Frustration and Folly: Bill Clinton and the Public Presidency
GEORGE C. EDWARDS III
The Clinton administration is the ultimate example of the public presidency, one based on a perpetual campaign to obtain the support of the American people and fed by public opinion polls, focus groups, and public relations memos. Within the White House the political consultants who ran Clinton's presidential campaign have had a presence and influence that has not been seen before. George Bush spent $216,000 for public opinion polls in 1989 and 1990, while Clinton spent $1,986,410 in 1993 alone. This included three or four polls and three or four focus groups per month. 1
On the Saturday after Clinton took office, Paul Begala, Stan Greenberg, and James Carville began almost daily meetings in the White House with Clinton or his aides to review strategy. On the following Tuesday they recreated the Little Rock "war room" central command in the Old Executive Office Building next to the White House. "This is going to be a presidency that integrates its policy goals and its communications abilities," declared Greenberg. 2
Two forces destined the Clinton presidency to be a public presidency. First was the president's operating style. Having governed in Arkansas with frequent elections and public relations campaigns on behalf of his reform proposals, it was only natural that he continue the campaign mode inside the Beltway.
Second, the conditions of his election undermined any claims to his having received a mandate for his policies. With only 43 percent of the national