Two scholars have competing theories to the Office of the Presidency. Friedenberg in his book “Sold to the Highest Bidder” argues that money plays a large role in the presidency and that democracy is undermined as a result. Skowronek in “Presidential Leadership in Political Time” argues that most presidents fit into one or three categories which all fit into a changing cycle of the Office of the Presidency.
Private interests contribute money to both political parties to gain influence in formulating policies. These political parties look for the best person who can be sold to the public. Selling a candidate to the public can be done through buying of media time. Usually candidates have a lot of money to spend on campaign advertising to elicit public support for their campaign. Campaign advertising, not issues, is what ultimately elects candidates as President (Friedenberg, 2002).
President John F. Kennedy and President Jimmy Carter came from two different financial backgrounds but had access to money, which ultimately bought them the election. These two presidents are examples of most past presidents who have had family members serve in public office and these family members enabled them to aspire to become President of the United States (Friendenberg, 2002).
John F. Kennedy’s father, Joe Kennedy, came from a political background and had about $300 million in the 1960s. Joe used this money and popularity to finance his son’s campaign for the U.S. House in 1946. In 1952, John Kennedy beat Republican incumbent Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. in the U.S. Senate through a political campaign consisting of 286 workers, all hired by Joe (Friedenberg, 2002).
Friendenberg says that Kennedy was able to keep us from going into a full-fledged war but explains that his good looks, his beautiful wife, his charm and style, and his father’s money are the real reasons that he got into the White House. He failed to have the courage to propose a compromise that may have prevented a nuclear war. The compromise consisted of the U.S. taking out missiles facing Russia from Turkey if the Soviets removed their missiles from Cuba. John’s life was cut short because of his assassination in Texas but the Kennedy legacy lives on with his brother, Ted Kennedy, who has been a senator from Massachusetts since 1962. Ted’s son, Patrick, is a U.S. Representative from Rhode Island (Friedenberg, 2002).
Jimmy Carter’s uncle Alton was mayor of Plains, Carter’s hometown, while his brother, Earl, was elected to the Georgia State Legislature. The Carter family was not particularly rich but lived an upper-middle-class life in a small town. The family’s source of income was peanut growing and processing. Jimmy’s experience joining a number of groups such as the Lions Club, the local Chamber of Commerce, agricultural groups, and U.S. Naval Reserve lead him to a career in business and politics. He was not the kind of person that anyone would think would become President but in his campaign, contributors gave him $2.25 million, friends from California donated $1.5 million, and his bank friends from Georgia lent him $1,275 (Friedenberg, 2002).
Friedenberg explains that Jimmy Carter was able to establish diplomatic relations with China and turned over the Panama Canal to the Panamanians despite a large outcry of public opinion opposing this action. Carter failed to win in a second term because he failed to be perceived as an activist and an inspiration for leadership and was viewed by many as one who passively reacted to events. Today, Jimmy Carter is a multimillionaire. After his presidency, he became a professor at Emory University making over $100,000 a year and then wrote fourteen books with advances as high as $400,000 (Friedenberg, 2002).
Philosopher Adam Smith commented that laws are created to serve the rich and oppress the poor and this can clearly be seen by the actions of most of the presidents. Only when popular movements became powerful in the 1930s and 1960s did the minorities, poor, unemployed, homeless, workers, or farmers receive benefits from legislation initiated by the President. The power of moneyed interest on the presidency has further created a divide among the wealthy and the oppressed (Friedenberg, 2002).
Skowronek explains that most presidents fit into one of three categories based on the actions of the president in relation with its historical significance. Presidents can create a new regime, manage an established regime during changing times, or establish a credible leadership in a weakened regime. As new regimes are created, they are tested and their success creates a new establishment. This new establishment results in successors becoming regime managers. These managers are responsible for maintenance of the regime (Skowronek, 2003).
A new government order was created under President Franklin Roosevelt and President Andrew Jackson. Both presidents were Democrats and were affiliated with a dominant coalition. Neither saw their role in the White House as a passive caretaker but rather saw the dominant power weaken before taking office. The public not only voted for a Democrat for President but also voted for Democrats to make up the majority of Congress under both presidencies. Both presidents were discontent with the established order of things before arriving in office (Skowronek, 2003).
President Andrew Jackson was able to create a new regime because of the election of 1824, which created huge warring factions within the Republican Party. New economic and social conflicts started after the financial panic of 1819 but President Jackson was able to take credit for creating a new regime after President John Quincy Adams was charged on counts of conspiracy, intrigue, and profligacy in high places (Skowronek, 2003).
President Franklin Roosevelt capitalized on America’s dissatisfaction with President Herbert Hoover who was unable to prevent or even help alleviate problems associated with the Great Depression. The Democrats offered voters hope for economic recovery while voters lost faith that the Republicans would be able to help the common man (Skowronek, 2003).
President John Kennedy and President James Polk can be credited with managing an established regime during a time of change. Both presidents saw divisions within their party and remained committed to satisfying the requirements of the regime while stemming the disaffection. They also saw an era of divided government end after the opposition party was responsible in creating such divisions. Both Presidents managed an established regime happens at a time when political and institutional reconstructions were not feasible. Both presidents gave priority to foreign enthusiasms and wanted to unify America through foreign policy (Skowronek, 2003).
President John Kennedy felt that avoiding conflicts is best done by refraining from doing divisive actions. His support partly came from the fact that he believed in civil rights for black Americans. Even though the liberal Democratic platform also made civil rights an important issue, Kennedy reached out to regions offended by the civil rights movements and explained he supported traditional Democratic strategies. While running for office, Kennedy was able to keep civil rights off the agenda until passive of such law seemed more realistic (Skowronek, 2003).
President James Polk’s major accomplishment was more tangible – the ability to make the country larger through the purchase of California and created what is now considered southwestern United States as well as Oregon and Texas. In order to do this, a war broke out with both Mexico and Great Britain. The west, wanting to remain independent, was against the Untied States annexing its land. As a result, he created factions among his own party on this issue (Skowronek, 2003).
President Jimmy Carter and President Franklin Pierce can be credited with establishing a credible leadership in a weakened regime. Both presidents legitimacy were questioned at a time when their political parties had broken into many schisms. As members of the old order, they had to persuade the nation that they were committed to developing a new order by showing them that they understood and had a plan concerning the most basic problems facing the nation. Both wanted to repair governmental defects and create a new level of efficiency (Skowronek, 2003).
President Jimmy Carter focused on how far apart he was from the rest of his party and argued that bureaucratic inefficiency is what lead to people feeling estranged from their government. He encouraged the political coalition built on immoral behavior to transform itself into a coalition focused on changing itself by exhibiting behavior that is more moral. One of the weaknesses that President Carter had was that his narrow victory meant that those whom supported the immorality in the regime were more politically sound than he was (Skowronek, 2003).
President Franklin Pierce’s main issue was his support of the Compromise of 1850 and his pledge to resist any expansion of slavery. Opponents, particularly leaders from his own party, urged him to repeal the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and make slavery be established anywhere in the national domain. Opponents used this as a way to take revenge against a president who did not properly listen to the concerns of Southern senators. President Pierce in the end stood with his party leaders but despite his support for the Kansas-Nebraska bill, he was unable to get the support from his party that he sought (Skowronek, 2003).
Skowronek does a good job at explaining the struggle between the President in office and the system of politics. Presidents able to build a regime are able to create an upheaval in government control and their leadership efforts are tested when a new governing coalition steps in to maintain this new regime. He explains that as a nation changes, the presidency must also change or its approach dealing with national affairs will become outdated. (Skowronek, 2003).
Friedenberg fails to explain the regime cycle and regards successful presidents such as Franklin Roosevelt as one of the few exceptions. He sees all presidents as having major weaknesses since money enabled them to gain office, explains that “good” candidates are unable to become president, and that presidents block out contrary views. “The interests behind the party machines, like pilot fish that act as guides to sharks, strive to find the person who can best be sold to the public, or a very rich individual who can buy the media.” (Friedenberg, 2002).
Although it can be argued that most presidents do things in office to help the rich, it can also be argued that most presidents come to office with their own expectations on how government should be run and either change or maintain the system created by the last president. Most presidents are unable to change the system as radically as Roosevelt which is noted by Skowronek when he says, “It takes a person of rare political skill to manipulate the system in politically effective ways (Skowronek, 150, 2003).” Several presidents such as Carter defected from the party machine in an attempt to create a system that would be more responsive to the public (Skowronek, 2003).
Skowronek definitely makes a better case for his point of view and this perspective more clearly looks at the office of the Presidency in a historical outlook based on the accomplishments of the president and the limitations he had to work under. Friedenberg spends too much time focusing on how presidential candidates win elections and does not properly explain how presidential action can shift dramatically from one administration to the next.
A better way to look at the success of a President is by looking at the three categories discussed by Quirk that are the self-reliant presidency, the minimalist presidency, and strategic competence (Quirk, 2003).
A self-reliant presidency is one in which the president takes on personal tasks, is self-reliant, and meet intellectual requirements. “Thus a president’s chances for success depend on what he can do for himself: his direct involvement in decisions, his personal reputation and skill, his control over subordinates” (Quirk, 159, 2003). Examples of presidents that would be placed in this category include Roosevelt, Johnson, and Carter. Disadvantages of a self-reliant presidency are the ability to get so involved in the details that the president fails to see the big picture (Quirk, 2003).
The minimalist presidency is one in which the president does not require understanding of specific issues and relies on subordinates to resolve them. This does not necessarily mean that the president is taking a passive role but rather believes that other levels of government such as Congress should be involved with the details. Examples of presidents that would be placed in this category include Eisenhower, Reagan, and Bush II (Quirk, 2003).
The strategic competence strategy is one in which the president has a workable strategy for competence fully balancing his time, energy, talent, delegation of authority, and the way authority is delegated. Three major areas of presidential activity that can be looked at include policy decisions, policy processes, and policy promotion. Policy decisions are those in which the president is able to discern which of his subordinates make the most sense if he is unable to understand a substantive issue himself. Policy processes that are most important to the president include intelligence failures, groupthink, and noncoordination. Policy promotion is the ability for the president to be able to promote his policies. (Quirk, 2003).
This category more clearly defines the specific ways presidents have acted as leaders than the other two categories. The first two categories mentioned seem exhaustive while arguably many presidents such as Ford, Reagan, Kennedy, and Carter could be placed into this category. For simplicity, the third category could be removed and the other two categories would still be able to hold up in correctly categorizing presidential success. Compared to these authors, it is obvious that Friedenberg model is too simple to be seriously considered since he implies that all presidents except for Clinton have had many more failures than successes.