Delivering the People’s Message

Delivering the People’s Message: The Changing Politics of the Presidential Mandate

Julia R. Azari
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Cornell University Press
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    Delivering the People’s Message
    Book Description:

    Presidents have long invoked electoral mandates to justify the use of executive power. In Delivering the People's Message, Julia R. Azari draws on an original dataset of more than 1,500 presidential communications, as well as primary documents from six presidential libraries, to systematically examine choices made by presidents ranging from Herbert Hoover in 1928 to Barack Obama during his 2008 election. Azari argues that Ronald Reagan's election in 1980 marked a shift from the modern presidency formed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt to what she identifies as a more partisan era for the presidency. This partisan model is a form of governance in which the president appears to require a popular mandate in order to manage unruly and deeply contrary elements within his own party and succeed in the face of staunch resistance from the opposition party.

    Azari finds that when the presidency enjoys high public esteem and party polarization is low, mandate rhetoric is less frequent and employs broad themes. By contrast, presidents turn to mandate rhetoric when the office loses legitimacy, as in the wake of Watergate and Vietnam and during periods of intense polarization. In the twenty-first century, these two factors have converged. As a result, presidents rely on mandate rhetoric to defend their choices to supporters and critics alike, simultaneously creating unrealistic expectations about the electoral promises they will be able to fulfill.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-7026-4
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction: Political Institutions and the Politics of the Presidential Mandate
    (pp. 1-20)

    Twenty-first-century U.S. presidents operate in an age of mandate politics. Compared with mid-twentieth-century leaders, contemporary presidents draw on the logic of campaign promises and election results much more frequently. The use of mandate claims is not mere rhetorical window dressing; rather, this trend represents a fundamental shift in the logic of presidential politics. In the contemporary era, presidents no longer use mandate rhetoric primarily in televised national speeches or talks addressing partisan supporters. On the contrary, the logic of electoral mandates pervades presidential speech in media interviews and news conferences, minor speeches, and remarks to other members of the government,...

  5. Chapter 1 Changes in Mandate Rhetoric: From the Progressive Era to the Partisan Era
    (pp. 21-58)

    Between the presidencies of Herbert Hoover and Barack Obama, presidential mandate rhetoric has changed in frequency, context, and content. In the modern era, which began with a transition period under Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt, mandate rhetoric became relatively infrequent. When presidents did refer to election results, they invoked broad issues and, in many cases, presented the president as a national trustee. Modern presidents also tended to employ mandate rhetoric in major national addresses, in news conferences, or at partisan events. After the foundations of the modern era began to disintegrate with Nixon’s election in 1968, it has become common for...

  6. Chapter 2 The Changing Presidential Script: Hoover, Roosevelt, and the Politics of Transition
    (pp. 59-82)

    One week after he took office in 1933, Franklin Roosevelt received a telegram urging him to act quickly to resolve the nation’s economic problems. Invoking the election as a mandate for swift action, the telegram read, “Mr. President the people of the United States have elected you. The people of the United States stand solidly behind you. Whereas Congress may only grant you official permission to act drastically the people have given you a moral sanction. Congress failed. God and success be with you.”¹ It is intuitive that elites and citizens alike might see the 1932 election as a mandate...

  7. Chapter 3 President of All the People? Eisenhower, Johnson, and Leadership in the Modern Era
    (pp. 83-110)

    Between 1939 and 1968, presidents were elected and reelected with landslide majorities and with excruciatingly close margins. Both groups, however, demonstrated restraint in their use of mandate rhetoric. When they did refer to the elections that installed them in office, they often shied away from divisive or ideological themes and described the presidency in trustee, rather than delegate, terms. In this sense, this era was distinct from the Progressive period, when mandate claims—clear, specific, and partisan—were more common. Nearly all inaugural addresses between 1893 and 1933 contained some sort of mandate reference; in contrast, during the period between...

  8. Chapter 4 The Presidency in Crisis: Nixon, Carter, and the Decline of Consensus
    (pp. 111-134)

    In April 1969, Leonard “Len” Garment, one of Nixon’s domestic policy advisers, wrote a memorandum to Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman describing the decline in presidential status and the growing concern in the White House about public and media hostility. Garment expressed the view that “public dissatisfaction with government” was the “most important contemporary political fact.” However, he also offered some more optimistic comments about the Nixon’s administration’s ability to handle the situation:

    The president’s perception of the importance of reducing the scale andimpersonalityof the presidency (i.e. the Inaugural theme), and his success in doing so through...

  9. Chapter 5 What an Election Is All About: Reagan, Bush, Obama, and the Age of Mandates
    (pp. 135-164)

    Writing inTimemagazine after Obama’s 2008 victory, Michael Grunwald posed and answered the ubiquitous postelection question: What did the result mean? He predicted, “When historians remember the 2008 election, they’re going to remember that the two-term Republican president had 20 percent approval ratings, that the economy was in meltdown, and that Americans didn’t want another Republican president. They’ll also remember that Obama was a change candidate in a change election.”¹ These comments, despite references to the specific conditions of the 2008 election, exemplify the mandate politics that characterized the partisan era. Grunwald’s assessment emphasized party; although Bush could not...

  10. Conclusion: Delivering the People’s Message
    (pp. 165-178)

    Presidential elections are open to multiple interpretations. For nearly any election result, politicians, pundits, and scholars can point to arguments both for and against the idea of “a mandate.” Presidents can and do interpret elections as both calls for unity and popular endorsement of their party’s signature policy issues, as arguments for sweeping change and for adjustments to arcane regulatory practices. They may also choose to eschew public interpretations of elections altogether. Choices are abundant, and nearly all can be supported through selective use of facts and arguments. The main contention of this research, however, has been that these choices...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 179-202)
  12. Index
    (pp. 203-206)