restricted access Chapter 12 Report of the National Task Force on Presidential Communication to Congress
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chapter 12 Report of the National Task Force on Presidential Communication to Congress Chair: Mary E. Stuckey, Georgia State University Michael A. Genovese, Loyola Marymount University Sharon E. Jarvis, University of Texas at Austin Craig Allen Smith, North Carolina State University Craig R. Smith, California State University, Long Beach Robert Spitzer, State University of New York, Cortland Susan M. Zaeske, University of Wisconsin, Madison Public misperception notwithstanding, the president is not the government but is part of a Madisonian system, designed to share power with other branches.1 As Richard Neustadt noted in 1960, the Constitution created a system not of separated powers but of separate institutions sharing powers.2 The distribution of partial powers among the several branches of government created the checks and balances of the American system of government.3 All relationships—marriages, friendships, and working arrangements—require the negotiation of needs and interests. In the constitutional context of shared powers, presidents have ranged from timid to aggressive in their efforts to have their way despite congressional opposition, and they have met with Presidential Communication to Congress | 273 varied results. Leading successfully in a large system of shared powers requires careful coordination, and coordination entails communication among the various parts. Neustadt observed that in order to govern, presidents must both command (use their formal power) and bargain (use their informal power). Both of these tasks involve persuasion. In order to persuade, presidents use various means of communication. Lester Seligman and Cary Covington suggest that a candidate mobilizes a winning electoral coalition, transforms it into a governing coalition, and then reconstructs a coalition for reelection while trying to maintain the governing coalition.4 Importantly, these electoral and governing coalitions entail different people in different roles—the voters of Iowa and New Hampshire, for example, do not figure prominently in most governing coalitions. In addition to Congress, the president’s governing coalition includes the executive staff and appointees, interest groups, the bureaucracy, the media, and the “general” public. All of these coalitions are forged through the rhetorical processes of presidential persuasion. Some of this presidential communication attempts to unite that which the constitutional design separated (State of the Union addresses, judicial and other nominations, vetoes, amicus curae briefs); others serve as walls intended to keep those separations intact (executive orders, other administrative communications ). Thus, presidential communication to Congress can be understood as either a dialogue or a monologue, as exchange or as a one-way street; it can be understood as talking with, to, at, or around Congress. Reflecting these imperatives, we have divided our discussion of presidential communication with Congress into three parts: presidential attempts to use the mass public as a means of persuading Congress, direct communication from the president to Congress, and presidential attempts to subvert Congress. We conclude with our thoughts concerning the state of the literature in each of these areas. Going Public Presidents have been advised, as James Pfiffner put it, “to hit the ground running ,” to move quickly and decisively on a legislative agenda or risk losing potential effectiveness in office.5 They are told that focus is imperative and are accustomed to having their legislative records critiqued after their first three months in office (“the first one hundred days”) and then periodically throughout their term (reviews of executive and legislative box scores in the national press). In a sense, the modern presidency is judged by the amount and 274 | Task Force Reports types of legislation the chief executive can get “through” Congress. And yet in this media-saturated age, a key way that modern presidents work to get their packages through Congress is by talking “around” them. The first theme to be explored in this report is how recent presidents have appealed to public support to enhance their legislative successes in Washington , D.C., a practice that has changed the relationship between the executive and legislative branches and has, in the minds of some, made governing more volatile.6 The theorists of the rhetorical presidency contend that developing communication technologies, changes in electoral processes, and alterations in the party system helped to change the institution of the presidency, moving it from a constitutionally delimited office to one that depends on public support for success. These theorists do not necessarily argue that presidential persuasion was nonexistent prior to the twentieth century, only that it was rare and inconsistent with the prevailing understanding of the institution—that the contemporary institution relies upon mass persuasion in a way that its previous incarnations did not...


Subject Headings

  • Presidents -- United States -- Language.
  • Rhetoric -- Political aspects -- United States.
  • United States -- Politics and government.
  • English language -- Rhetoric -- Study and teaching -- United States.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 2001-2009.
  • Presidents -- United States -- History.
  • Rhetoric -- Study and teaching -- United States.
  • Bush, George W. 1946- (George Walker), -- Language.
  • Political leadership -- United States.
  • Communication in politics -- United States.
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