The Bully Pulpit

In my most recent Politics Guide post, I told you that I’d explain how the president can use the media to appeal to the public. So, I’m going to be true to my word and introduce you to the concept of The Bully Pulpit.


Have you ever heard anyone call the US presidency “the bully pulpit”?

(Fair warning: I’m going to get a little academic on you here, but I have confidence in your ability to invest and digest these concepts. Why? Because I know, if you’re reading this, you understand the importance of being fully informed and educated—even if that means stretching your brain a little bit)

The idea is this: someone who has a platform (e.g. a pastor at a church; an instructor in a classroom; an executive of a government) uses that platform to expound upon his or her views. Taken a step further, they attempt to use that platform to influence their audience towards their preferred opinion.

So, in terms of the presidency, the president uses his platform to appeal to the citizenry. Remember, the president cannot write law; he can however, use his platform to convince Americans to get on his side about an issue he thinks should be made into law.

And why does it help him to convince us to be on his side?

Because we elect Congress. And guess what? Congress wants to be re-elected, which means if enough of us are pressing them to pass some law, they may just pass it!

Scientific Conceptualization

So, in scientific terms, the president can cause Congress to pass a law by influencing the people who can actually cause Congress to pass a law. Make sense?

If X causes Z and Z causes Y, then X causes Y. In the mathematics/political science world, this is called a transitive variable. I don’t want to nerd out too much on you here, but I do want y’all to both, understand the idea of a bully pulpit, and also be able understand examples I’ll give in future posts—-because it is something I’ll refer to on occasion. This sort of transitive relationship is rather common is politics because of what? The voters!

So, in this story, the president (X) can cause citizens (Z) to pressure their legislators to pass a law by appealing to them about something he wants, and citizens (Z) can cause legislators (Y) to vote a certain way. So, the president (X) (through the voters) can cause legislators (Y) to pass a law.

What It Means

Which means, the bully pulpit is the president bullying Congress into doing something they may not want to do, by going to the people. Essentially, he goes over Congress’ head, by appealing to their boss—the people (Somewhat their boss. Their actual boss is the Constitution. They must abide by the Constitution regardless of what the people want. But the people give Congress the power they have through the Constitution and therefore, Congress is subject to them).

So, if the president really wants to see a certain law passed that Congress is not keen on passing, he’ll float an idea out to the public to test their reaction. If the reaction is positive, he’ll then start to stir up the emotions of the citizenry and criticize Congress for not passing a now popular idea into law. Congress is then pinned against a wall. If they don’t pass the popular law, they may suffer the consequences for that at the next election and the president will hold their inaction over their heads at the next election.


Make sense? So, pay attention to the way our presidents use their platform and realize that politics is a game. It’s all a game. Congress has their methods of influence as well. I want the readers of The Liberty Belle to be the sliver of the U.S. population who are aware when they are being used and manipulated, by either the president or Congress, in the game of politics.

This simple tidbit of information moves you a step closer to being part of that sliver.

The Liberty Belle

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