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The Cult of the Presidency: America's Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power Hardcover


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Cato Institute (April 2, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1933995157
  • ISBN-13: 978-1933995151
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.3 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #961,900 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

Rhetorical--and related--excesses are inherent in the modern presidency. This is so for reasons brilliantly explored in the year's most pertinent and sobering public affairs book, The Cult of the Presidency. -- Newsweek 5/27/2008

From the Back Cover

It's more than just a guide to why you shouldn't expect too much from the executive: It's a history of how we've come to view the president as central to not only our politics but our national conception of self. Its emphasis on the limitations of the president are as relevant to those who seek to make the state work better as to those who seek to imprison it. Moreover, Healy is a graceful, funny, and fluid writer. It was, by far, the best political book I read this year." --EZRA KLEIN, The American Prospect

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Customer Reviews

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This book is essential reading for every American voter .
Kim Thompson
People have placed so much trust in the President that they think that he is responsible for all of the good and ill that occurs in the nation.
Efrem Sepulveda
While my views have changed, Healy's book has taguht me a great deal about how the office of the president has become so powerful.
B. Orzechowski

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

55 of 59 people found the following review helpful By Jeff K. on May 26, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have to admit it: I'm a presidential cultist. In 8th grade I memorized all the presidents with their years of service. In high school I read The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris, a book that inspired me during a particularly rough time in my life. To this day I follow politics like most men follow sports.

So it's not easy or natural for me to recommend a book that celebrates the likes of Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge and deconstructs Woodrow Wilson, FDR, or my beloved TR.

Yet if you're like me, you have this nagging sense that something has gone terribly wrong. In a country founded on the anti-monarchical principle that government is "of the people," we have come to lust after a king - a man who will heal our hurts, save us from our enemies, educate our children, protect us from the weather, and guarantee our material comforts.

In this book, you'll learn how we got here. After starting out with the Founders and the debate over whether the nation's chief executive should have a title, you'll be introduced to the concept of Unitary Executive theory and its chief proponent, Professor John Yoo, who as a young lawyer in the post-9/11 Office of Legal Counsel, provided the intellectual firepower for George W's expansive view of presidential prerogative. You'll also meet Clinton Rossiter, whose book, The American Presidency, published in the 1950s, documented how such an expansive view was palatable to the American people who had come to expect their president to be World Leader, Protector of the Peace, Chief Legislator, Manager of Prosperity, and Voice of the People, among other things.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Thomas P. Jenney on May 7, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Do yourself--and the country--a favor, and pick up a copy of Cato Institute scholar Gene Healy's new book, The Cult of the Presidency: America's Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power. This important book has the potential to start a much-needed national conversation about the monstrous amount of power we invest in the individual who occupies the White House at any given moment.

Every four years, we find ourselves in a national tizzy. Some of us have hopes that ________________ (insert your favorite power-hungry presidential candidate here) will somehow save the country. But most of us fret about the possibility that _________________ (insert your least favorite power-hungry presidential candidate here) may wreak economic or foreign-policy havoc.

And we have good reason to fret. Once he or she becomes a resident at 1600 Pennsylvania, the elected president has a finger on the nuclear button, the ability to start wars unilaterally, and the power to meddle forcefully in the US economy via executive orders and regulatory fiat.

On paper, there are checks and balances on the presidency, but those checks and balances are easily overridden by a national psychology in which the masses look to the president to solve their daily economic problems and combat every evil, whether domestic or foreign. We are repeatedly disappointed by the performance of our presidents, but we continue to give them greater and greater powers.

Healy's book examines the historical origins of our cultish devotion to the presidency, and explains the danger to America of placing too much power in the hands of one person--no matter who that person is, or what party he/she belongs to.

This is a book Americans need to read--especially this year.

(Lower-case p intended.)
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Radley P. Balko on May 7, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Healy offers a thorough, acerbic, witty, and timely critique of the rise of the American monarchy. It's somewhat ironic that as we Americans celebrate our revolution to overthrow the British Crown each July, and as we denounce dictators and totalitarian regimes across the globe, we also celebrate and venerate those presidents who most behaved like dictators, and who most sought to aggrandize their own power at the expense of the constitutional checks and balances that set our system of government apart from all tried before us.

We exalt the Roosevelts (both), Eisenhowers, and Wilsons--men who stifled free speech, imprisoned dissenters, and overstepped their constitutional bounds. Meanwhile, the men who, as Healy puts it, "merely" oversaw years of peace and prosperity--men like Calvin Coolidge, Grover Cleveland, and the heavily whiskered presidents of the 19th century--are ridiculed as do-nothings.

As we approach a November 2008 likely featuring a TR acolyte against a JFK acolyte, Healy's book is a needed, welcome addition to the debate, a reminder that the office of the presidency was intended to be a modest office, merely an administrator of the executive branch. That it has morphed into a kind of messianic position of all-encompassing power and reverence is a troubling development, and doesn't bode well for the American experiment.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Kevin A. Ross on September 10, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The Cult of the Presidency was perhaps one of the most enlightening political books I have ever read. The degree to which the office of the presidency has changed in the past 200 years is extraordinary. I wish this book was required reading for all students in the United States. Gene Healy does a remarkable job balancing his book between research and humerous examples to illustrate his point. A MUST for anyone interested in history or politics. It changed my views on what a president should be and what we should expect of him.
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