Mission Accomplished


Stephen Skowronek is the Peletiah Perit Professor of Political and Social Science at Yale University. He is the author of Building a New American State and The Politics Presidents Make. He is also a managing editor of Studies in American Political Development.


Notwithstanding Terry Moe's claim, rational choice scholarship has been pursuing the least “revolutionary” of the possible lines of advance in presidential studies. This scholarship asks the same basic question that Richard Neustadt asked nearly a half century ago: how much can a president get done? It follows Neustadt as well in its strategic approach to presidential action and in thinking about the problem of presidential strategy systemically. The new rational choice scholarship has many real strengths. It has helped clarify system parameters and specify how they affect an incumbent's opportunities, incentives risks, and constraints. But this is a “rigor revolution” that does more to perpetuate the traditional preoccupations of presidential studies than to overthrow them. The real revolution will come when we start asking questions about the presidency that no one in 1960 would have thought to ask.