Presidential Power in the Public Policy Sphere: Insights from LBJ

Hello! My name is Jacob Lowy, and I am a senior at Haverford College, majoring in Political Science. I look forward to meeting all of you this year and learning about everyone’s research.

My fascination with the American Presidency began in seventh grade when my social studies teacher showed us 1776, the musical. I’ve never been that interested in musicals, but this one caught my attention. The political maneuvering and clash of personalities was exciting. I was especially captivated by John Adams’ character, his unyielding commitment towards advancing the American Revolution and passionate engagement with his contemporaries. Later that year, I read David McCullough’s biography on Adams and became absorbed with the institutional dynamics between Adams and Congress during his presidency over issues like the Alien and Sedition Acts and the possibilities of war with France. Presidents are limited in advancing their legislative policy agendas by the Constitution and Adams had to rely on personal interactions and persuasive efforts in order to promote his agenda in Congress.

I have further pursued my interests in presidential politics at Haverford. My favorite class was The American Presidency, which I took during my sophomore year. This class discussed theories of presidential-congressional power dynamics. We studied schools of thought ranging from theorist Richard Neustadt’s model of presidential power through persuasion and bargaining to institutionalist Stephen Skowronek’s construct of political versus secular time and applied these theories to presidential case studies.

I want to understand presidential-congressional relations within the context of the political environment of American society. My research question is: Do presidents succeed at getting their legislative initiatives passed because of their leadership and persuasion abilities, or do they succeed because they presented the legislation at an opportune time? Presidential power scholars have asked variations of this question, but I want to evaluate theories of presidential power through the lens of recent public policy models of agenda setting and policy formation. I believe that the theories on presidential power and on public policy can be productively combined to yield new insights into understanding the success factors of presidential legislative agendas.

I plan to do this through a case study analysis of President Lyndon Johnson’s promotion of civil rights legislation in the 1960s. LBJ failed to get the 1966 Fair Housing Civil Rights bill passed by the same Congress that overwhelmingly passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Yet, two years later, in 1968, he was able to get a very similar Fair Housing bill passed through a much less supportive Congress. Why was LBJ successful in 1968, but not 1966? How much personal control does the president have over legislative processes, and how much is the president constrained or liberated by exogenous events? What insights can current and future presidents glean from LBJ’s experience with Congress and civil rights legislation?

I am looking forward to the year, and to hearing from you!

About Jacob Lowy

Jacob Lowy ’14 is a Political Science major at Haverford College. He is a co-president of the Haverford Students' Council, former captain and current member of the Haverford Men’s Ultimate Frisbee Team and also plays violin. Jacob works for the Haverford Student Activities Office. In his free time, Jacob enjoys running, reading historical fiction, playing FIFA and watching the NBA.
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