Separate but Equal Branches: Congress and the Presidency

By Charles O. Jones | Go to book overview

II
Clinton and Congress

Presidential-congressional relations during the Clinton years displayed breathtaking variations and produced changes with lasting impact. Perhaps the most important development was the emergence of a campaigning style of governing, referred to by some as the "permanent campaign." 1 This "candidate or delegate as president" style was practiced under dramatically different political, institutional, and even constitutional conditions. An early assessment is offered here; more in-depth analysis will occupy students of politics for years to come.

It is vital to distinguish between campaigning to win office and campaigning to govern. The first has a clearly specified end point-- election day. Therefore all activities are oriented to that time when normally a definitive decision is rendered. One candidate wins; the others lose. A "funnel of causality" concept or imagery works well with the campaign to win office. By contrast, campaigning to govern involves an array of sequential end points, for example, among issues and within an issue over time and through various stages of decision making. It is a means for gaining an edge in the lawmaking process. Bill Clinton so mastered this method of governing that future presidents will likely be tested by his standard. Unfortunately, because of scandal, his impressive skills in this sphere were used as often to restore his status as to advance his program. He found it difficult to turn high job approval scores into a solid advantage on Capitol Hill because of poor evaluations of his personal conduct and unceasing investigation leading to an impeachment inquiry and trial.

An early statement of the Clinton campaigning style was reported by Bob Woodward in The Agenda. Mandy Grunwald, media adviser to President Clinton, "repeated her belief that the president's popularity first had to be improved, and then Congress could be moved by a popular president. . . . It's a bank shot, what you say to the American people bounces back to the Congress." 2 By this one- track plebiscitary theory, the president engages in a continuous

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