Many of my fellow debaters who have any clue about the politics disadvantage should know what political capital theory is. For those who do not, I’ll summarize it in the following sentences. Congressional debate and conflict threaten or promote various bills and laws. However, with a high amount of political clout or capital, a president can influence the direction of certain policies with speeches, press conferences, meetings, and et cetera. Although this has been a theory that has been circulating for a while now and has come to be accepted amongst a large group of people, does this idea still hold weight in our current society?
If we look back to the early twentieth century, we can see the massive presidential influence the executive had on the other branches of government. “Teddy” Roosevelt had a profound effect on the United States and the world abroad with his big stick (realist) policy in international relations. The other Roosevelt known as FDR was able to influence congress to pass countless bills through the legislative branch with ease. Even charismatic JFK was able to convince a nation that it was the United States’ duty to go to the moon. However, with the election and promise of an equally as charismatic president with Obama, why haven’t the same sweeping congressional agreement and seemingly unilateral work been seen today?
I have a few theories.
The problem begins with the fact that there is no singular problem, or enemy that the government has to deal with that can be used to rally a nation. Franklin Roosevelt had the failures of Hoover and the Depression to campaign on and John F. Kennedy had the “evil” Russians during the Cold war. However, I think that a striking lack of a conceptual or tangible “enemy” figure in the War on Terrorism (or even a recovering recession) makes it a lot harder for citizens and congress to feel a nee to cooperate with a powerful leader figure like the President.
Second, the voters and people today seem to be a lot more aware of government. With the onset of the internet and mass-communication, political gaffs, problems, and the proliferation of sexual harassment charges have made government into something that is respected or looked up to, but rather as a monolithic symbol for corruption. The fact that a President was almost impeached due to policies outside of the office in the case of Bill Clinton compared to a more justifiable impeachment of Andrew Jackson is a testament to the growing skepticism placed on government. the Occupy Wallstreet and Tea Party movements are additional examples of a tangible chaos in American society that makes the prospects of a history making, inspirational speech by Obama less likely.
Finally, people now are simply more aware. With the internet, details of specific laws and bills have been placed out for the public to view. No longer does the caring voter have to take the president at his words. Now they can hear and watch him, scrutinize everything that he says and comparing his words the contents of specific bills. The importance of having great ethos and diction is lost when voters simply read and choose.
Although political capital is only a component of political theory itself, I think that is an integral part of the president’s job to have a high amount of poltiical clout to get thngs done. But, I’m wondering whether or not those days of clean, cut, and well communicated pleas can be taken seriously anymore. Are we headed to a power grab by the legisltive branch of government?