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How the President Uses the Bully Pulpit in Washington, D.C.

Presidents have often tried to find ways to circumvent their policymaking competitors in Washington, D.C., and no method is more conspicuous (and audible) than the presidential bully pulpit

In fact, while the term bully pulpit is used today to describe any position that gives the occupant the ability to proclaim his views, it was invented by none other than President Theodore Roosevelt, who in speaking of the presidency once declared, “I suppose my critics will call that preaching, but I have got such a bully pulpit!”

Presidents use their bully pulpit to achieve many different objectives. Oftentimes, congressional gridlock convinces the President to call a prime time address to reach over Congress’s head and speak directly with the American people, urging them to support his plans or at least taking the time to blame Congress for obstructionism.

He can, however, really use the bully pulpit for any policy objective, whether it’s supporting a particular piece of legislation, promoting investment in new technology, encouraging Americans to carpool and turn down their thermostats (President Jimmy Carter’s gift to presidential rhetoric), or improving America’s image in the world.

While presidents like to believe that their very words can sway the minds of millions, some research has called the effectiveness of the presidential bully pulpit into question. One academic who has been at the forefront of this line of inquiry, George C. Edwards III from Texas A&M University’s Center for Presidential Studies, found little convincing evidence that presidential rhetoric had much effect on poll numbers.

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