The American presidency has changed dramatically over time. The founders meant for the president to be an executive, a unitary decision maker. However, since the advent of radio, television and mass communication, the presidency has developed into so much more. Today, whenever the president speaks there are dozens of cameras in his face. The president can schedule an address to the nation during prime time, and all the networks will cancel their programs and carry his speech.
Political Scientist Samuel Kernell described this new phenomenon as “Going Public,” wherein the president “promotes himself and his policies in Washington by appealing directly to the American public for support,” thereby “forcing compliance from fellow Washingtonians by going over their heads to enlist constituents’ pressure.”
The president is no longer someone who just makes decisions about the administration of government. The president, by way of mass media and his bully pulpit, has tremendous power to shape the public discourse about American governance and policy. The president, more than any of the legislators who actually make the law, has the extraordinary ability to speak directly to the American people. With this power, the president carries great legislative influence, as a charismatic and well-spoken individual can sway the public’s sentiment and create political conditions wherein his or her agenda is sure to be passed.
Ronald Reagan was very adept at “going public” and taking his case to the American people. Thus, he was known as “The Great Communicator” as he was able to explain his agenda in a clear and compelling way, which eased his tax reform through Congress. In addition, Reagan’s ability to speak to the hearts of the American people lifted an entire nation out of the malaise left behind by Jimmy Carter, and restored America to her greatness. Bill Clinton was a gifted communicator as well, and this was of great assistance during his presidency. The case is still open on Obama. He has staked his political life and agenda on convincing the American people that the Republicans only care about preserving tax breaks for the super rich to the detriment of the rest of the country. The election next year will determine his success.
With this in mind, it is clear that candidates such as Rick Perry and Herman Cain would be lousy presidents. Sure, they would probably make sound decisions and push a conservative agenda. However, that is not enough. It is not enough for Herman Cain to just “surround himself with experts” to advise him on the best course of action. We need a Republican president who is quick on his feet and well-versed in the political issues. We need a Republican president who can take his case to the American people. When the polls are 50/50 and Congress is not sure how to vote on a certain piece of legislation, we need a Republican president who can utilize his bully pulpit in a skillful manner to sway the American public.
We have already seen how difficult it is in this day and age to have a Republican president who is not articulate or quick on his feet. Whoever the next Republican presidential nominee is, we know he or she will be swimming up stream against a hostile main stream media, looking to undercut him or her at every opportunity. Do you trust Herman Cain or Rick Perry to adequately counter the onslaught of anti-Republican rhetoric that is sure to pervade the mainstream media? Can you count on Rick Perry or Herman Cain to answer spontaneous questions at a press conference in a coherent and effective manner?
When choosing among the GOP presidential contenders, primary voters should consider who will be the most effective advocate for conservative values.