The Clinton Presidency: First Appraisals

By Colin Campbell; Bert A. Rockman | Go to book overview

2
Management in a Sandbox: Why the Clinton White House Failed to Cope with Gridlock

COLIN CAMPBELL

This chapter focuses on the role of the White House in what we might call the gridlock era of the U.S. presidency. Its analysis concentrates on Bill Clinton's experience by the midpoint of his term. But it lays the groundwork for this analysis by underscoring the antecedents of gridlock in the Reagan/ Bush years.

The disarray of the current administration prompts us to ask what difference might organization of the White House have made? The White House was neither completely amorphous nor porous when Clinton assumed office. Further, the administration has made several efforts--some of which have achieved good results--at improving the structure and operation of the White House. Nevertheless, things have gone badly wrong. Thus we have to entertain two possibilities: either Bill Clinton pathologically lacks the ability to connect with organizational structure or the magnitude of gridlock has reached the point where any incumbent, independent of personal style and the organization of his White House, would encounter frustrations of the degree currently experienced by the president.

What do we mean by gridlock? If years from now historians go back and look at the 1992 presidential election, they are going to be tempted to call it the gridlock election. Continued frustrations with spasmodic governance in Washington have now led to the chastisement of the president--the first time that a Democratic president has had to deal with a Republican- dominated Congress since 1947-49. Ironically, this probably means that

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