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For some of our chief executives, great crisis meant great ...
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For some of our chief executives, great crisis meant great opportunity, as can be seen in the lasting legacies of Washington, Lincoln, and FDR. But what of presidents such as Ronald Reagan, who succeeded despite having served during relatively benign times? And what of luck? Isn't it possible that the onset of the Great Depression doomed a competent and intelligent Herbert Hoover to failure? In answer to these questions, Robert Dallek investigates the five qualities -- vision, pragmatism, consensus, charisma, and trust -- that have defined our most effective presidents. The product of meticulous research, the book presents numerous examples of these qualities in action, and also details the failures that accompany their absence.
From Washington's masterful efforts at nation building to Lincoln's leadership through the greatest crisis in the country's history; from the beneficent paternalism of FDR to Lyndon Johnson's tragic miscalculations in Vietnam and his achievements in advancing civil rights, Dallek offers a penetrating analysis of the presidency, the personalities who have defined it, and the strategies that led to their triumphs and defeats.
Why have some presidents become perennial heroes and others bywords for failure? Dallek delineates five qualities uniquely important to presidential leadership: vision, pragmatism, consensus, charisma (or the appeal of personality), and trust. Dallek then shows how the greatest presidents, like Washington, Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt, have displayed these traits in responding to national challenges as diverse as establishing the infant United States, waging the Civil War, and ending the Great Depression. Dallek also shows presidents failing by displaying an absence of these virtues: Herbert Hoover, for instance, lacked pragmatic flexibility, and John Quincy Adams failed to achieve consensus for his aim of advancing the prosperity of American society. To some extent, Dallek recognizes, the traits of success are contradictory and temper one another (a visionary whose vision leads him too far ahead of the popular consensus will fail, for instance); effective presidential leadership, he suggests, consists of maintaining a delicate balance. Assessing success or failure is also a matter of balance: The greatest presidents have suffered policy failures, sometimes major ones. Also, Dallek acknowledges that the qualities of presidential greatness are ultimately more elusive than his checklist of virtues would imply: Assessments of presidents while in office, have been notoriously inaccurate (Dallek cites disparaging evaluations by contemporaries of Washington, Lincoln, and FDR). Recognizing the ever-changing nature and complexity of the president's task, Dallek concludes that "the study of how past presidents made large gains and suffered major defeats gives us little more than a useful general guide to executive actions."
A provocative analysis of success and failure in the nation's most difficult job.
"An acute, engaging, and instructive analysis of what it takes to be an effective president."--Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
|Chapter 1||"The Vision Thing"||1|
|Chapter 2||Chameleons on Plaid||44|
|Chapter 3||E Pluribus Unum: The Virtues of Consensus||84|
|Chapter 4||The Power and Limits of Presidential Personality||125|
|Chapter 5||In Presidents We Trust||166|