Clinton and Organized Interests: Splitting Friends, Unifying Enemies
MARK A. PETERSON
Although nowhere mentioned in the Constitution, organized interests are as much a core feature of American politics and governance as the presidency, Congress, and courts. Some observers have even dubbed them the fourth branch of government. To any president they represent both a challenge to and an opportunity for the exercise of leadership. Interest groups expose presidents to the threat of mobilized opposition to their agendas. They can exacerbate the difficulty of governing in a system embodying abundant veto points created by constitutionally "separate institutions sharing powers," in Richard Neustadt's classic characterization, as well as a bicameral legislature and sovereign states. At the same time, precisely because successful leadership in the United States is predicated upon the continuous building of supporting coalitions in a number of institutional venues, organized interests can serve as beneficial allies of presidents. Working in concert with the White House, their ties to other elected officials and capacity to mobilize constituencies can be used to forge winning alliances that bridge the institutional divides of American government. As either adversaries or collaborators of the president, interest groups cannot be ignored, nor can their relationship with the presidency be viewed in isolation from other elements of presidential coalition-building strategies.
By the time Bill Clinton took the oath of office, these verities of the modern presidency were well understood by both his Republican and his Democratic pre-