The Presidency in a Separated System

The Presidency in a Separated System

The Presidency in a Separated System

The Presidency in a Separated System

Synopsis

Popular interpretations of American government tend to center on the presidency. Successes and failures of government are often attributed to presidents themselves. But, though the White House stands as a powerful symbol of government, the United States has a separated system intentionally designed to distribute power, not to concentrate it. Charles O. Jones explains that focusing exclusively on the presidency can lead to a seriously distorted picture of how the national government works. The role of the president varies widely, depending on his resources, advantages, and strategic position. Public expectations often far exceed the president's personal, political, institutional, or constitutional capacities for achievement. Jones explores how presidents find their place in the permanent government and how they are "fitted in" by others, most notably those on Capitol Hill. This book shows how a separated system of government works under the circumstances created by the Constitution and encouraged by a two-party system. Jones examines the organizational challenges facing presidents, their public standing and what it means, presidential agendas and mandates, and lawmaking - how it works, where the president fits in, and how it varies from issue to issue. He compares the post-World War II presidents and identifies the strengths and weaknesses of each in working within the separated system. Jones proposes a view of government that accepts divided government as a legitimate, even productive, form of decisionmaking and emphasizes the varying strategies available to presidents for governing. He concludes with a number of important lessons for presidents and advice on how to make the separatedsystem work better.

Excerpt

Popular interpretations of American government tend to center on the presidency. Successes and failures are often attributed to presidents themselves. In fact, political analysts typically classify the U.S. system as presidential. But, though the White House does stand as a powerful symbol of government, the United States has a separated system intentionally designed to distribute power, not concentrate it.

Charles O. Jones explains that focusing exclusively on the presidency can lead to a seriously distorted picture of how the national government works. The role of the president varies widely, depending on available resources, advantages, and strategic position. Public and media expectations often far exceed the president's personal, political, institutional, or constitutional capacities for achievement. Jones explores the differences among post-World War II presidents, how they have found their place in the permanent government, and the varying strategies available to them for governing.

The book shows how a separated system of government works under the circumstances created by the Constitution and encouraged by a two-party system. Rejecting the popular presidency-centered, responsible-party perspective, Jones proposes a view of the U.S. system that, among other features, accepts divided government as a legitimate, even productive, form of decisionmaking. He explores the organizational challenges facing presidents, their public standing and what it means, presidential agendas and mandates, and lawmaking (including a detailed examination of twenty-eight important enactments during the postwar era). He concludes with a number of lessons for presidents and advice oriented toward making the separated system work better.

Charles O. Jones is the Douglas Dillon Visiting Fellow at Brookings and is also Glenn B. and Cleone Orr Hawkins Professor of Political Science at . . .

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