and Discussion (30 minutes)
Before viewing the video, discuss the following questions:
- To what extent do modern presidents resemble the expectations
of the founders?
- Why have presidents become so important to modern American government?
- In what political arena does the president typically find the
greatest occasion to exert his skill and authority?
- Why does our Constitution entrust the power to declare war to
- Do the high expectations that Americans have for the presidency
ensure disillusionment with the incumbents?
Watch the Video
(30 minutes) and Discuss (30 minutes) [Top]
The video includes three segments:
1. Getting the Job Done: The Johnson Treatment
Today, the responsibilities of the president are vastly greater
than at any time in our history. The president is our nation's public
face to the world, commander-in-chief, chaplain to the nation in
times of crisis, and head of his political party, among many other
things. In modern times, there is one president who used the power
of his position better than many who came before him, and many who
have come since. Lyndon Baines Johnson became our 36th President
of the United States in the blink of an eye, but he had been preparing
for the role throughout his career. He had been a congressman, senator,
and a vice president, and along the way he had become a master at
getting what he wanted. The so-called "Johnson treatment"
describes Johnson's unique style in getting others to support his
favored policy and political positions. A look at how Johnson marshalled
the Civil Rights Bill through Congress shows how the Johnson treatment
was used to overcome entrenched legislative opposition, but it also
demonstrates the power of a skilled and highly involved president.
2. Ronald Reagan: The Great Communicator
- What skills did President Johnson use to gain passage of the
Civil Rights Bill?
- Can other presidents replicate the Johnson style or is it unique
to one individual?
President Ronald Reagan's efforts to mobilize public and political
support for his mammoth tax cut of $784 billion (about 1.5 trillion
in today's dollars) are a testament to his "great communicator"
reputation. The sheer size of the cuts made it a difficult sell to
many in Congress, but the president used a speech to the nation to
move aside his congressional opponents. Reagan's speech is a classic
example of a president "going public" to roll out a major
policy proposal. The president's personal advisors helped him hone
a message designed to garner broad public appeal. Reagan's efforts
to sell his tax cut were among the many times he employed the "people
strategy" during his two terms as president.
- To what extent has the development of the modern media helped
- What are the advantages for presidents of going public?
- What are the disadvantages for presidents of going public?
3. Robert Reich: Locked in the Cabinet
The president's cabinet is made up of his 14 cabinet secretaries and
others he may include such as the vice president and the directors
of key federal agencies. In general, however, presidents in the last
few decades have come to depend less on the cabinet for advice and
help and more on other staff and advisors within the White House Office
and the Executive Office of the Presidency. Robert Reich, President
Clinton's appointee for Labor Secretary as well as his close friend,
directly experienced the marginalization of Clinton's cabinet. Reich
learned early on that the key to power in a presidential administration
is access, and that the staff in the White House's West Wing had a
distinct advantage over others.
- Why do presidents rely so heavily on staff in the White House
Office and the Executive Office of the Presidency?
- What did Secretary Reich take his campaign for a higher minimum
wage to the press? Was this a good strategy?
and Discussion (10 minutes) [Top]
Try the Critical
Thinking activity for Unit 7. This is a good activity to
use with your students, too.
1. The Ideal President (10 minutes)
Take a few minutes to think about and then list all the qualities
that you expect in a president. Compare your list of desirable traits
to that of others. Discuss your lists with others and evaluate the
likelihood that any one person can ever match the expectations.
What does this tell us about our expectations of presidential leadership?
Read the following Readings from Unit 8 to prepare for next week's
- Introduction-Bureaucracy: A Controversial Necessity
- Tocqueville, Democracy in America: "Public Officers Under
the Control of the American Democracy"
- Federalist Papers: "Federalist No. 72"
- Myers v. U.S.
- Humphrey's Executor v. U.S.
Read next week's Topic Overview.
You may want to have your students do the post-viewing activities:
The Many Roles of Our Modern Presidents and The Ideal President.
They are provided for you as blackline masters in the Appendix of
the print guide.