American Civil Rights Policy from Truman to Clinton: The Role of Presidential Leadership

By Steven A. Shull | Go to book overview

4
Presidents' Legislative
and Budget Actions

Presidents' actions help formulate public policy, in contrast with presidents' policy statements, which often assert symbolic agenda leadership. But actions may also be symbolic, particularly if they do not match up with statements. Public statements help presidents set the stage, and they may be essential for social problems to appear subsequently on the government's agenda ( Light 1982; Lindblom 1980, 60; Redford 1969, 124; Lowi 1972, 302-3; Shull 1983, chap. 2). Presidents' civil rights actions, however, do not always square with their statements, and there is more civil rights rhetoric than civil rights action ( Shull 1983, 160). I expect rhetoric to be greater than tangible actions, particularly for Presidents Reagan, Bush, and Clinton, who were observed in chapter 3 to be rhetorical in the area of civil rights.

How important have presidential actions been over the past four decades in affecting civil rights policies? The answer at first glance may seem obvious. Dwight Eisenhower sent federal troops to integrate the schools in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957. Lyndon Johnson fashioned major policy innovations by shepherding the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act through Congress. In the 1980s and 1990s, Ronald Reagan and George Bush appointed conservatives to the courts and myriad other government agencies, and Bill Clinton reversed this trend by nominating strong civil rights liberals. But what can we state more systematically about presidential policy actions in

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