“The Political Efficacy of Ideas: Presidential Representation and the Development of the Modern Presidency,” John Dearborn, Yale University
AMERICAN POLITICS & PUBLIC POLICY WORKSHOP
Abstract: Scholars have long debated the role of ideas in political outcomes. Their causal significance is more often asserted than demonstrated. This project sets forth attributes that, in combination, should help in demonstrating the efficacy of ideas. It then offers a comparison to show when an ideational account is required to explain a political outcome versus when a non-ideational explanation is sufficient. Specifically, I contrast Congress’s creation of the institutional presidency in five policy areas (budgeting, trade, reorganization, employment, and national security) over two periods of time (1921-1947 and 1973-1998). Considering both the choice of institutional arrangements and the durability of those reforms, I show that acceptance of the idea of presidential representation - an assumption that presidents possess and act based on a unique perspective due to their national constituency - was an essential precondition for reforms in budgeting, trade, reorganization, and employment, while national security reform did not rely on this idea.
John Dearborn is a Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science, studying the Presidency, Congress, and American Political Development. His dissertation examines the influence of the idea of presidential representation on the political development of the institutional presidency and its implications for American constitutional government. Work from this project is forthcoming in the Journal of Policy History and Presidential Studies Quarterly. He graduated from the University of Connecticut with a B.A. in political science in 2013.