Gov: Presidential Leadership


Presidential-Inauguration-2 The president is often viewed as the most powerful national leader in the world. However, at one time, U.S. presidents held far less power. During the 1800s, presidents acted mainly as “chief clerks.” Other than carrying out the will of Congress, they had little authority other than those powers explicitly granted by the Constitution. Since the end of World War II, the presidency has been powerful, no matter who was in the White House. By the 1970s, critics of presidential power voiced concerns about the rise of an “imperial presidency,” meaning presidents acted more like emperors than constitutional leaders.

Public expectations, national crises, and changing national and world conditions have required the presidency to become a strong office. Underlying this development is the public support the president receives from being the only nationally elected official. The president’s election by national vote and position as sole chief executive ensure that others will listen to his ideas. But to lead effectively, the president must have the help of other officials, and to get their help, he must respond to their interests as they respond to his. Presidential influence on national policy is highly variable. Whether presidents succeed or fail in getting their policies enacted depends heavily on the force of circumstance, the stage of their presidency, partisan support in Congress, and the foreign or domestic nature of the policy issue.

To retain an effective leadership position, the president also depends on the strong backing of the American people. While many presidents have high support ratings early in their administrations, these ratings invariably decline due to disappointment, scandal, or general disillusionment. Unfortunately, the public expects far more from the president than he can deliver. The media is also a problem here, as it tends to dwell on “negative spin” regarding presidential “broken promises” or difficulties rather than what the president has actually accomplished.

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