Party Leaders versus Second Term Sitting Presidents


As a Democratic contender, outside the government ready to run more than three years before 2016, Hillary Clinton plays a different role than Barack Obama, a second term sitting president with his most productive governing years behind him.

Clinton can initiate ideas and pledge support as the top Democratic contender.  After all she ran a historic campaign for the Senate in 2000, raising an unprecedented war chest of over 50 million dollars.

Meanwhile, Obama has the office (but not necessarily the institutional clout in Congress or with the Supreme Court) to act as the leader of the Executive Branch, including the federal bureaucracy, and the nominator for all federal appointments including the Supreme Court. He retains most of his foreign policy powers as the Head of State, and Commander in Chief.

Where Obama’s power is most diminished after his second 100 days is he no longer wields much clout as the chief agenda setter in Congress, and will have a difficult time convincing Congress to pass any significant legislation.

And while he retains his unofficial position as head of the Democratic party, this power will wane since the presidential contenders start to run well over two years in advance of an election.  See ReadyforHillary.  Few, if any contenders for the presidency have been this organized so far in advance of the presidential election.

What remains within Obama’s reach power is the unilateral power of the Executive Office of the Presidency (EOP).  The president’s unilateral or prerogative powers include, executive actions such as executive orders and proclamations, recess appointments, and pardons, among others.

What makes all of this interesting from an identity politics point of view is we are witnessing gender versus race issues about leadership — Round II.   (Obama won round I with the 2008 nomination, appointing Clinton as Secretary of State.  Hillary Clinton made great use of being secretary of state, leaving office in early spring 2013.)

Presidents who first served as Secretary of State before entering national office were: Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Munroe, John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren, and James Buchanan.

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About Ruth O'Brien

Professor Ruth O'Brien, The Graduate Center, The City University of New York (CUNY) & Honorary Unaffiliated Academic Book Series Editor for The Public Square, Princeton University Press & Heretical Thought, Oxford University Press, USA Last book: Out of Many, One: Obama & the Third American Political Tradition (U of Chicago 2013). Nickname: Professorette by Rush Limbaugh (see

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