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By Matthew Robert Kerbel

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Kerbel looks for, and finds, the similarities that exist in the context of presidential triumphs and also in cases where presidents are far less than triumphant. This project employs a unique and systematic coding of media accounts of presidential policy successes and failures, supplemented by interviews with key administration officials and with members of the White House press corps. The result is an insightful contribution to the field. Kerbel shows that policy successes (and failures) in the very different administrations of Carter and Reagan had much in common, and indicates that personal factors in the successful exercise of presidential power are overstated compared to the import of what he calls the "organizational components" of power.

To demonstrate this, think about the concept of charm, a resource of potential value to the process of persuasion. One could define charm, perhaps agreeing on a set of characteristics it encompasses. But, identifying these characteristics in presidential behavior would necessarily require judgment; what is charming to one person may be revolting to another. " Like pornography, it may be different things to different people, although we're likely to know it right away when we see it. This holds for the people who interacted with the president, to whom he directed his charm if he indeed employed it at all.

Perhaps with unlimited time to interview, it would be possible to touch on a number of such occurrences. Perhaps if the events at issue had happened within a week or two of the interview, it would be possible for respondents to remember them with some accuracy. In reality, fixed-length interviews are likely to yield coarse responses about past events, and memory decay makes it inconceivable that even the sharpest mind could remember with accuracy and precision events of twenty, ten, five, or even two years ago.

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