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The Strategic President:
Persuasion and Opportunity in Presidential Leadership
George C. Edwards III

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2009

Paperback | 2012 | $29.95 | £24.95 | ISBN: 9780691154367
272 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 18 tables.
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eBook | ISBN: 9781400830015 |
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How do presidents lead? If presidential power is the power to persuade, why is there a lack of evidence of presidential persuasion? George Edwards, one of the leading scholars of the American presidency, skillfully uses this contradiction as a springboard to examine--and ultimately challenge--the dominant paradigm of presidential leadership. The Strategic President contends that presidents cannot create opportunities for change by persuading others to support their policies. Instead, successful presidents facilitate change by recognizing opportunities and fashioning strategies and tactics to exploit them.

Edwards considers three extraordinary presidents--Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan--and shows that despite their considerable rhetorical skills, the public was unresponsive to their appeals for support. To achieve change, these leaders capitalized on existing public opinion. Edwards then explores the prospects for other presidents to do the same to advance their policies. Turning to Congress, he focuses first on the productive legislative periods of FDR, Lyndon Johnson, and Reagan, and finds that these presidents recognized especially favorable conditions for passing their agendas and effectively exploited these circumstances while they lasted. Edwards looks at presidents governing in less auspicious circumstances, and reveals that whatever successes these presidents enjoyed also resulted from the interplay of conditions and the presidents' skills at understanding and exploiting them.

The Strategic President revises the common assumptions of presidential scholarship and presents significant lessons for presidents' basic strategies of governance.


"The book should be read and reread by occupants of the White House, as well as by students and scholars of the presidency."--Brandice Canes-Wrone, Princeton University, Presidential Studies Quarterly.

"This book should be required reading for scholars of the U.S. presidency."--A.L. Warber, Choice

"[This] book has the merit of provoking new thinking about presidential governing strategies and the value of 'going public.' Scholars of the presidency will . . . find much of interest in [this work]."--Daniel DiSalvo, Perspectives on Politics

"Well organized and meticulously written. . . . It contains the clearest and most complete information to be found on the subject. The Strategic President is worth reading. Not only is it entertaining reading by any definition, it is also highly informative."--Feryal Cubukcu, Journal of American Studies of Turkey


"The Strategic President speaks to all those who still believe in the magic of presidential leadership and who still put their faith in the power of political persuasion. The book is everything we have come to expect from George Edwards: strong, clear, consistent, and sober. Taking on the great leaders as well as the mediocre ones, Edwards shows that context determines the boundaries of possibility, and that the skills needed to get things done are those that address the situation as it is and exploit what opportunities it affords."--Stephen Skowronek, Yale University

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Table of Contents:

Preface ix
CHAPTER 1: Power as Persuasion 1
CHAPTER 2: Leading the Public: Best Test Cases 19
CHAPTER 3: Leading the Public: Exploiting Existing Opinion 61
CHAPTER 4: Leading Congress: Best Test Cases 110
CHAPTER 5: Leading Congress: Less Favorable Contexts 152
CHAPTER 6: Reassessing Leadership 188
Notes 201
Index 249

Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by George C. Edwards III:

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