At the Margins: Presidential Leadership of Congress

Front Cover
Yale University Press, 1990 - Political Science - 233 pages
In this book George Edwards seeks a deeper understanding of the relationship between the president and Congress, exploring how and under what conditions presidents lead Congress, what we can reasonably expect of them, and how we should evaluate their performance. He makes a persuasive case for his thesis that presidential leadership of Congress is typically at the margins, not the core, of policymaking. Edwards focuses on three important resources for presidential leadership: party, public opinion, and legislative skills. For each source of influence he analyzes the president's strategic position, the theoretical potential of the resource as an instrument of leadership. He then examines presidents' attempts to employ each resource to obtain support in Congress, showing that they are rarely able to expand their resource base or manipulate their resources reliably. Integrating quantitative analysis with documentary and historical research, Edwards argues that the effective leader is not the dominant chief executive of political folklore who restructures the contours of the political landscape to pave the way for change but is rather a facilitator who works at the margins of coalition building to exploit opportunities presented by a favorable configuration of political forces in his environment. Presidents are not by themselves going to bring about major changes in public policy, says Edwards, and we must adjust accordingly our expectations of their leadership. The implications of his book are broad, and his findings are an important corrective for those who personalize politics and attribute more influence to a single person or strategy than is usually merited.

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Measuring Presidential Success
Strategic Position as Party Leader
The Two Presidencies
Leading the Party
Strategic Position of Public Approval
Leading the Public
Mandates and Misperceptions
Strategic Position of Legislative Skills
Employing Skills
Presidential Leadership

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