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chapter 11 Report of the National Task Force on the Presidency and Deliberative Democracy Chair: Vanessa B. Beasley, Southern Methodist University Robert Asen, University of Wisconsin, Madison Diane M. Blair, California State University, Fresno Stephen J. Hartnett, University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana Karla K. Leeper, Baylor University Jennifer R. Mercieca, Texas A&M University, College Station The idea of deliberation looms large in the American imaginary. On one hand, it is impossible to consider U.S. history without also imagining lively public conversations, debates, protests, and demonstrations. In such imaginings, America’s charter was born from the Founders’ deliberations, with subsequent events such as the LincolnDouglas debates, civil rights rallies, and war protests attesting to that charter’s tolerance for public rhetoric and dialogue. On the other hand, there have also been times when these same types of exchanges have been feared by both the American people and their leaders. Centuries after Plato’s warnings that democracy and its tool of rhetoric would surely bring ruin to ancient Greece, the 252 | Task Force Reports Founders were similarly concerned about how to mitigate popular will in the United States. This concern has endured into the twenty-first century. As Robert Ivie has noted, “prevailing American political culture teaches Americans to elect their betters, preferably indirectly, to represent and deliberate for them.”1 Given the ongoing tension between nostalgia and anxiety about democratic deliberation in the United States, one might wonder how the presidency figures into the mix. Have U.S. presidents encouraged democratic deliberation, for example? Are they supposed to be responsive to it? If so, how? When? And why? In this report we investigate the past relationships between the presidency and democratic deliberation in the United States by offering an overview of four “snapshots” of specific historic periods in the development of the institution of the U.S. presidency: the Founding, the antebellum period, the budding rhetorical presidency, and the mature rhetorical presidency. As we examine each of these periods, we ask if practices of democratic deliberation have changed as the U.S. presidency has changed, or vice versa. In attending to history, we also hope to shed light on some larger conceptual and normative issues, and at the end of this report, our recommendations link some of our findings to these sorts of concerns. At this point, however, it is worth mentioning that at least five clusters of questions recurred throughout our discussions: (1) Ontology—what is democratic deliberation? (2) Worth—what is the value of democratic deliberation? (3) Accountability—who is the audience for democratic deliberation, and should that audience be responsible for attending or responding to it? (4) Agency—who participates and under what conditions? And (5) Distribution—who distributes, monitors, and/or facilitates deliberative practices? Although each of us does not answer all of these questions in the same way, we begin by offering the broad definition of democratic deliberation used in this report. A useful stipulative definition of deliberative democracy, written by Joshua Cohen, is “an association whose affairs are governed by the public deliberation of its members.”2 Likewise, drawing from the work of both John Dryzek and Darrin Hicks, we imagined that such an association would derive its political legitimacy from participants’ “capacity to underwrite or destabilize collective outcomes.”3 Thus, although a wide range of discursive activities could fit under the rubric of deliberation, we took the concept of democratic deliberation to have at its core any communicative practices conducted by citizens in order to influence elite decision making, particularly with regard to public policy. Although most of us agreed that such an idealized form of a more or less direct democracy does not exist today, we presumed that democratic deliberation, with its assumed public exchange of ideas, is in itself an inherent good. The Presidency and Deliberative Democracy | 253 At this point we should also acknowledge that some of the larger questions we asked about the relationship between the presidency and democratic deliberation are not new. Scholarship on democratic deliberation has thrived within the past few decades, with at least two strains of this work directly implicating the executive office in general and presidential rhetoric in particular. First, much of the recent interest in democratic deliberation can be explicitly linked to the twentieth-century “rhetorical presidency” bemoaned by political scientists. For these scholars as well as other contemporary liberal theorists, the “rise of the rhetorical presidency” has been troubling, particularly to the extent that it may cause politicians to seek popularity rather than...


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