In The Presidential Road Show: Public Leadership in an Era of Party Polarization and Media Fragmentation, Diane J. Heith evaluates presidential leadership by critically examining a fundamental tenet of the presidency: the national nature of the office. The fact that the entire nation votes for the office seemingly imbues the presidency with leadership opportunities that rest on appeals to the mass public. Yet, presidents earn the office not by appealing to the nation but rather by assembling a coalition of supporters, predominantly partisans. Moreover, once in office, recent presidents have had trouble controlling their message in the fragmented media environment. The combined constraints of the electoral coalition and media environment influence the nature of public leadership presidents can exercise. Using a data set containing not only speech content but also the classification of the audience, Diane J. Heith finds that rhetorical leadership is constituency driven and targets audiences differently. Comparing tone, content, and tactics of national and local speeches reveals that presidents are abandoning national strategies in favor of local leadership efforts that may be tailored to the variety of political contexts a president must confront.
“Past research into ‘going public’ has probed its use as a presidential strategy, its influence on public opinion and its impact on Washingtonians. None of these inquiries involved more than a quick, superficial glance at what presidents actually had to say and to whom. Thanks to Diane Heith’s careful, systematic analysis of presidents’ rhetoric, we now know.”
—Samuel Kernell, University of California–San Diego and author of Going Public
“The Presidential Road Show is a powerfully argued book that takes seriously the context in which presidents operate. Heith argues that changes in the election process and media environment have made it more difficult for presidents to govern. This book helps us understand why presidents have had such a difficult time navigating the choppy waters of the modern political world, and how they might develop new strategies for governing a fragmented nation.”
—Michael A. Genovese, Loyola Marymount University
Chapter 1 Redefining Presidential Leadership
Chapter 2 The Depth and Breadth of National Leadership
Chapter 3 A National President: Bill Clinton
Chapter 4 A Constrained President: George W. Bush
Chapter 5 An Obstructed President: Barack Obama
Chapter 6 Changing Tactics, Improving Outcomes?
Chapter 7 Alternate Models of Leadership
Chapter 8 Presidential Leadership for the Twenty-First Century