The Paradoxes of the American Presidency

The Paradoxes of the American Presidency

The Paradoxes of the American Presidency

The Paradoxes of the American Presidency


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.


Alexander Hamilton persuaded us that an American presidency was necessary. Many others have now demonstrated that the American presidency is unique and always potentially dangerous. Yet beyond this consensus-- that the presidency is unique, necessary, and potentially dangerous--the American presidency remains a challenging institution to explain.

One sign of a discipline's maturity is the ability of those practicing in the field to agree on a "unifying theory" that both explains and predicts behavior. Presidency researchers have long lamented the absence of such theories.

What is it about the American presidency that defies theoretical precision? Why can't we devise propositions that predict the behavior of presidents and explain presidential leadership?

Much of the difficulty stems from the unusual character of the institution. the presidency is both unique and evolving. It defies simple explanations. It is dynamic, variable, and often a contradictory office. Lacking a precise constitutional delineation of powers, the American presidency is elastic and changing. Different occupants at different times may mold the institution to the nation's needs, or to suit their own needs; at other times the office and the U.S. system of separated and shared powers limit and constrain a president.

This book is an effort to understand the American presidency by viewing it through the lens of a series of paradoxes that shape and define the office. Our goal is to convey the complexity, the many-sidedness, and the contrarian aspects of the office.

A paradox is a sentiment or statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet may nonetheless be true. We use the term in a general sense, that we often hold clashing or contradictory notions of what a leader should do. a more rigorous definition is as follows:

A logical paradox consists of two contrary, or even contradictory propositions to which we are led by apparently sound arguments. the arguments are sound because when used in other contexts they do not seem to invite any difficulty. It is only in the particular combination in which the paradox occurs that the arguments lead to a troublesome conclusion. I

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.