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The president's bully pulpit

The "Bully Pulpit" is a powerful platform used by U.S. Presidents to share their messages. Originating from Theodore Roosevelt's term, it means a great, not mean, platform. This power has grown with mass media, like radio, TV, and social media. The State of the Union address is a prime example of using this platform.

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Video transcript

- [Instructor] What we're going to do in this video is talk about what is often referred to as the Bully Pulpit of the United States President. It's making reference to the idea that the President has a platform from which they can convince people, that they can convey their own message. There are explicit powers in the United States Constitution about what the President can and cannot do, but just as being that singular executive at the top of the Executive Branch, people are gonna pay attention to what they say. This term, bully pulpit, probably isn't exactly what you imagine it to mean. It actually comes to us from Theodore Roosevelt, that's a picture of Theodore Roosevelt giving a speech. He was president from 1901 to 1909. He was actually the youngest person to hold the office of President. He took office when President McKinley was assassinated, and this is a quote from 1909, from Lyman Abbott, who wrote for "The Outlook". "Half a dozen of us were with the President, Theodore Roosevelt, in his library. He was sitting at his desk reading to us his forthcoming message. He had just finished reading a paragraph of a distinctly ethical character when he suddenly stopped, swung round in his swivel chair and said, 'I suppose my critics will call that preaching, but I have got such a bully pulpit!'" Theodore Roosevelt was famous for using the term "bully" a lot, and it doesn't mean to pick on people in Theodore Roosevelt's context. He used it as great, wonderful. Bully for you, good for you. When he said "a bully pulpit", he's saying, "I have such a great platform from which to speak." He's not saying I have a platform from which to pick on people. And this was before mass media became a significant influence in politics. At this time, recorded audio was just starting to become a thing. Television was not an influence in politics. But you can imagine, once you have mass media, especially radio, television, and now social media becoming a major factor, this bully pulpit has only gotten more and more and more significant. One of the strongest examples of Presidents using their bully pulpit is the State of the Union address. State of the Union. The Constitution does call for the President to make reports to Congress on the state of the union, but early Presidents, like Thomas Jefferson, just sent a written report. But, eventually, over time, the President started giving live reports to the joint houses of Congress in the form of a speech, and then in 1947, you have Truman's State of the Union is televised. Truman televised. Today, the State of the Union is given every January, this is a major event. All the major networks show it, the nation pays attention. What Theodore Roosevelt was talking about becomes even more powerful for modern presidents that have mass media at their disposal. To get a good, tangible sense of this power that a President has, I'm gonna show you a video from 1981. This actually will not be a State of the Union address. This is an address that President Reagan gives to the nation on federal tax reduction. Just so that you have context on what the world was like, or what the United States was like, in 1981, they had stagflation, a stagnant economy with a lot of inflation and high interest rates. I remember, at the time, my mom had, I think it was a 17% interest rate on her mortgage, which was incredibly, incredibly high. What you're going to see is President Reagan making a direct plea to the American people to convince their representatives to support his tax plan, and think about what President Reagan was able to do that Thomas Jefferson, or even Theodore Roosevelt, could have only dreamed of. - The best way to have a strong foreign policy abroad is to have a strong economy at home. Now, the day after tomorrow, Wednesday, the House of Representatives will begin debate on two tax bills, and once again, they need to hear from you. I know that doesn't give you much time, but a great deal is at stake. Let me add, those representatives honestly and sincerely want to know your feelings. They get plenty of input from the special interest groups. They'd like to hear from their home folks. Let me explain what the situation is and what's at issue. With our budget cuts, we presented a complete program of reduction in tax rates. Again, our purpose was to provide incentive for the individual, incentives for business to encourage production and hiring of the unemployed, and to free up money for investment. Our bill calls for a 5% reduction in the income tax rates by October 1st, a 10% reduction beginning July 1st, 1982, and another 10% cut a year later. A 25% total reduction over three years. But then, to insure the tax cut is permanent, we call for indexing the tax rates in 1985, which means adjusting them for inflation. As it is now, if you get a cost of living raise that's intended to keep you even with inflation, you find that the increase in the number of dollars you get may very likely move you into a higher tax bracket, and you wind up poorer than you were. This is called bracket creep. Bracket creep is an insidious tax. Let me give an example. If you earned $10,000 a year in 1972, by 1980, you had to earn $19,700 just to stay even with inflation, but that's before taxes. Come April 15th, you find your tax rates have increased 30%. Have you been wondering why you don't seem as well off as you were a few years back? It's because government makes a profit on inflation.