Sunday, February 20, 2011

Persuasion, President Style

I just finished the reading on Presidential Power, and, while I think that Neustadt makes some persuasive arguments and looks at the Presidency in a different way, I do not agree with his examples on the ability of the President to "persuade." "Persuade," according to Neustadt, is a code word for bargaining and he says that all Presidents must bargain. They must also use the power of their office to give them more leverage. Fine. I can see how a secretary could be intimidated and struck by the awesome power of the presidency when he or she is standing in the Oval Office. I think Neustadt wades into murkier water when he seems to suggest that Truman effectively used his position as President to increase his bargaining leverage in instituting the Marshall Plan. He claims that if Truman had not assembled the men he did at the time that he did, it is very unlikely that the Marshall Plan would have gone ahead. As I see it, though, the Marshall Plan enjoyed a lot of popularity on both sides of the Atlantic. Europeans were receptive because it would help re-build their continent and Americans were receptive because it marked a peaceful illustration of America's commitment to Capitalism and Democracy. Besides, it was hardly Truman's brainchild. Truman may have clobbered together the right minds, but this example is hardly reflective of a President using his elevated position to further his own bargaining power to get a piece of legislation passed. The Marshall Plan is more of a reflection of the genius of Truman's staff in determining American foreign policy than it is of Truman's power of "persuasion."

A better example of "persuasion," president style, can be seen in the infamous picture of President Johnson and Senator Russell above.


TJE said...

Some critics have also suggested that the bargaining model no longer meets the needs of a presidency facing expanding demands.

Ian Thresher said...

I would agree with that. I also think that there can be relatively little bargaining, at least of the kind Neustadt alludes to, in thecurrent (and previous) political climate. Neustadt claims that a skilled president would use his office to convince others that the president's interests were also the congressperson's interests. That strikes me as far too simple a way of looking at it. The fact is, no amount of tactful, ingenious negotiation on the part of Obama could ever make a tea party congressman support Obama's agenda. There is no room for bargaining, let alone persuasion. Of course, this is not necessarily due to the nature of Republicans. Democrats were equally adamant in their refusal to work with Bush. Bargaining, as Neustadt describes it, may work in a small cloister of associates, but I think the theory fails to predict and explain the utter lack of comprehension and agreement that congress and the public seem to have for the President's proposals. A President's real persuasion skills come from his media skills and ability to go over the heads of congress. The quasi tit for tat strategy Neustadt alludes to does not appear to be a realistic, or even preferred, method to pass legislation.

Philip Klinkner said...

If you want to hear LBJ in all his glory, listen to him ordering pants: