Presidential Decision Making: How National & Partisan Constituencies Shape Decisions

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  • 0:02 Presidential Decision Making
  • 2:16 Pleasing the Nation
  • 4:12 Pleasing the President's Party
  • 6:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ashley Dugger

Ashley has a JD degree and is an attorney. She has extensive experience as a prosecutor and legal writer, and she has taught and written various law courses.

The United States President must make many important decisions on behalf of the nation. This lesson explores presidential decision making, including the role that the national constituency and partisan constituencies play.

Presidential Decision Making

Can you imagine being the president of the United States? Think about all the important decisions that must be made. A president must exercise wise decision-making skills. Decision making is simply the thought process of selecting a logical choice from the available options. For the president, the available options must seem endless! Thankfully, presidents don't typically make important decisions alone.

Presidents use Congress, their cabinet, political advisors, agency bureaucrats, the court system, their political parties, interest groups and others to help guide presidential decisions. Ideally, the general public, Congress, and the president's political party will collectively support all presidential decisions. However, that's not usually the way it happens. Most often, presidential decisions are opposed by at least one of these entities. To make successful decisions, presidents must seek to balance the needs of their national supporters, their party supporters and the general public.

For example, let's look at Democratic President Bill Clinton. During his first month in office, Clinton attempted to fulfill a campaign promise to lift the U.S. military's ban on homosexuals. However, Clinton failed to first gain the congressional support of his fellow Democrats. Instead, Clinton was forced to later enact the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy as a compromise with Congress.

Conversely, in Clinton's first month, he also fought for the passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA. This popular law allows an employee to take a leave of absence for the arrival of a new baby or for a family illness. Clinton had the backing of the Democratic Party, many in the Republican Party, various advocacy groups, and the general public. As a result, the law was widely supported and remains well-liked.

Pleasing the Nation

It's certainly challenging for presidents to strike the right balance between pleasing the nation, the general public and their own political party. When seeking to please the nation, a president must consider his or her national constituency. This is the group of voters the president represents. Of course, the president represents and leads our entire country.

So, though his constituents are technically those who supported or voted for him, the president must seek to more broadly please the general public. This means that successful presidential decisions will be based on the national interest. The national interest refers to what is in the best interests of the nation and most wanted by the public.

For example, let's look at President George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq. Though controversial now, at the time this decision was widely supported. The 9/11 bombings were fresh in the minds of all Americans, and reports linked Saddam Hussein to those attacks. The Iraq War seemed to be a decision made in the national interest and in an effort to protect Americans from future terrorist threats.

On the other hand, President Jimmy Carter attempted to act in the national interest when he told Congress he would veto any bills that included unnecessary pork-barrel spending. Pork-barrel spending occurs when legislators tack local spending projects onto larger bills. When the larger bill is passed, money flows to the representative's district for a local project, such as fixing roads. Though in the national interest, this announcement was unpopular with Congress. The legislators responded by delaying Carter's legislative programs.

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