The Wartime President: Executive Influence and the Nationalizing Politics of Threat

By Rudalevige, Andrew | Presidential Studies Quarterly, September 2014 | Go to article overview

The Wartime President: Executive Influence and the Nationalizing Politics of Threat


Rudalevige, Andrew, Presidential Studies Quarterly


The Wartime President: Executive Influence and the Nationalizing Politics of Threat. By William G. Howell, Saul P. Jackman, and Jon C. Rogowski. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013. 344 pp.

"War made the state," Charles Tilly famously declaimed; "and the state made war." In their rich new work, William Howell, Saul Jackman, and Jon Rogowski shift this proposition slightly on its axis. If war makes the presidency, they wonder, can the president make policy?

A pantheon of notables--Hamilton, Madison, Tocqueville, Bryce, Corwin, Schlesinger--have long argued that wars enhance presidential power. The Wartime President does not disagree--but it does argue that this effect has been assumed, rather than analyzed, and its contingencies rarely explored. Under what conditions does war allow the president to get more of what he wants, to what extent, and--crucially--why? Are all wars, and all presidents, created equal? Is there variance even within a given war? Across different policy areas?

As "we cannot view presidential influence directly; like quarks, we can only see its traces" (p. 18), it is actually congressional behavior that is measured here, using a "policy priority model" that seeks to identify the general circumstances under which Congress should enact the president's preferences. The key building blocks are that (1) policies have both national and local outcomes and (2) presidents and members of Congress tend to place different weights on those. Most broadly, presidents usually have more expertise when it comes to national concerns, while legislators equip themselves to understand local affairs. Thus, "as Congress assigns increased significance to national vis-a-vis local outcomes, presidential bargaining success increases" (p. 39). Whatever events serve to privilege the national over the local--and war should be high on the list--will cause members of Congress to adhere more closely to presidential policy. But this will not be monotonic. Not every war shifts the salience of national stakes in the same way. World War II, for instance, should induce more legislative deference than the first Gulf War.

The empirical chapters test these hypotheses by examining how far budget enactments diverge from presidential appropriations requests and through analyzing shifts in individual legislators' roll call choices. The latter is particularly impressive in constructing a persuasive means of comparing apples to apples as members of Congress bridge the shift from peace to war and back again. The authors find that legislators do fund the government at levels closer to presidential requests during wartime--in domestic agencies as well as in defense. And in roll call voting they find intriguing variance across wars, suggesting that war generally does raise the salience of national concerns for most legislators and enhances presidential influence, even while specific wars differ in their ability to do so. The bigger the war, the bigger the impact, and the bar seems relatively high. …

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