Leading Blog


Thoughts on the Presidency

The Presidents

WITH the presidential election of 2020 upon us, here are some thoughts about the presidency:

“Despite all of the trappings of power—the big house on Pennsylvania Avenue, Camp David, Air Force One, never having to sit in a traffic jam (ever!)—the president is in charge of an entity over which he has fairly limited power. This is, of course, exactly the way the Founding Fathers wanted it. And yet, try telling that to the American public or to the world when something goes really wrong. As we have seen, large-scale governmental failure becomes presidential failure, whether the president likes it or not.” — Elaine Kamarck, Why Presidents Fail

“One can write endlessly about the differences between the first and twenty-first centuries A.D. But then as now, there is no greater attribute for a ruler than humility built on an accurate assessment of his own limits, from which the finest cunning emerges.” — Robert Kaplan, Warrior Politics

“In selecting those who might occupy the most important office in this country—the Presidency—we put our potential leaders through a process that is both strange and brutal. The people who might make crucial decisions about war and peace, about our taxes, who will have enormous effect on the quality of our lives, our social order, the civility of our public discourse, undergo an experience from which few human beings could emerge whole. Some do not.” — Elizabeth Drew, The New Yorker, Running, November 23, 1975

“The President is, first of all, a manager.” — Peter Drucker, How to Make the Presidency Manageable, Fortune November 1974

“You can’t just appoint smart people.” You have to have a team and operate as a team, and any corporation would have a training program to acculturate people. — Newt Gingrich, 2011

“Blaming the bureaucracy is an easy way to gloss over the failures of government, yet running a government without the support of the bureaucracy is like running a train without an engine.” — Stephen Hess, Organizing the Presidency

“No real-world human being brings to the U.S. presidency the range of attributes necessary for full success in the job”— James Fallows

“Elections these days often seem more about who is to blame than who is to govern. New governments end up unpopular rapidly after their ascent to power, and very quickly the debate focuses on who or what is to be voted out rather than who is to be voted in. Voters are less inclined to see their selection as a long-term contract with a candidate or party and more likely to see it as resembling a transaction with a used car salesman.” — Tyler Cowen, The Complacent Class

“In a democracy, someone who fails to get elected to office can always console himself with the thought that there was something not quite fair about it.” — Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War

“The ruling power is always faced with the question, ‘In such and such circumstances, what would you do?’, whereas the opposition is not obliged to take responsibility or make any real decisions.” ― George Orwell

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Political Leadership and Compromise The problem facing politicians is that reality doesn’t sell. (And of course, we play a hand in that.) So frequently, what gets them into office is not the approach that will get the job done. It is a dilemma all leaders face. It’s a dilemma that requires a certain degree of wisdom.

Presidential Courage In 1955, JFK complained that politics had become “so expensive, so mechanized and so dominated by professional politicians and public relations men.” Thanks to “the tremendous power of mass communications, any unpopular or unorthodox course arouses a storm of protests.”

The Leaders We Deserved Alvin Felzenberg gives us a list of what we should look for in presidential candidates: a sense of purpose, how they met adversity, broad life experiences, a natural curiosity, a well-developed sense of integrity, and humility.

Eyes of the Founding Fathers James Madison wrote, “To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea. If there be sufficient virtue and intelligence in the community, it will be exercised in the selection of these men. So that we do not depend on their virtue, or put confidence in our rulers, but in the people who are to choose them.”

All the Answers John F. Kennedy once said, “No one has the right to grade a President—not even poor James Buchanan—who has not sat in his chair, examined the mail and information that came across his desk, and learned why he made his decisions.”

Political Greatness Inspiring rhetoric is necessary—but only in moderation. “Words are not all-powerful against reality. The ability of leaders like Jefferson, Lincoln, and Martin Luther King Jr. to inspire with words was matched by years of hard slogging, and the occasional compromise, to win over opponents or the undecided.”

Sam Rayburn on Humility On his first day in the White House, Sam Rayburn, then Speaker of the House, came over to deliver some sage advice to President Harry Truman. “I have come down here to talk to you about you. You have got many great hazards, and one of them is in this White House.”

Quarrel Not At All Quarrel not at all. No man resolved to make the most of himself, can spare time for personal contention. Still less can he afford to take all the consequences, including the vitiating of his temper and the loss of self-control.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:29 AM
| Comments (0) | This post is about Government



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