Their idiosyncrasies and failures were as diverse as their accomplishments. William McKinley tracked press opinion before Richard Nixon was even born. Calvin Coolidge utilized radio and press conferences long before today's spin doctors. And John F. Kennedy brought the culture of celebrity to the White House.
The president of the United States may be the most powerful man in the world. But even though all of our modern presidents have acted in what they believed to be the country's best interests, Lewis Gould suggests that most of them fell short of the challenges of an impossible job. To treat the modern presidency as a success story, he claims, is to falsify the historical record.
The Modern American Presidency is a lively, interpretive synthesis of our twentieth-century leaders, filled with intriguing insights into how the presidency has evolved as America rose to prominence on the world stage. Gould traces the decline of the party system and the increasing importance of the media, resulting in the rise of the president as celebrity. He traces the growth of the White House staff and executive bureaucracy. And he shows us a succession of men who have increasingly known less and less about the presidency, observing that most would have had a better historical reputation if they had contented themselves with a single term.
Engagingly written for general readers while firmly grounded in scholarship for classroom use, this book takes a no-holds-barred approach to occupants of the Oval Office. Gould marks the accomplishments of lesser-known presidents--Taft's anticipation of the budget office, Harding's plans for a Defense Department--and casts higher-profile personalities in a fresh light, whether revisiting Nixon's preoccupation with reelection, exploring why the effort to remove Bill Clinton weakened the impeachment power, or contemplating George W. Bush's efforts to wage war against terrorism.
As Gould observes, today's presidency is so bogged down in media manipulation, fund-raising, and self indulgence that it is no more capable of grappling with difficulties than it was a century ago. The Modern American Presidency advocates the radical rethinking of what the nation needs from its chief executive and gives us the understanding we need to go about it.