Campaigning Is Not Governing: Bill Clinton's Rhetorical Presidency
GEORGE C. EDWARDS III
James David Barber has identified three political roles that all presidents must perform: rhetoric, personal relations, and homework. The habitual way of performing these roles is what he terms presidential style. 1 The relative emphases in a president's style reflect not only the president's strengths but also his perceptions about the requirements of effective leadership.
The Clinton presidency is the ultimate example of the rhetorical presidency--a presidency based on a perpetual campaign to obtain the public's support 2 and fed by public opinion polls, focus groups, and public relations memos. No president ever invested more in measuring, and attempting to mold, public opinion. The White House even polled voters on where it was best for the First Family to vacation. This is an administration that spent $18 million on ads in 1995--a nonelection year! 3 And this is an administration that repeatedly interpreted its setbacks, whether in elections or on health care reform, in terms of its failure to communicate 4 rather than in terms of the quality of its initiatives or the strategy for governing. Reflecting his orientation in the White House, Bill Clinton declared that "the role of the President of the United States is message." 5
To understand the first six years of the Clinton presidency, we must explore the president's leadership style and ask whether it was effective for advancing his views. The focus on governing to accomplish goals requires us to answer two cen-