Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership

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Overview

President Harry Truman famously called the White House “the great white jail.” One can scarcely imagine an environment outside the nation’s penal system that is more isolating than the Executive Mansion, a habitat almost guaranteed to keep America’s commander in chief far removed from everyday life. In fact, isolation is emerging as one of the most serious dilemmas facing the American presidency. In recent years, West Wing insiders have come up with a name for this syndrome. They call it the White House “bubble.”...
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Overview

President Harry Truman famously called the White House “the great white jail.” One can scarcely imagine an environment outside the nation’s penal system that is more isolating than the Executive Mansion, a habitat almost guaranteed to keep America’s commander in chief far removed from everyday life. In fact, isolation is emerging as one of the most serious dilemmas facing the American presidency. In recent years, West Wing insiders have come up with a name for this syndrome. They call it the White House “bubble.” Life under these conditions is a basic theme of this book, along with ways out of it, including bus tours, pollsters, and an attentive first family.

As presidents have become more isolated, the role of the presidential pollster has grown. Ken Walsh has been given exclusive access to the polls and confidential memos received by presidents over the years, and has interviewed presidential pollsters directly to gain their unique perspective. “The ‘bubble’ is real, intense, hard to pierce, and hard to find your way out of,” according to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney in one of several interviews for this book. Ken Walsh gets inside the bubble and punctures the mythology surrounding the presidency.

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post - Jonathan Yardley
Walsh, who has covered the White House…for more than a quarter-century, knows his beat intimately and has had at least a passing acquaintance with every president since George H.W. Bush…on the whole he takes a reasonably distanced approach to the men he has covered and recognizes their faults as well as their virtues…Prisoners of the White House…is a useful survey of how presidents are isolated from their constituency and how some of them have tried to overcome that.
Publishers Weekly
Veteran White House correspondent Walsh (Family of Freedom: Presidents and African Americans in the White House) provides an uncontroversial review of efforts by presidents—from Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama—to maintain contact with the American people, despite their isolation in office. Arguing that the presidents who do this best have the most successful administrations, Walsh traces the evolution of the key technique of polling, which has become an indispensable tool. The author notes that polls are not always reliable, but they enable both a sampling of public opinion and a means of shaping that opinion. Other methods of keeping a finger on the public pulse include monitoring the media, sampling letters from constituents, consulting legislators and friends, and conversations with citizens. Unfortunately, Walsh doesn’t offer a concrete escape plan for breaking out of the gilded prison of the White House—a goal that might well be impractical anyway. Nevertheless, students of political science and history will find this to be a worthwhile reflection on how the presidency has evolved. (June)
Library Journal
Walsh, (former White House correspondent, US News & World Report; Family of Freedom: Presidents and African Americans in the White House) evaluates the attempts from Franklin Roosevelt's third term through President Obama's first to keep in touch with the country. The book is based on previous presidential studies, the author's interviews with White House advisers, and newly available presidential papers. It examines each administration's methods, including initiatives by first ladies, to access the public mood from within an increasingly insular White House. Rather than being organized chronologically, the book is organized around the theme of an administration's level of success in maintaining connection with public opinion: those that lost contact with it (Nixon and Carter); two administrations that proactively worked on public opinion to establish new agendas (Kennedy's civil rights campaign and George W. Bush's war on terror); and administrations that maintained contact with the American public (Clinton and Reagan). Lastly, the book discusses the evolution and abilities of presidential pollsters, or "wizards," from Roosevelt's Hadley Cantril to Obama's Joel Benenson, men charged with keeping the administration connected to the people. VERDICT This insightful and informative work will appeal to anyone interested in the evolving U.S. presidency and the ability of each administration to break out of the White House bubble and stay connected with the nation.—Marcus Kieltyka, Central Washington Univ. Lib., Ellensburg
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781612051604
  • Publisher: Paradigm Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/28/2013
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 593,622
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Kenneth T. Walsh has covered the White House full-time since 1986 and is one of the longest-serving White House correspondents in history. He is former president of the White House Correspondents’ Association and has won the most prestigious awards for White House coverage. He also has served as an adjunct professorial lecturer of communication at American University in Washington, D.C. Walsh, who has written five other books, is a frequent speaker on topics related to the presidency and often serves as an analyst on television and radio.
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Table of Contents

Preface
Acknowledgments

Chapter 1 Trapped in “the Bubble”

PART I Four Who Lost the People

Chapter 2 Lyndon B. Johnson: From Outreach to Isolation

Chapter 3 Richard Nixon: In the Bunker

Chapter 4 Jimmy Carter: Good Intentions, Bad Outcomes

Chapter 5 George H. W. Bush: Missing the Obvious

PART II Two Defiant Princes

Chapter 6 John F. Kennedy and George W. Bush: Strange Bedfellows

PART III Five Who Stayed Connected

Chapter 7 Franklin Roosevelt: Reading the Nation’s Pulse with Eleanor

Chapter 8 Harry Truman: Connected to Everyman

Chapter 9 Ronald Reagan: Middle-Class Roots

Chapter 10 Bill Clinton: Escapes from Disaster

Chapter 11 Barack Obama: Beyond the Beltway

PART IV From Wizards to Chicken Peddlers

Chapter 12 The Wizards of the White House

Chapter 13 Breaking Out of the Bubble

Notes
Bibliography
Index
About the Author

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2013

    From Roosevelt to Obama, an entertaining and insightful behind-t

    From Roosevelt to Obama, an entertaining and insightful behind-the-scenes look at how presidents use polling and personal outreach to gauge the voters' political intent, and how they decide to follow or flout that intent. The conclusions are often not what you would expect.

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