The permanent campaign in the White House: evidence from the Clinton administration
The confluence over the past 30 years of a number of developments in American politics has created a mode of governing that is increasingly difficult to separate from campaign behavior. This phenomenon, known as the 'permanent campaign,' reveals much about current changes in elite behavior as well as shifting institutional incentives and trends in political communication in the United States. The normative questions raised by the permanent campaign focus on fundamental issues of representative democracy, the most obvious of which is the responsiveness of elected officials. The state of executive-legislative relations and nature of political party activity are also among the topics for which the study of the permanent campaign is relevant. As a result, the phenomenon deserves serious examination by scholars.
"Each day is election day in modern America."
--Dick Morris, The New Prince (1)
The permanent campaign was first described in the early 1980s by then-journalist Sidney Blumenthal (2) but has only recently begun to garner academic attention. (3) The increase in scholarly interest in the topic coincides with the end of the Clinton presidency, a period of time in which many believe the permanent campaign reached its apogee. This article examines the concept of the permanent campaign in the White House with specific attention paid to the Clinton administration. We seek to understand the nature and extent of this phenomenon through interviews with presidential advisers--both from the Clinton White House and earlier administrations--whose first-hand experiences can provide a reliable source of information on the strategies and tactics of day-to-day governing in the contemporary presidency.
WHAT IS THE 'PERMANENT CAMPAIGN'
The term 'permanent campaign' has a seemingly self-evident meaning. Given that campaigns are efforts to win elections, being constantly in campaign mode must mean that one is always doing what is necessary to win reelection. (4) Further, since many elected officials in the United States have become 'career politicians,' at least at the national level, it is reasonable to assume that reelection is the primary goal of politicians. As David Mayhew pointed out, even if an elected official has other objectives (e.g., enacting policy initiatives), reelection "has to be the proximate goal of everyone, the goal that must be achieved over and over if other ends are to be entertained." (5)
Of course, if reelection is so important to elected officials, it would be no surprise to learn that they spend a great deal of time campaigning during an election season. Traditionally, campaigns began on Labor Day of an election year. Today, candidates routinely begin airing campaign commercials in the summer, or even late spring. Even this extension of the campaign, however, leaves plenty of time between elections for tending to the people's business. Yet, increasingly, elected officials are devoting a significant amount of time and energy to their reelection efforts outside the election cycle. Anthony King has referred to this as the "never-ending election campaign." (6) Elected officials, according to King, are not only "extraordinarily sensitive to the opinions and demands of the men and...
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