also quite dangerous as we go forward. An NBC poll this week showed that fear of a major war involving the United States is now at 76%, up 10% from February --- and that’s how dangerous the citizenry is feeling about today's world.