PLSI-3306-1: The American Presidency


David A. Crockett                                                                                             Spring 2003

SMB 105F                                                                                                        Office hours:

999-8344                                                                                                           MWF 9:30-10:30                                                                                                     2:00-4:00


Focus. This course is an introduction to the central actor in the American political drama – the American presidency. This is not to imply that the president as an individual is the most important political actor, or that the presidency as an office is the “highest” office, simply that the chief executive tends to sit at the center of national political action. The presidency is unquestionably the most visible institution in the American republic, but it is also perhaps the most perplexing, and often least understood. In this course students will examine the key orienting questions that surround this office. What is the constitutional design of the presidency, and why did the Framers structure it such? How does the presidency relate to the other branches of government – and how should it? What constraints do history and context place on a president’s ability to act? Does the individual make the office, or vice versa? Does character matter? And finally, how should American citizens evaluate their presidents? What should be our criteria for success or failure? In this course students embark upon an exploration of the place of executive leadership in a republican government.


Reading Assignments. The reading assignments are crucial for a complete understanding of the course material, and students are expected to keep pace with the syllabus. Required readings for this course are as follows: Sidney M. Milkis and Michael Nelson, The American Presidency: Origins and Development, 1776-1998, 3rd ed.; The Presidency and the Political System, 7th ed., Michael Nelson, ed.; The Evolving Presidency, Michael Nelson, ed.; and Louis Fisher, The Politics of Shared Power, 4th ed. Readings marked by an asterisk are available on the internet through the library’s electronic reserve feature, or in a course packet available at the university bookstore. In addition, I urge you to read regularly a major national newspaper (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post) and watch political coverage on television. These sources of information are not equal in terms of their dispassionate presentation of facts, but they give you an idea of what political actors and the elite news media are talking about “inside the beltway.” Current events are testable.


Important note: The Milkis/Nelson book is an excellent account of the development and evolution of the presidency, tracing events chronologically. An understanding of history is important in a course like this. You are required to read the book on your own, completing it by the last day of class.


Finally, for everything you wanted to know about the presidency, but were afraid to ask, see the following web sites for a wealth of information:





Grading. I base final grades on three exams, three short essays, one group oral briefing, and class participation. The three exams are each worth 15 percent of your final grade, for a collective total of 45 percent. The three short essays are each worth 10 percent of your final grade, for a collective total of 30 percent. The oral briefing is worth 15 percent, and 10 percent of your grade will come from class participation. You must complete all course requirements on the assigned dates. For every day an assignment is late, I will drop its grade two levels (i.e. from a B+ to a B-).


I grade assignments on a standard 100-point scale. At the end of the semester I compute a final grade based on the weights associated with each assignment. I convert that final numerical grade into a quality point, as per Trinity University’s grading system, explained on page 37 of “Courses of Study 2002-2003.” Below is an explanation of my grading criteria, followed by a comparative breakdown of letter grades, the standard Trinity applies to those grades, my 100-point scale, and quality points.


A – Demonstrates superior understanding of the topic; presents factors of central significance and explains them with substantial factual detail; clearly shows how these factors operate and interrelate; follows all instructions and guidelines; if written, done so in a clear and professional style, with correct grammar and spelling.


B – Demonstrates an accurate grasp of the topic; presents important factors and explains them with appropriate specifics; shows less detailed knowledge and less synthesis than A-quality work, but meets basic requirements of assignment; if written, done so in a style that is clear, correct, and professional.


C – Demonstrates an acceptable but commonplace or shallow understanding of the topic; presents important factors, but explains them with only the most obvious specifics; may omit some important factors or make factual errors; if written, done so in a style that may cause the reader minor distractions.


D – Demonstrates limited understanding, or partial misunderstanding, of the topic; may omit important aspects of a topic and make numerous factual errors; may omit some requirements of assignment; if written, done so in an unprofessional style that impedes the reader’s understanding.


F – Demonstrates little or no grasp of the topic; if written, done so in an unprofessional style that causes the reader significant difficulty.


