Power and Prudence
The Presidency of George H. W. Bush
Presidential Studies - Political Science
6.125 x 9.25, 200 pp.
Pub Date: 01/21/2004
Joseph V. Hughes Jr. and Holly O. Hughes Series on the Presidency and Leadership
Price:        $35.00

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Power and Prudence

The Presidency of George H. W. Bush

By Ryan J. Barilleaux and Mark J. Rozell

When George H. W. Bush took office in January 1989, he brought to the presidency an impressive resume. A former member of Congress, national party leader, CIA director, ambassador to China, and two-term vice president, he had the credentials and experience for a uniquely successful presidency. Less than four years later, the American electorate resoundingly proclaimed his administration a failure. Many pundits and scholars have echoed the voters’ judgement. In a considered and balanced reassessment, Mark J. Rozell and Ryan J. Barilleaux ask whether the public and the pundits have applied the wrong criteria of presidential evaluation.

Looking at the context in which Bush came into office, Rozell and Barilleaux argue that his strategy of incrementalism may indeed have been right for the times and the failure may have lain only in Bush’s inability to convince the public of that. Moreover, the authors disagree with the common wisdom that Bush pursued incrementalism only in domestic policy, arguing that it characterized his foreign policy as well.

Power and Prudence is a study in presidential evaluation. It represents a challenge to the conventional wisdom that has developed on the first Bush administration and presents an important reinterpretation of the leadership of a poorly-understood president. This thought-provoking analysis suggests that due to the circumstances of his presidency Bush may not have been in any position to articulate or achieve far-reaching policy objectives. These circumstances included the lack of an electoral mandate, Bush’s succession to a very popular and ideological leader, his inheritance of a daunting budget deficit, and the situation of divided government.

Interviews with members of Bush’s White House staff and recourse to the limited archival record thus far opened to scholars inform the authors’ interpretation of the Bush administration. A fascinating read into the workings of a contemporary presidency, Power and Prudence will appeal to presidential scholars as well as the politically-minded reader.

RYAN J. BARILLEAUX is professor and chair of the Department of Political Science at Miami University of Ohio. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Texas and is the author of six books.MARK J. ROZELL is a professor of Public Policy at George Mason University. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Virginia and has written eight previous books.

What Readers Are Saying:

“This important new study by two of our most respected presidency scholars sheds new light on the pivotal and paradoxical first Bush presidency. Their central argument—that Bush’s leadership approach was the same domestically and internationally–contradicts received wisdom because it concludes, persuasively, that political and policy incrementalism explain Bush’s overall leadership style. This book is a valuable and welcome addition to our understanding of Bush and executive leadership.”--Robert J. Spitzer, Distinguished Service Professor, Political Science, SUNY Cortland

“Bolstered by extensive interviews with former members of the administration, compensating for the meagerness of documentation available to them from the Bush Presidential Library at College Point, Texas, Mark J. Rozell and Ryan J. Barilleaux have contributed a clear-eyed and level-headed study of the first Bush presidency. Bush, in their view, was a prudent incrementalist, one whose presidency of consolidation was appropriate for the time and circumstances in which he held office. Rejecting what they consider failure to win re-election as an all-too facile criterion for writing off an administration as a ‘failure,’ they contribute a valuable analysis of the White House during the post-Reagan, pre-Clinton years and conclude that his ‘presidency of consolidation was appropriate for the time and circumstances in which he held office.’ All of this is done in five succinct, analytical chapters, which credit the 41st president with truly knowing ‘how to work the system,’ a point that is made especially clear in the chapters devoted to the administration's command both of information and its ability to maneuver around the thorny matter of executive privilege, both of which raise further questions about presidential power . . . Most significant for future students, who will find this book's insights invaluable, is how closely the administration's style reflected the personality in the Oval Office. In at least one instance, Bush rejected a passage prepared by his speech-writers by sending a note complaining that ‘that's not me.’ His personal character was most evident in his approach to foreign policy, which the authors conclude was characterized by the sort of incrementalism that marked Bush's handling of domestic matters. The record, they find, was the commendable result of ‘one who believes that prudence, personal diplomacy, and incrementalism were the best means to protect international stability and prevent disaster.’ Competence rather than dazzle was, it appears, the legacy of the first Bush to presidential history. Perhaps it is the perspective of some additional time, perhaps it is the keen scholarship of the authors but, whatever, what Rozell and Barilleaux have accomplished a matrix for future researchers.” --Herbert S. Parmet

“An important addition to the literature on the presidency of George H. W. Bush which also makes a useful contribution to our understanding of the presidency more generally. Contains particularly interesting analysis of Bush’s style of leadership, his relations with the media and the contrast between his approach and that of Ronald Reagan. The book includes thought-provoking comment on the nature of presidential leadership and has important things to say about the evaluation of presidents.” --David Mervin, University of Warwick, author, George Bush and the Guardians

“Mark Rozell and Ryan Barilleaux present a subtle, insightful and original analysis of the incrementalist leadership of President George H. W. Bush. In so doing, they make an extremely valuable contribution not only to our understanding of the first Bush presidency, but also to our thinking about how to evaluate presidential performance in general.”— John Dumbrell, Keele University, and author, The Carter Presidency: A Reevaluation --CHOICE
“The book is well researched and is generally a balanced treatment of President Bush’s administration, but more importantly, it serves as an important reminder that the presidency plays a limited role in a separation of powers system.” --CHOICE

“Barilleaux and Rozell present their arguments clearly and, although they refer to theoretical models of leadership, they avoid jargon. Their research in primary and secondary sources is commendable, and they make especially good use of interviews with more than a dozen former Bush staffers.” --Journal of Southern History, Vol. 71, No. 3

When George H. W. Bush left office in 1993, the American electorate resoundingly proclaimed his administration a failure. Here, Barilleaux and Rozell challenge this conventional wisdom and present a reinterpretation of the leadership of a poorly understood president. They suggest that the circumstances of Bush’s presidency may have limited his opportunities to achieve far-reaching policy objectives. “. . . a matrix for future researchers.” --Herbert S. Parmet, City University of New York


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