THE PPESIDENT has become the nation's chief storyteller, its interpreter-in-chief. He 1 tells us stories about ourselves, and in so doing he tells us what sort of people we are, how we are constituted as a community. We take from him not only our policies but our national self-identity.
The president's talk has become the central focus of our political attention, and he talks to us mainly through the medium of television. American presidents, like all political actors, live in and adapt to complex political environments. Television is an increasingly important part of those environments. As the nation has increased in size and complexity, as the franchise and our notions of what and who constitute the American polity have changed and expanded, and as traditional linkages between the leaders and the led have eroded, public and persuasive features of the residency have gained in relative importance to more traditional and explicitly constitutional functions. The argument of this book is that the medium of communication, interacting with historical and social pressures, influences presidential decisions about what to say and how to say it.
The presidency is a fluid institution. At any point in time the office is a combination of constitutional mandate, established practice, and the personal style and preferences of the current occupant. Not all presidents exhibit all the changes discussed in this book all the time. Personal proclivities and preferences affect how each president adapts to the evolving institution. Presidents respond to the legacies of their predecessors (lega-