2 Presidencies Essay Research Paper Presidential power

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2 Presidencies Essay Research Paper

Presidential power can be viewed in terms of Domestic and Foreign affairs. This chapter discusses how the presiden’ts normal problem with domestic policy is to get congressional support for the programs he prefers while in foreign affairs he can almost always get support for policies that he believes will protect the nation. The president soon discovers that he has more policy preference in domestic matters than in foreign policy.


It takes great crisis for presidents to succeed in controlling domestic policy. From the end of the 1930s to the present presidents have often been frustrated in their domestic programs. In the realm of foreign policy there has not been a single major issue on which presidents when they were serious and determined have failed. Derious etbacks to the president in controlling foreign policy are extraordinary and unusual. Presidents have significantly better records in foreing policy and defense matters than in domestic policies.


Power in politics is control over governmental decisions. The number of nations with which the U.S. has diplomatic relations has increased; the world has also become a much more dangerous place. Our government must always be aware of the possibility of nuclear war. Yet the mere existence of great powers with effective thermonuclear weapons would not vastly increase our rate of interaction with most other nations. We are interested in what happens everywhere because we see these events as connected with larger interests involving the possibility of ultimate destruction. Given the overrriding fact that the world is dangerous and that small causes are percieved to have potentially great effects it follows that presidents must be interested in relatively small matters. Few failures in domestic policy could have as disastrous consequences as any one of dozens of mistakes in the international arena. Foreign policy concerns tend to drive out domestic policy. Foreign affairs have consistently higher priority for presidents. The importance of foreign affairs is intensified by the increasing speed of events in the world. Presidents must expect to face the consequences of their own actions while still in office. Domestic policy making is based on experimental adjustments to an existing situation while foreign affairs are often percieved to be irreversible. Presidents have to be oriented towards the future in the use of their resources. Because the consequences of events in foreign affairs are potentially more grave and less easily reversible than in domestic affairs presidents are more willing to use up their resources.


Particularly important to the president is his power as comander-in-chief to move troops. Presidents posses both the formal power to act and the knowledge that elites and the general public expect them to act. Presidential discreation in foreign affairs makes it difficult for Congress to restrict their actions. Presidents also have far greater ability than anyone else to obtain information on developments abroad through the Departments of State and Defense. The rise of the defense intellectuals has given the president enhanced ability to control defense policy. He can choose among defense intellectuals from the research corporations and the academies for alternative sources of advice. Presidents prevail not only because they may have superior sources but because their potential opponents are weak divided or believe that they should not control foreign policy.


The general public is much more dependent on presidents in foreign affairs than in domestic matters. People expect the president to act in foreign affairs and reward him with their confidence. Although presidents lead opinion in foreign affairs they know they will be held accountable for the consequences of their actions.

Opinions are easier to gauge in domestic affairs because there is a stable structure of interest groups that covers virtually all matters of concern. In foreign policy matters the interest group structure is weak unstable and thin rather than dense. While ephemeral groups arise from time to time to support or protest particular policies they usually disappear when the immediate problem is resolved. They are most effective when most narrowly and intensely focused. But their relatively small numbers limits their significance to presidents in the vastly more important general foreign policy picture.

The fact that ther are numerous Defense policies and situations competing for a president’s attention means that it is worthwhile to organize political activity in order to affect his agenda. A president may be compelled to reconsider a problem even though he could not overtly be force to alter the prevailing policy. If presidents are convinced that the current policy is best the likelihood of gaining sufficient force to compel a change is quiete small. The man who can build foreign policies will find presidents beating a path to his door.