The Power of Presidential Ideologies

The Power of Presidential Ideologies

The Power of Presidential Ideologies

The Power of Presidential Ideologies


This study examines how presidents shape the way people think about political issues, and it explores the limits that political ideology places on presidential action. Tracing the interplay between political philosophy, policymaking, and party politics from Franklin Roosevelt to George Bush, the work looks beyond the typical focus on personality and political tactics to the underlying ideological significance of presidential philosophies and actions. It develops new concepts that lend historical and comparative perspective to current debates about the role of government in American society, and it presents a new way of seeing and interpreting the presidency.


Consider two similar cases in foreign policy facing American presidents. In both cases the key actor is a middle-sized third world nation with a military- dominated government financed by oil exports. The government has one of the largest militaries in the region, built up through massive supplies of arms from Western nations, paid for by oil revenues. In the past decade the United States and its Western allies have backed the government as a force for regional stabilization. The West has continued to aid the government as a check against regimes more hostile to the West, despite its brutal repression of domestic opponents and even charges of genocide against its own people.

Then suddenly the government launches a massive invasion of a much smaller and weaker neighbor. It occupies the smaller country and attempts to incorporate the formerly independent nation into its own territory. It kills thousands, probably tens of thousands, of resisters in a massive campaign of terror.

In the first of these two cases the president acts decisively against the aggressor. He repeatedly uses the news media to denounce the invasion as a blow against international peace, a threat to small nations everywhere, and an offense against world order. He gathers the support of U.S. allies and even some of its former enemies for United Nations votes for an economic boycott and other international sanctions against the aggressor. He personally takes the lead in assembling a coalition of Western and regional forces, sending half a million U.S. troops to the war theater.

When economic sanctions and military threats do not quickly convince the aggressor to withdraw, the president authorizes a massive bombing campaign to . . .

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