Saturday, December 11, 2010

Richard Neustadt, Presidential Power: Chapter 3, "The Power to Persuade"

American government: "separated institutions sharing powers." (27)

In order to achieve his ends, a president depends on members of Congress, party officials, business and labor leaders, administration officials, and foreign governments who have their own authority and sources of legitimacy. Likewise, in order to accomplish anything all of these must depend at some point, in the future if not at present, on actions that only the president has authority to perform.

The president's power to persuade comes largely from this mutual dependence -- it comes from the ability to bargain.

This analysis is a commonplace except in the case of the executive branch itself. It has not been widely appreciated that the executive itself does not act with one agenda, that other members of the administration and the bureaucracy have goals, authorities, and responsibilities that may conflict with those of the president, and that the president must persuade them to do what he wants.

The president's power to persuade consists in convincing other agents with whom he shares authority that acting as he wants coincides with their own interests and responsibilities.

The Marshall Plan as an example of an initiative where the key actors -- Marshall, Vandenburg, Bevin -- cooperated with the president's goals. Even in this case a great deal of give and take was required from Truman. In fact, he was fortunate that so much was required from Congress, to whom he had the ability to grant concessions to ease the path for the plan, rather than from actors within the executive branch itself, with whom he might not have had the same influence.

Points to a key issue of for presidents: making choices that preserve future influence.

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