Neustadt starts his book with a sober appraisal of the American Presidency. He states that the American people tend to rate a President "from the moment he takes office . . . we are quite right to do so . . . his office has become the focal point of politics and policy in our political system" (Neustadt, p.1). He also argues that "we often make our judgments upon images of office that are far removed from the reality" (Neustadt, p.1). It is this discrepancy between image and reality which is one of the most important elements of Neustadt's book. Neustadt also argues that while it is perhaps natural to concentrate on the President as a single individual, a more accurate portrayal would consider the "presidency" as an institution that includes "two thousand men and women" (Neustadt, p.1). The overall argument that Neustadt makes is that Presidents who lead by persuasion rather than relying upon Constitutional power are more successful. While there are complex reasons for this, the overarching reason is that the President is innately weak under the US Constitution according to Neustadt.
How can President Clinton be viewed through the prism of Neustadt's theory of the Presidency Bob Woodward's The Agenda: Inside the Clinton White House takes a very close and unsparing look at the first one hundred days of the Clinton presidency. While a convenient figure, the first 100 days also has historical importance because it was within the first 100 days that President Roosevelt introduced the major elements of the New Deal and swept into existence a whole range of government programmes. This achievement is perhaps an impossible target for any President, but it is the one that inevitably seems to be made.
In The Agenda Woodward paints a portrait of a President who was essentially nave, but who nevertheless had good intentions. The idea that Clinton should use persuasion rather than constitutional powers to actualize his agenda is seen perhaps within the surprising fact that Clinton appears to have been greatly influenced by the Federal Reserve Chairman, Alan Greenspan. Although much older, a staunch conservative and possessed of a distinct lack of charisma (and thus the opposite of the new President), Greenspan and Clinton actually got on very well and the Fed Chairman soon persuaded the Democratic President of the need to take bold action in order to reduce the national deficit.
It was the economic success that would ultimately be Clinton's most powerful achievement and one that was based upon constitutionally derived powers rather than charisma. Clinton had attempted to use charisma, persuasion and a Democratic Congress in order to push through a comprehensive healthcare plan that would have introduced universal coverage to American for the first time. Based upon a moral certainty that this was the only ethical course for America, Clinton ignored the practical problems of getting the legislation through Congress when very powerful interests (the healthcare industry) were laid out against it.
The picture that Woodward paints is of a President who is often torn between what he wants to do ideologically and what he can do pragmatically. For example, the following occurred during one early Cabinet meeting. The Cabinet was discussing fiscal policy and the two sides of Clinton, the Liberal idealist and the Conservative