A                     “superior”                     93-100                          4.000

A-                                                        90-93                            3.667

B+                                                        87-90                            3.333

B                      “good”                          83-87                            3.000

B-                                                        80-83                            2.667

C+                                                        77-80                            2.333

C                      “average”                     73-77                            2.000

C-                                                        70-73                            1.667

D+                   “poor”                          65-70                            1.333

D                                                         60-65                            1.000

F                      “failure”                        below 60                       0.000


Please keep in mind that I take these standards seriously. I believe most of you are capable of doing “good” work. I expect all of you to strive for a professional quality in your work. I reserve the “A” for exemplary work – work that is of truly superior quality, surpassing expectations and exceeding standards. Work that is barely adequate, that demonstrates lack of preparation and care, and that fails to meet what I consider to be acceptable university-level standards will be evaluated accordingly. Finally, be aware that simply logging in a certain number of hours on a project does not constitute meritorious performance.


Exams. Exams are in-class, essay/short answer in format. They cover only the material for that specific section of the course.


Essays. Three times during the semester, at my discretion, I will assign the class a short essay analyzing a specific reading or issue. The paper should be 3-4 pages in length, double-spaced, with standard one-inch margins and 12-point font. Your essay must conform to all elements of standard usage and style. Grammar, spelling, and other such things are important in presenting material in a professional manner. A clear and orderly mind expresses itself in a clear and orderly fashion. No research is necessary for this assignment – simply write a concise and well-reasoned response to the question I pose.


Group Oral Briefing. Readings for oral briefings are listed below, and I have identified in the course calendar when they should be presented. The assignments are scattered throughout the semester, allowing you to choose whether to “get it out of the way early” or wait until the bitter end. The readings represent different approaches to understanding presidential leadership. I will divide the class into relatively even groups. Each group will be in charge of one of the books to research and present.


Your task is to do the reading, become conversant with the argument’s strengths and weaknesses, and prepare an oral presentation of your work to the class. Each group will allocate an equal amount of time per presenter, with no presenter speaking for more than five minutes. This time constraint will be strictly enforced! Each group should also be prepared to field questions from the class or lead a discussion about its findings. It is your task to distill the material into a short and comprehensible format. To aid you in this, each group must prepare and hand out to the entire class a one-page abstract of your presentation, including bibliographic material and the names of your group members. The abstract may be single-spaced, and use a font size as small as 10. Note: an abstract is not a simple summary of a book’s contents, but an analytical summary of its primary arguments or themes. The groups may allocate work as they see fit, but all members will participate in the formal oral briefing. Grades are based on the substance and coherence of the presentations. “Coherence” includes such things as mode of delivery, vocal quality, physical poise, and other features associated with professional presentations. Groups will present on the following books:


Single event focus: John F. Marszalek, The Petticoat Affair: Manners, Mutiny, and Sex in Andrew Jackson’s

White House

Comparative survey: Fred Greenstein, The Presidential Difference: Leadership Style from FDR to Clinton

Revisionist history: Fred Greenstein, The Hidden-hand Presidency: Eisenhower as Leader

Insider account: Peggy Noonan, What I Saw at the Revolution: A Political Life in the Reagan Era

Evaluation of entire administration: Andrew Busch, Ronald Reagan and the Politics of Freedom

Psychobiography: Stanley Renshon, High Hopes: The Clinton Presidency and the Politics of Ambition

Instant history: Bob Woodward, Bush at War


Participation. The only way to obtain a liberal arts education is to engage in a dialogue, both with your fellow students and teachers, and also with the material. I expect all students to come to class prepared to discuss the assigned readings (you should bring readings to class). I will call on students at my discretion to answer questions or discuss certain items. I highly encourage student-initiated discussion, as well as Blackboard discussion forum input. Participation grades will be based on this interchange. Obviously, chronic absences will create problems in this area. I will take attendance. Just as any major business allows its employees a certain amount of “sick leave,” so I allow students four absences (10 percent of the semester!), no questions asked. More than that, and your participation grade will suffer.


This class is intended not only to inform you about the nature of the American presidency, but also to make you better citizens. In the interest of fostering the virtue necessary for such a project, I will not tolerate academic dishonesty, and I will deal with it, should it occur, in the swiftest possible fashion allowed me by university regulations. Academic dishonesty includes, but is not limited to, cheating on exams or papers, plagiarism, and taking any steps designed to violate the spirit of any course requirements.





