The American presidency is the most powerful political office in the world, and its power continuously grows in the public imagination. Surprisingly, most contemporary presidents have found themselves severely constrained in their ability to pursue their chosen agendas for domestic and foreign policy change. This lecture will explain why, focusing on the nature of government bureaucracy, the range of American challenges and commitments, and the development of the modern media. The constraints on the presidency have turned this powerful office into an essentially reactive institution that is more tactical than strategic, and therefore unlikely to fulfill major promises. The reactive presidency is, therefore, a disappointing presidency. The lecture will close with some reflections on how Americans can improve presidential leadership in future years. Reforms must center on the institution more than the particular occupant of the office.
Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs, Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law, University of Texas