Since the 1980s the American chief executive has shifted from a paradigm of the "modern presidency" to the "partisan presidency," argues Richard Skinner. This timely and engaging account of how the president relates to political parties helps us understand how contemporary presidents have polarized the electorate, helped drive a wedge between Republicans and Democrats in Congress, put a strong partisan imprint upon the executive branch, and seek to get their message out through partisan media outlets. Partisan presidents in the new era are far less interested in neutral competence and instead use the national party committees as tools of governance.
The book balances the development of the partisan presidency through recent history, with a thorough understanding of how Barack Obama fits into this polarized environment. Despite Obama’s rhetoric of bridging the partisan divide, his governing style has shown more continuity with than change from previous partisan presidents. Political parties―far from being on the decline, as political scientists used to argue―are undergoing a strong revitalization in American politics. This creates some positive effects on the American political system, but is also associated with a number of dysfunctional features. Ultimately the U.S. separation of powers structure prevents an unbridled partisan presidency, but current trends suggest that strong partisan polarization is at some level a constant in American history and the mid-twentieth century was the anomaly. The Partisan Presidency is essential reading for students of American politics.
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Richard M. Skinner is Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science at the New College of Florida. He is the author of More Than Money: Interest Group Action in Congressional Elections and has published articles in numerous journals.
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