Lord Bryce's Curse: The Costs of Presidential Heroism and the Hope of Deliberative Incrementalism


  • AUTHOR'S NOTE: I gratefully acknowledge the valuable comments of George Edwards; Abigail Whelan and Adam Chelseth provided conscientious research assistance for which I am grateful.


Presidents yearn for greatness to cement their “standing in history.” But their efforts are vulnerable to constitutional and political constraints. The gap between presidential hope and the limits on their power is vividly displayed by their record of “going public.” This article illustrates the costs of presidential promotions through a case study of President Barack Obama's public campaign on behalf of health reform, which provoked countermobilization, encouraged media coverage of the opposition, and widened the public's exposure to potent messages that undercut White House communications. The article concludes by suggesting partial steps to moderate expectations and work within institutional boundaries.