When Barack Obama became president, many Americans embraced him as a transformational leader who would fundamentally change the politics and policy of the country. Yet, two years into his administration, the public resisted his calls for support and Congress was deadlocked over many of his major policy proposals. How could this capable new president have difficulty attaining his goals? Did he lack tactical skills?
In Overreach, respected presidential scholar George Edwards argues that the problem was strategic, not tactical. He finds that in President Obama's first two years in office, Obama governed on the premise that he could create opportunities for change by persuading the public and some congressional Republicans to support his major initiatives. As a result, he proposed a large, expensive, and polarizing agenda in the middle of a severe economic crisis. The president's proposals alienated many Americans and led to a severe electoral defeat for the Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections, undermining his ability to govern in the remainder of his term.
Edwards shows that the president's frustrations were predictable and the inevitable result of misunderstanding the nature of presidential power. The author demonstrates that the essence of successful presidential leadership is recognizing and exploiting existing opportunities, not in creating them through persuasion. When Obama succeeded in passing important policies, it was by mobilizing Democrats who were already predisposed to back him. Thus, to avoid overreaching, presidents should be alert to the limitations of their power to persuade and rigorously assess the possibilities for obtaining public and congressional support in their environments.
George C. Edwards III is University Distinguished Professor of Political Science and the Jordan Chair in Presidential Studies at Texas A&M University. His many books include The Strategic President. He is the editor of Presidential Studies Quarterly.
"[A] clear, well-documented study of the limits on presidential power and influence."--Publishers Weekly
"A valuable addition to the understanding of US polity."--R. Balashankar, Organiser
"In Overreach, Edwards applies 'lessons learned' from his previous work on presidential leadership to the Obama presidency. Edwards argues that presidents do not create political opportunities, but must identify political openings and capitalize on existing political opportunities. . . . A readable book that will find a home in undergraduate courses on the U.S. presidency."--Choice
"Overreach is a clear and instructive essay, which, with an impressive amount of data (polls, television audience statistics, Congressional voting, and so on), confirms the arguments Edwards has been making since 2003."--Aurélie Godet, Books and Ideas.net
"George Edwards has written a cogently argued, data-driven analysis of the Obama administration's failure to appreciate the opportunities and limitations of exercising power in the American political system. In the process, Edwards shows the relevancy of his and other scholarship for presidents, their advisers, and serious students of the American presidency."--Stephen J. Wayne, Georgetown University
"George Edwards is our leading analyst of the probabilities of presidential power. He shows that presidents are most effective at the margins, when they exploit existing opportunities rather than when they try to build new coalitions. And when they succeed (as with Obamacare) they might well be careful what they wish for. This book is a superb analysis of Obama's leadership style, and is essential reading for White House counselors."--Richard Pious, Barnard College
Table of Contents:
Chapter 1: Assessing Opportunities: Public Support 9
Chapter 2: Creating Opportunities? Going Public 36
Chapter 3: Evaluating Strategic Choices: Leading the Public 80
Chapter 4: Assessing Opportunities: Congressional Support 116
Chapter 5: Creating Opportunities? Leading Congress 135
Chapter 6: Evaluating Strategic Choices: Passing Legislation 157
Chapter 7: Persuasion and Opportunity in Presidential Leadership 179
Another Princeton book authored or coauthored by George C. Edwards: