The broad language of the second article of the Constitution left manyquestions about the power and authority of the President and the Executivebranch of the Federal Government. Since George Washington, each Chief Executivehas come to the position with different beliefs on the responsibility and powerof the President. However the performance of the president is often shaped byoutside factors which control how he must act as a Chief Executive. Thebehavior of presidents come from a number of different criteria. A president’spersonal character, his approach to the position and circumstances during histerm all contribute to presidential behavior.
Presidents have approached the office from two vague positions. Theyhave believed, to varying degrees, that either the president has a strongleadership position and broad powers to direct the nation in one direction, orthat the president has very limited powers dictated by the Constitution andshould act like a chief administrator for the Federal Government. These beliefswere reflected in their behavior while in the White House. Franklin Rooseveltbelieved that the Federal Government had an obligation and interest in bringingthe nation out of the depression. In order to do this he initiated a number ofagencies and projects to employ people. In the first “Hundred Days” ofRoosevelt’s first term he initiated a number of programs which increased thesize of the Federal Government and the power of the President.Order now
He did all thathe could to see that his proposals were put into place. This included a failedcourt packing scheme to have a more friendly Supreme Court to find his programsconstitutional (Lowi and Ginsberg230. ) In contrast to this belief in broad presidential authority by FranklinRoosevelt was Howard Taft. Taft believed that Presidential authority was verylimited the constitution and had to be specifically granted to the President byCongress or the Constitution (Lowi and Ginsberg 220.
) Another example of apassive approach to the presidency to is George Washington. While he is oftenseen as a very influential president, his position as the first Presidentrequire that he had to set many standards. In fact President Washington hopedthat the presidency would not be dominate. In his inaugural address he arguedfor a strong legislature which he received (Lowi and Ginsburg 227. ) However,personal beliefs on the role of the president have been minor in the behavior ofa President. When required all Presidents have assumed power to quickly dealwith a situation.
A President’s personality and beliefs are also a factor in determininghis actions as a President. Barber argues that a person’s personality is shapedby his character, world view, and style all of which are established atdifferent times in his life. He argues that a person’s character is establishedearly in life, world view is shaped adolescence, and style in early adulthood. These broad areas of personality come together to establish a style ofleadership and presidential character.
Barber goes on to establish fourcategories of Presidential Character which are; active-positive, active-negative,passive-positive, passive-negative. Jefferson was clearly an active-positivepresident who was proactive and enjoyed the power which he had. Barberexplains this by his Enlightenment education and good humor. Adams would fitinto his category of active-negative presidents who had a strong work ethic (aresult of his Puritan heritage) but a harsh disposition.
Madison can be fitinto the place of passive-positive. He bowed to political pressure, but enjoyedhis position because of his past in framing and support for the Constitution. Finally a passive-negative president would be President Washington who was moreor less forced into the office. He hoped for stability in the new governmentand allowed others to take an active role in forming the institutions of thegovernment.
His military background and obligation to perform community serviceexplain this approach to community service (Woll 291-300. )While Barber issuccessful is placing presidents into these categories, he gives very vagueexamples of character which explain their behavior as a president. It would bedifficult to successfully predict how future presidents would fit into hiscategories and they are too broad to explain behavior of presidents. Presidential behavior can also be seen in historical terms that thestature and power of the president has increased with the growth of the FederalGovernment.
Since the early twentieth century through the present day theFederal Government has grown in scope and size with almost each President. Thisis also true with the United States in the area of international relations. Presidents in the last century have taken a much larger part in legislatureleadership because of the nature of their election process. Presidents such asReagan and Clinton ran on specific programs which they would implement. Reaganacted in an active legislative way by proposing a tax cut and increased militaryspending, both of which he achieved. Clinton tried to accomplish health carereform as well as welfare reform.
Both of these types of legislative leadershipwere different from the actions of Madison who was viewed as a “chief clerk”(Lowi and Ginsburg 228. ) Since Franklin Roosevelt the Federal Government hasprovided a wide array of services and regulations for the American public. Thishas resulted in a growth of the executive branch. The President has had toincrease his role in developing policy as leader of the executive branch. Thegrowth of the United States into a global power has also changed the behavior ofthe President. His almost complete control over foreign policy has made him themost powerful diplomat in the world.
This explanation, however, only shows thedifference in the character of the office of the presidency in the past century. How each individual president fits into this pattern is left unexplained. The most important consideration in explaining presidential behavior isoutside circumstances and events. The nature of the office is for the presidentto be a reactionary on many different fronts. For the most part the legislationthat the president proposes is in response to a problem or concern by the publicor the media.
The president must react to international events which may effectAmerican interests. Presidents who want to take a proactive approach toproblems are often bogged down with problems which derail their plans. President Kennedy was forced to devote most of his time to Cold War issuesduring his presidency than domestic affairs because he found himself in powerduring two of the biggest events of the Cold War. The failed Bay of PigsInvasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis forced Kennedy away from domestic issueswhich he promised to tackle.
Hoover’s presidency was completely derailedbecause of the depression. Lincoln focused himself completely at the task ofkeeping the Union, even if this meant blatant violations of civil liberties. While circumstances may dictate what a President must deal with, it does notnecessarily explain how he comes to a position on issues and deals with problems. The behavior of a President can only be explained as a combination ofmany factors.
His personal politics and approach to the power of the Presidencywill explain if he will try to lead the whole government and beyond that thewhole nation, or if he will act as a clerk, putting into action the orders ofCongress. A Presidents character and style of leadership are an importantfactor in his approach to leadership. The size and duty of the FederalGovernment also effect a President’s behavior and the priorities of his office. Finally a President must react to events at home and abroad which are out of hiscontrol. The pressures that these events and the public reaction to themprobably have the greatest influence over his behavior and decisions.
Actions and behavior of a President are the result of a complex set ofcircumstances. No one criteria can be used to explain the behavior of thepresident in any event. Explaining actions on the basis of one criteria isfutile and should be reserved to talk radio hosts. Category: History