Examining the conceptualizations and theories of Neustadt and Skowronek’s in comparative perspective, this essay makes the principal argument that both of these theories only represent partial explanations of how success and efficiency is achieved in the context of the Presidency. With Neustadt focusing saliently on the President’s micro-level elite interactions and with Skowronek adopting a far more populist and public opinion-based framework, both only serve to explain some atomistic facets of the Presidency. As such, neither is truly collectively exhaustive, or mutually exclusive of the other, in accounting for the facets of the Presidency in either a modern day or historical analytical framework. Rather, they can best be viewed as complementary theories germane to explaining different facets of the Presidency, and the different strengths and weaknesses of specific Administrations throughout history.
Beginning with a comparative analysis of the manner in which Neustadt and Skowronek conceptualize of the Presidency itself, the essay notes that Neustadt’s theory operates at the micro level while Skowronek’s operates at the macro level. Arguing that this difference is salient in creating a division of labor between the two, the essay moves forward to examine each theory’s ability to expatiate upon differences between Presidents by applying them to both the Johnson and Nixon Administrations. Noting Neustadt’s superiority vis-à-vis Johnson and Skowronek’s greater potency as it pertains to Nixon, and how Reagan best shows the strengths and weaknesses of both authors, this essay proposes that this discussion lends further support to the notion that each theory is best suited to examining different facets of the Presidency.
Concluding with an examination of the Obama Administration, so as to elucidate the theories’ abilities to examine the records and reputations of specific Presidents; the essay notes that each highlights a different failing of the Obama Presidency. Concluding, the essay thus proposes that, rather than representing unified theories of the Presidency, each of these theories works best in specific empirical areas, and that they should thus be used in tandem for the best results.
Competing Conceptualizations of the Presidency
Beginning with Richard Neustadt’s conceptualization of the Presidency, its central assumption is that Presidential politics are mostly built on the basis of small-scale and micro-level interactions between the President and a series of elite Washington actors. In such a context, the context of interaction which the President works within is a small one, and is predicated upon a small high-echelon of influential party leaders and other political stakeholders with whom the President must negotiate directly. This phenomenon, known as institutionalization pluralism, thus represents a context in which the Presidency’s core function is to negotiate with these high-level stakeholders so that they will bring about...