                                                          I. Constitutional Context


Jan 17:              Course introduction


Jan 20:              Martin Luther King, Jr. Day


Jan 22:              Competing Approaches

                                    Evolving Presidency, reading 17

                                    *Neustadt: Presidential Power, Preface, ch. 2-3, and pp. 131-132


Jan 24-29:         Constitutional Foundations

                                    The Constitution (Evolving Presidency, reading 1)

                                    Federalist Papers, #47, 48 (first six paragraphs), 51, 69-70


                                    Evolving Presidency, reading 2

                                    Fisher: ch. 1

                                    Milkis/Nelson: ch. 1-2


Jan 31-Feb 3:    Prerogative Power

                                    *Locke: Second Treatise, ch. XIV, “Of Prerogative”

                                    Evolving Presidency, readings 13, 20, 38

                                    *The Prize Cases (1863)

                                    Evolving Presidency, reading 15 (Ex Parte Milligan)

                                    *Korematsu v. United States (1944)

                                    Evolving Presidency, reading 25 (Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co. v. Sawyer)


Feb 5-14:          Elections, Transitions, and Tenure

                                    Nelson: ch. 8-9

                                    Evolving Presidency, reading 11

                                    *Dahl: “The Myth of Presidential Mandate”

                                    *Jones: “From Campaigning to Governing: The Challenge of Taking Over”

                                    Federalist Papers, #71-72

                                    Evolving Presidency, reading 8


                        Oral briefings #1 and 2


Feb 17:             Exam











                                                           II. Institutional Context


Feb 19-24:         Executive Branch Politics

                                    Federalist Papers, #76, 77 (first paragraph)

                                    Evolving Presidency, reading 5

                                    Evolving Presidency, reading 21 (Humphrey’s Executor v. United States)

                                    *Eastland: Energy in the Executive, ch. 9

                                    Evolving Presidency, readings 24, 26

                                    Fisher: ch. 4-5

                                    Nelson: ch. 15


                        Oral briefing #3


Feb 26-Mar 3:   Relations with Congress: Lawmaking

                                    Federalist Papers, #73

                                    *Eastland: Energy in the Executive, ch. 4

                                    Evolving Presidency, readings 12, 41, 44

                                    Nelson: ch. 17

                                    Fisher: ch. 2 (pp. 23-51, 65-67), 3 (pp. 91-104), 7


Mar 5-7:           Relations with Congress: Foreign Policy

                                    *Wildavsky: “The Two Presidencies”

                                    Federalist Papers, #64 and 75

                                    Fisher: ch. 6 (pp. 177-191)

                                    Evolving Presidency, reading 22 (United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp.)

                                    Evolving Presidency, readings 6, 9, 29, 32


Mar 8-16:          Spring break


Mar 17-19:        Relations with Congress: Warmaking

                                    Federalist Papers, #74 (first two paragraphs)

                                    Evolving Presidency, readings 31 and 34

                                    Fisher: ch. 6, pp. 191-217

                                    *Eastland: Energy in the Executive, ch. 8


Mar 21-24:        Relations with Congress: Oversight and Impeachment

                                    Review Fisher, pp. 14-18

                                    Federalist Papers, #65-66

                                    Evolving Presidency, readings 16, 19, 35-37

                                    *Articles of Impeachment, Bill Clinton


                        Oral briefing #4


Mar 26-28:        Relations with the Judiciary

                                    Review Federalist Papers, #76

                                    *Eastland: Energy in the Executive, ch. 18-19

                                    Evolving Presidency, reading 23

                                    Nelson: ch. 18


Mar 31:             Exam



                                                            III. Historical Context


Apr 2-4:            The Rhetorical Presidency

                                    Nelson: ch. 4, 12

                                    Evolving Presidency, readings 14, 18, 28, 30, 39, 40, 42, 43, 45


Apr 7-9:            The Post-partisan Presidency

                                    Nelson: ch. 14, 10


Apr 11-14:        The Contextual Presidency

                                    Nelson: ch. 5, 13

                                    *Crockett: “Prometheus Chained: Communication and the Constraints of History”



IV. Individual Context


Apr 16-30:        Character

                                    *Barber: The Presidential Character, ch. 1

                                    *Barber: “Analyzing Presidents”

                                    *Tulis: “On Presidential Character,” in The Presidency in the Constitutional Order,

                                                eds. Joseph M. Bessette and Jeffrey Tulis

                                    Nelson: ch. 7

                                    Budziszewski: “Mix & Match Morality”


                                    *Eastland: Energy in the Executive, ch. 6, 16


                        Oral briefings #5 and 6


May 2:              Evaluations and conclusions

                        Examine various presidential ratings:

               [C-SPAN historians]

               [C-SPAN viewers]

               [Schlesinger polls]

               [Murray poll]

               [various polls compared]


May 7, 6:30pm: Final exam