Political Executives and Their Officials
Colin Campbell, S.J.
Unlike most work dealing with style, then, Campbell makes a serious attempt to move beyond the personalization of institutions, and he is explicitly concerned with theory- construction and other building blocks of social science. But [presidential] style, as always, proves to be a stumbling block rather than a vehicle for progress -- promoting conceptual confusion, the endless proliferation of relevant variables, and more complications than any analysis can make sense of ( Moe 1990, 44).
The Campbell cited above is none other than your current author. One might legitimately ask whether someone prone to devising frameworks "promoting conceptual confusion..." is the appropriate person for presenting a distillation of the state of political science on the topic of "political executives and their officials." However, this area of inquiry is as old as political science itself. And its major debates have centered precisely on such issues as the complexity of models employed in analyzing executive leaders and their relations with their officials. This does not give one license for conceptual overkill. Yet, it should make us all attentive to the difficulty of reconciling our desire to capture the richness of this subject matter and the need to make sense of it all.
Political science by its nature attempts to focus on moving targets. And, as sub-fields go, executive leadership presents as much flux as any object of political science inquiry. This means that students of political executives constantly find themselves struggling with sharp learning curves as one administration takes over from another or executive leaders face crises or unforeseen circumstances which call upon their adaptive skills ( Rockman 1984, 4-7). Also, just about everybody feels compelled to share views about executive leaders. For instance, my barber has become aware of the "lightening rod" theory of why George Bush kept John Sununu so long. My barber expounds his ideas for all comers -- regardless of whether they make their living studying presidents. Other burning issues to political scientists -- such as how Congress allocates committee memberships -- would bore my barber and most of his customers to tears. Whereas other political science fields attract a lot of deference, presidency and executive leadership scholars compete with an overabundance of conventional wisdom. In this field, attentive publics often actually say on their own the types of things that one hears pronounced in panels at the APSA annual meeting.
One finds a tremendous amount of volatility in this field. From an institutional perspective, however, the presidency remains infinitely more vulnerable to the personality of the incumbent at a given moment than either house of Congress would be to the constellation of personalities that occupy it from time to time. Changes in the balance between the president and Congress due to party turnover or the peculiarities of personality can badly miscue even the most shrewd observers. The profession broadly endorsed John F. Kennedy's inattentiveness to organizational structure ( Neustadt 1960). Political scientists had convinced themselves that excessive institutional rigor in the policy process had led to overcooking issues during the Eisenhower administration. Fred I. Greenstein's revisionist analysis of Eisenhower, however, contests the early critique of Eisenhower -- arguing that his administration achieved a highly adaptive balance between structural and personalized responses to issues ( 1982).
When students of the presidency piled on the anti-imperial-presidency bandwagon after Watergate ( Nathan 1975), we contributed little foresight of the extreme decentralization that characterized the Carter administration. In the aftermath of Carter's failure as a political executive, we were the first to issue glum prognoses for the future of presidential leadership in the face of Congress's ascendancy ( Heclo and Salamon 1981). During the Reagan years, we began to point to the facility with which presidents can short-circuit institutional relationships with other parts of the policy apparatus in Washington -- Congress included -- by going public, pursuing partisan responsiveness, and using foreign affairs, to distract attention from domestic issues ( Kernell 1986; Moe 1985; Rose 1988; Campbell 1986). With the end of the Reagan years and the minimalism of