Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents: George Washington to Barack Obama


In an era of extremist politics, Gil Troy argues, moderation and moderate leaders are needed more than ever. Challenges like managing the debt, preserving the environment, fighting terrorism, improving education?in short, protecting America today and building toward tomorrow?require the kind of consensus that can only come from leaders who seek the center.

As Troy reminds us, the election of Barack Obama in 2008 seemed to presage such a ...

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In an era of extremist politics, Gil Troy argues, moderation and moderate leaders are needed more than ever. Challenges like managing the debt, preserving the environment, fighting terrorism, improving education—in short, protecting America today and building toward tomorrow—require the kind of consensus that can only come from leaders who seek the center.

As Troy reminds us, the election of Barack Obama in 2008 seemed to presage such a shift. Nearly four years later, however, political moderation remains as elusive as ever.

Troy champions the presidencies of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan. They succeeded not because of their bold political visions, he argues, but because of their moderation. The great presidents of American history have always sought a golden mean—from George Washington, who brilliantly mediated between the competing visions of Jefferson and Hamilton; to Abraham Lincoln, who rescued the union with his principled pragmatism; to the two Roosevelts, Theodore and Franklin, who united millions of Americans with their powerful, affirmative, nationalist visions; to the bracing can-do optimism of Kennedy and Reagan.

Troy explains how presidents can both hew to the center and address important political challenges. By his reckoning, the best presidents have exercised "muscular moderation." In his afterword Troy cogently critiques President Obama's fraught evolution from a "Magic Moderate" deeply committed to extending his election night civility as widely as possible to his gradual realization that a much more muscular moderation would be required. Obama's increasingly tough-minded and much less forgiving rhetoric might not immediately heal the scars from our polarized politics but might be necessary in the short run.

Troy underscores in this new edition that moderation must be restored or greatness—for our presidents and our nation—will likely be denied.

First time in paperback. Originally published as Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780700618835
  • Publisher: University Press of Kansas
  • Publication date: 8/27/2012
  • Edition description: Second Edition with a new Afterword
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 360
  • Sales rank: 1,039,686
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Gil Troy, a native of Queens, New York, and professor of history at McGill University, is the author of Mr. and Mrs. President: From the Trumans to the Clintons; Morning in America: How Ronald Reagan Invented the 1980s; and Hillary Rodham Clinton: Polarizing First Lady.

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Table of Contents

Preface to the Second Edition ix

Introduction: Presidents as Muscular Moderates

A "Middle Course" for Our "Common Cause" 1

1 Washington's Way

"Liberal Allowances, Mutual Forbearances, and Temporizing Yieldings on All Sides" 19

2 Compromisers, Zealots, and Ciphers

The Blessing of Parties, the Challenge of Slavery, and the Failure of Presidents 39

3 Abraham Lincoln's Middle Measure

A Cautious Politician's "My Policy Is to Have No Policy" Pragmatism 57

4 Theodore Roosevelt's Democratic Two-Step

The Rise of the Romantic, Nationalist Presidency 75

5 Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal

The Radical as Moderate 93

6 Truman, Eisenhower, and America's Bipartisan Consensus

Building Political Unity through Cultural Conformity 123

7 John F. Kennedy Civil Rights

Moderation and the Challenge of Change 147

8 The Consensus Collapses

Lyndon Johnson and the Limits of Moderation 165

9 Learning from Losers

Where Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter Went Wrong 183

10 Ronald Reagan's Moderate Revolution

Resurrecting the Center 201

11 Bill Clinton and the Perils of Triangulation

The Need to be Muscular as Well as Moderate 223

12 George W. Bush

Imprisoned by Conviction? 247

Conclusion: Center Seeking in the Twenty-first Century

Is Political Moderation Possible in an Age of Excess? 273

Afterword: A President and a People in Search of Moderation 287

Acknowledgments 297

A Note on Sources 301

Notes 309

Index 337

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