EVEN major candidates, none of whom really need the work, are
campaigning for the job. Yet once won, the presidency is very
likely to grow even more demanding than it is now as the 1990s
The next two terms, says presidential scholar Erwin Hargrove of
Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., "will be very
frustrating for whoever wins."
The recession will probably end. But the weight of unmet
problems - in education, roads and other aging amenities, reform of
the health-care system, and the ever-growing burden of public debt
- still piles up at the White House door.
And some of the traditional tools a president has to solve them
Historically, one tool of persuasion has been the political
party. For all but four years since 1968, the American government
has been split, with the presidency and at least one chamber of
Congress in the control of opposing parties. But even if a Democrat
wins the White House and the party continues to control Congress,
the party discipline of a generation ago is only a memory.
Just as the candidates for president are independent political
entrepreneurs, with little reliance on their parties, so the
president himself has become more autonomous, with fewer ties he
can call on. Congressmen, too, are more independent, owing less
allegiance to party leadership.
"The president must act as a sort of chief whip," says Ryan
Barilleaux, a political scientist at Miami University in Ohio. This
means rounding up votes one at a time, issue by issue.
Some argue that the end of the cold war kicks foreign affairs -
an arena where a president has the most autonomous power - out of
its center-ring status. Thus the White House becomes weaker, less
important. The counterargument is the Gulf war and its lesson that
the post-cold-war world is still a dangerous place, with the
president at its nerve center.
If foreign affairs continue to give the president a prominent
and flattering role as commander in chief, the terrible simplicity
of the cold war is gone. Managing world affairs, says Marc Landy, a
political scientist at Boston College, has become "dire but more
difficult day to day."
While attention is more riveted on domestic concerns, even after
the unemployment level drops, these will be increasingly difficult
for the president to take strong action against.
"The legacy of the deficit does make the job well nigh
impossible," says Dr. Landy.
As Ronald Reagan was taking office, political scientists were
asserting that the presidency had become an impossible job. The
expanding expectations piled onto a president as the symbolic
leader of the country combined with immense practical difficulties
in getting anything done.
Reagan's comfort in the role and his conservative initiatives
gave the lie to theories of the impossible presidency.
But a new view of the job emerged during the Reagan years, a
view sometimes called the "post-modern presidency." It means an
electronic presidency where the chief executive can use the
airwaves and communicate directly to rally and sway the public,
over the heads of Congress and the federal bureaucracies. …