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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Thousand Days

Our chapter on the presidency describes the formal and informal sources of presidential power. The topic is timely now that President Obama has marked his 1000th day in office. Professor Daniel J. Palazzolo of the University of Richmond notes that the national agenda has changed in ways that do not work to the president's advantage. He adds:
The president’s “power” has also declined. As the late political scientist Richard Neustadt observed, presidential power is the power to persuade other people who share power (congressional leaders, presidential appointees, lobbyists and groups, foreign leaders, the news media, and the public) that it is in their interest to go along with the president. The president’s persuasive power is partly a function of his personal skills, but also a result of how others perceive his status and prestige.

By this standard, in the first 100 days of his presidency, Obama had tremendous power. Today, like other presidents who have suffered a similar fate, Obama’s diminished power has been affected partly by conditions he cannot control and partly from his own decisions. A controversial battle over health care (which remains unresolved), a stubborn economy racked by a housing crisis, banking and credit problems, persistent unemployment, and a series of apparent missteps in handling a range of issues from Guantanamo Bay to Solyndra have overshadowed President Obama’s successes.

An overwhelming majority of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track, shorthand for saying the president is not doing the job we expect of him. As the nation goes, so goes the power of the president.