Sunday, April 13, 2014

Julia R. Azari's "Delivering the People’s Message"

Julia R. Azari is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Marquette University. She is coeditor of The Presidential Leadership Dilemma: Between the Constitution and a Political Party.

Azari applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Delivering the People's Message: The Changing Politics of the Presidential Mandate, and reported the following:
Page 99 explains the politics of interpreting the 1952 election. It reads:
In the Eisenhower White House, the idea of the “president of all the people” remained a speechwriting priority through all eight years in office. At the same time, the president’s policy positions derived very much from conservative ideas. This tension is evident in the way Eisenhower’s communications treated the 1952 election. It also helps to explain why electoral logic was used so infrequently despite the substantial election victory.
Eisenhower’s interpretation of the 1952 election is one of several case studies I use to examine how presidents have claimed electoral mandates in the post-Progressive era. The main argument of the book is that mandate-claiming reflects more about the state of presidential and party politics than about any particular election. Eisenhower’s enigmatic presidency is considered alongside that of Lyndon Johnson. It would be difficult to find two more different politicians in that role – in addition to different party affiliations, Johnson was a career politician with years in Congress and a love of the political game, while Eisenhower had barely participated in politics before his 1952 debut. Nevertheless, both demonstrated restraint in rhetorically tying their (considerable) election victories to policy decisions.

Despite their distinct beliefs and backgrounds, archival evidence reveals that Johnson and Eisenhower held similar ideals about how to present themselves in the role of the presidency. Both strived to represent the nation broadly, and to highlight the statesmanship qualities of the office. These values, I argue, are at odds with claiming a party mandate or telling an audience that you are “doing what you were elected to do.”

This approach to the presidency, and the political conditions that produced it, proved to be short-lived. The later chapters of the book examine how two trends, the growth of party polarization and the decline of public esteem for the presidency, have changed how presidents interpret elections. Beginning with Richard Nixon, presidents began to cast about for new narratives to justify executive leadership and to rally supporters. This rhetorical emphasis on party mandates and campaign promises has held true ever since, for presidents from Carter through Obama. The concluding chapter considers the implications of this development as well as the possibilities for its spread from the presidency to Congressional and state-level politics.
Learn more about Delivering the People's Message at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue