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13.1: The Powers of the Presidency

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  • Learning Objectives

    After reading this section, you should be able to answer the following questions:

    1. How is the presidency personalized?
    2. What powers does the Constitution grant to the president?
    3. How can Congress and the judiciary limit the president’s powers?
    4. How is the presidency organized?
    5. What is the bureaucratizing of the presidency?

    The presidency is seen as the heart of the political system. It is personalized in the president as advocate of the national interest, chief agenda-setter, and chief legislator (Tulis, 1988). Scholars evaluate presidents according to such abilities as “public communication,” “organizational capacity,” “political skill,” “policy vision,” and “cognitive skill” (Greenstein, 2009). The media too personalize the office and push the ideal of the bold, decisive, active, public-minded president who altruistically governs the country (Smith, 2009).

    Two big summer movie hits, Independence Day (1996) and Air Force One (1997) are typical: ex-soldier presidents use physical rather than legal powers against (respectively) aliens and Russian terrorists. The president’s tie comes off and heroism comes out, aided by fighter planes and machine guns. The television hit series The West Wing recycled, with a bit more realism, the image of a patriarchal president boldly putting principle ahead of expedience (Parry-Giles & Parry-Giles, 2006).

    Figure 13.1


    Whether swaggering protagonists of hit movies Independence Day and Air Force One in the 1990s or more down-to-earth heroes of the hit television series The West Wing, presidents are commonly portrayed in the media as bold, decisive, and principled.

    Wikimedia Commons – public domain.

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