The Strategic Presidency

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"The Strategic Presidency"


I’ve now done a kind of scan-read of Team of Rivals à la a person preparing for a college final. And I have to say that, like Daniel Drezner and most others I’ve spoken to, what Obama’s doing doesn’t actually seem to follow that template in anything other than a very superficial sense.

Insofar as Obama’s following any book-based template, I’d say the one he’s following is the one James P. Pfiffner laid out in a book I read three or four years ago called The Strategic Presidency: Hitting the Ground Running. The subtitle does an excellent job of laying out Pfiffner’s main point, namely that it’s important to hit the ground running. The beginning of an administration is a very favorable moment in which to move policy, both because of “honeymoon” popularity and press treatment, and also because of an unequaled ability to set the agenda. Think of Obama as a guy who’s decided that he has four or five things he’d really like to accomplish, and he’s setting himself up to ensure that he can accomplish three or four of them for sure while offering responsible stewardship on other topics that can see him clear through the re-election.

I think that’s the team Obama’s put together. It’s ready to legislate now on his big priorities without needing to spend time getting to know the key congressional players, and it’s designed to ensure as smooth as possible a handoff of ongoing crisis management at Treasury and Defense so that the president-elect’s agenda doesn’t get derailed by events.

UPDATE: Note that in today’s presser, Obama specifically says that the vision for change comes from him, not his cabinet, and that the goal of his appointments is “to be able to hit the ground running.”

Could be a coincidence, but that’s Pfiffner’s exact phrase and it’s what’s happening.

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