Greatness in the White House: Rating the Presidents

By Robert K. Murray; Tim H. Blessing | Go to book overview

Introduction

THE PRESIDENCY AND A SUCCESSFUL performance in that office have for years been subjects for analysis and scrutiny. From the time of the Constitutional Convention to the present, no aspect of our governmental system has occasioned more comment or controversy. The presidency has been our most centralized and celebrated governmental institution, and in the popular mind, at least, has been the preeminent federal agency for good or ill. Indeed, history shows that this uniquely American creation -- the presidency -- has at times been both a bane and a blessing for the American democratic experience.

In recent years a number of scholars have formulated theories about and created models for the presidency. Regarding the office as a critical litmus test for the successful operation of American government, they have written treatises dissecting presidential custodianship. Political scientists such as Richard E. Neustadt and Thomas E. Cronin have examined the case of strong and aggressive presidents like Franklin Roosevelt, claiming that the actions of these chief executives have given rise to a so-called textbook model of the presidency. Such a president's actions, the theory goes, serve objectives far beyond his party's and his own. In this view the president is seen as being the necessary catalyst for progress in both the domestic and foreign field; only he can be the architect of public policy and move the nation forward; he alone can draw the nation together and provide confidence and moral leadership. And if he is successful, all will be well with the nation. Professor Neustadt has put it bluntly: "What is good for the country is good for the president, and vice versa."1

This view of the presidency has helped spawn an awe of the office, and

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