Everyone agrees that Bill Clinton faces Herculean tasks in trying to reduce the deficit and improve the nation's health-care system. According to several prominent presidential scholars and corporate theorists, however, the toughest job of all for Clinton--and the one that could determine to what degree his term is a success--will be to redefine the very office of the presidency. Because of the end of the Cold War and recent changes in mass communication, the role Clinton assumes in the government and culture is far different from that played by Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, or even Ronald Reagan. Though politicians, the media, and the public continue to treat the presidency as the cynosure of American life, in important ways Clinton has inherited a diminished office. Abroad, the President's role as a foreign-policy leader has receded. From the end of the Second World War until roughly the middle of the Bush presidency, the threat of communism and nuclear war created a sense of continuing crisis, fueling demand for a strong presidency. Just as other wars led to increases in executive power throughout our history, so did the Cold War.
Moreover, because foreign policy is the one area in which a President can act with relatively little interference from Congress and the press, chief executives have tended to be absorbed by it. Even Jimmy Carter, a candidate elected without much of an international agenda, found himself spending an increasing amount of his presidency on foreign-policy issues, where it was easier to get things done. This ease of action in foreign affairs was aided by the fact that the Cold War coincided with a period of almost total American dominance of the international scene. Since Franklin Roosevelt's third term our Presidents have been primarily foreign-policy Presidents.