Aaron Wildavsky was, until his death in 1993, professor of political science and public policy at the University of California in Berkeley. He was also director of its Survey Research Center.
Shifting attention away form the well-publicized actions of the President, High Heclo reveals the little-known everyday problems of executive leadership faced by hundreds of appointees throughout the executive branch. But he also makes clear why bureaucrats must deal cautiously with political appointees and with a civil service system that offers few protections for broad-based careers of professional public service.
The author contends that even as political leadership has become increasingly bureaucratized, the bureaucracy has become more politicized. Political executives—usually ill-prepared to deal effectively with the bureaucracy—often fail to recognize that the real power of the bureaucracy is not its capacity for disobedience or sabotage but its power to withhold services. Statecraft for political executives consists of getting the changes they want without losing the bureaucratic services they need.
Heclo argues further that political executives, government careerists, and the public as well are poorly served by present arrangements for top-level government personnel. In his view, the deficiencies in executive politics will grow worse in the future. Thus he proposes changes that would institute more competent management of presidential appointments, reorganize the administration of the civil service personnel system, and create a new Federal Service of public managers.
The question is answered through the stories about how Joseph, the son of Jacob, saved his people/family from famine by becoming a high-ranking administrator to Pharaoh. By analyzing his behavior to the people over whom he exercises power, Joseph lords it over his brothers, grieves his father, takes lands from Egyptian farmers, and engages in forced deportation. Wildavsky explains why Joseph-the-assimilator is replaced in the Book of Exodus by Moses-the-lawgiver. The book ends by demonstrating that Joseph and Moses are, and are undoubtedly meant to be exact opposites.
As in his earlier book on The Nursing Father: Moses as a Political Leader, Wildavsky combines analysis of political and administrative leadership with both traditional and modern study of texts: thematic linkages via plot, grammar, dreams, poetry, and religious doctrine. Thus the chapter on "Joseph the Administrator" is preceded by a chapter on Joseph as The Dream Lord" and followed by an analysis and explanation of why Jacob's obscure blessings to his sons are more like curses. Always the emphasis is on the reciprocal influence of religion and politics, on rival answers to questions about how Hebrews should relate to each other and to outsiders. New, in paperback, the book will be of interest to biblical scholars and readers as well as those concerned with the interaction of religion and political life.
In Wildavsky's view, the growth of political discord since the sixties-opposing views on policy matters and social issues ranged along egalitarian versus hierarchical lines-has created a demarcation between a past presidency in which national leaders had a chance to do well and present and future presidents seeking to adapt to their slim chances of leaving office with their reputations intact.
Wildavsky demonstrates how various recent presidents have attempted to escape or overcome their beleaguered status by such devices as focusing on only a few issues or shedding responsibility (or blame) to other actors, or treating policy problems as if they were essentially administrative in nature. The book analyzes the wide divergence on public policy among Democratic and Republican activists and assesses the efforts of presidents from Nixon through Bush to cope, at times successfully, often not, with these divisions.
The final chapters contrast the ideological presidency of Ronald Reagan with the procedural presidency of George Bush. Both are considered in the context of a governmental system that requires leadership but does not often support it. The final chapter is the first effort to make sense out of George Bush's relative lack of interest in policy and very great interest in procedures for unravelling the puzzles of his presidency. Few books answer the questions raised here or manifest such a wide-ranging cultural approach to the modern presidency. "The Beleaguered Presidency "will be of interest to political scientists, historians, political sociologists, and public sector policymakers.