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What, exactly, do Americans want from their president? A strong, innovative leader or someone who simply follows the will of the people? A president who insists on the ideals of a party or someone who builds bipartisan support? A president who exercises power forcefully or someone who establishes consensus before doing anything?
The answer, according to Thomas E. Cronin and Michael A. Genovese in their provocative new book, The Paradoxes of the American Presidency, is that Americans want the president to be a leader and a follower, partisan and bipartisan, innovative and conservative. For example, we expect our presidents to provide visionary leadership, and yet at the same time to be ever-sensitive to public opinion polls. We want a president with the power to solve the nation's problems, yet we are inherently suspicious of centralized leadership and the abuse of power. Such conflicting demands put the president in an impossible position.Indeed, Cronin and Genovese contendt the duties and challenges of the office are so capacious and the public's expectations often so inconsistent that whatever course of action a president takes may result in a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" kind of criticism. While there is no way out of the constant paradoxical dilemmas presidents face, there are ways to deal with these conflicting and sometimes inflated expectations. Yet even master political statecraft is often inadequate in reconciling these paradoxes of the American presidency.
In a book sure to encourage debate, The Paradoxes of the American Presidency gives us a fresh new understanding both of the presidential office and the public's inevitable dissatisfaction with it.
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From Kirkus Reviews:
About the Authors:
Thomas E. Cronin is a noted political scientist and writer who has written widely on American government. His books include The State of the Presidency; Direct Democracy; and he is coauthor of the best-selling text Government by the People. He serves as President of Whitman College. Michael A. Genovese is Professor of Political Science and Director of the Institute for Leadership Studies. He is the author of The Presidential Dilemma, The Presidency in an Age of Limits, and other books.
Americans' paradoxical views of the presidency are explored by two political scientists. Cronin (The State of the Presidency, not reviewed, etc.) and Genovese (The Presidential Dilemma, not reviewed, etc.) focus on the contradictory yearning of Americans to have a leader who is both ``one of the people'' and someone far removed from identification with the masses. This paradox is less daunting when the president possesses the political genius and natural affability of a Lincoln or an FDR, but it does pose a problem when, say, someone lacking the common touch, like Richard Nixon, is in office. Less paradoxical perhaps is the issue of the Electoral College, which the authors address and for which they offer a solution: the National Bonus Plan, in which the ``winner takes all'' system would be supplanted by a bonus for the popular vote-winner to ensure that the electoral and popular majorities are never different, as has been the case four times in the nation's history. But while the National Bonus Plan is presented at some length, other approaches to streamlining the presidency are given little consideration, e.g., the six-year, nonrenewable term (labeled ``nonsense'' by the authors) and a move to a more parliamentary style of government in which the president would be subject to no-confidence votes and would therefore be more easily removed in the case of a scandal. Cronin and Genovese, while they present a mass of detail about the presidency and our ideas and expectations concerning it, occasionally weaken their arguments by dismissing too many alternatives without making a solid case against them. Still, their scholarship is thorough, and their book makes good introductory reading on our conflicted feelings about the nation's highest office. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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