Governing at Home

The White House and Domestic Policymaking

Edited by Michael Nelson and Russell L. Riley

Domestic policy issues are neglected by the president only at considerable risk, since policies in health care, education, welfare, the environment, and civil rights deeply affect the lives of ordinary Americans.

This groundbreaking book on White House domestic policymaking is the first to draw upon both the experiences of former presidential advisers and the expertise of leading presidency scholars to explain how policies reflect campaign promises, emerge and evolve, and are sold to the American people. Covering six administrations from Richard Nixon through George W. Bush—with ample references to Barack Obama—it interweaves those insider and outsider perspectives to convey an eye-opening understanding of the policymaking process and the factors that influence it.

“A welcome addition to the literature on domestic policy making. Containing chapters by some of the disciplines best-known scholars, the volume provides depth and analytic range while maintaining overall coherence. . . . These analyses are supported and often amplified by the oral histories, which are readable and informative . . . Scholars of the presidency and of presidential history will find this book compelling and useful. The volume belongs on the shelves of all those interested in domestic politics, domestic policy, and the connections between them.

—Journal of American History

“An excellent collaboration of scholars and practitioners that produced a valuable, important, and highly readable work that is certain to impact future presidential administrations as well as the study of policy making. The scholars who participated are among the best in the nation, and the practitioners were candid and forthcoming in their reflections.

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The contributors here offer an unusual balance of practical wisdom and social science knowledge. Their insights address a number of key questions throughout the book: What role does the presidential campaign have in shaping the subsequent activity of the White House? How are the specifics of domestic policy, and priorities, established once a president is elected? Who, and what, is routinely involved in trying to sell domestic policy preferences to the American people? And what lessons can be learned from past successes and failures to enhance the ability of future presidents to succeed?

"If there is a single overarching lesson to be drawn from this volume," observes contributor Bruce Miroff, "it might be the following: domestic policymaking is hard." These policy advisers know firsthand just how hard it is, and the lack of partisanship in their comments is striking and reassuring. Their accounts of lessons learned from the Oval Office will be especially valuable for years to come for scholars and students who wish to be acquainted with the real job of governing at home.