Wildavsky, Aaron. The Beleaguered Presidency. New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 1991.
“Since the presidency of Lyndon Johnson between 1963 and 1968, there is much reason to believe that the executive office is in trouble. For the past twenty-five years, presidents have been subject to continuing criticism, with dissatisfaction rising, approval rates falling, and demands becoming impossible to meet. Is it that Americans have become an unlucky people whose noble virtues have been undermined by the unfortunate fact that they keep nominating and electing bad presidents? Or is there a systemic reason for a beleaguered presidency in the rise of an egalitarian culture, amplified through the media which is opposed to authority? This book confronts these questions and inquires into their consequences for presidential behavior.
In Wildavsky’s view, the growth of political discord since the sixties-opposing views on policy matters and social issues ranged along egalitarian versus hierarchical lines-has created a demarcation between a past presidency in which national leaders had a chance to do well and present and future presidents seeking to adapt to their slim chances of leaving office with their reputations intact.
Wildavsky demonstrates how various recent presidents have attempted to escape or overcome their beleaguered status by such devices as focusing on only a few issues or shedding responsibility (or blame) to other actors, or treating policy problems as if they were essentially administrative in nature. The book analyzes the wide divergence on public policy among Democratic and Republican activists and assesses the efforts of presidents from Nixon through Bush to cope, at times successfully, often not, with these divisions.
The final chapters contrast the ideological presidency of Ronald Reagan with the procedural presidency of George Bush. Both are considered in the context of a governmental system that requires leadership but does not often support it. The final chapter is the first effort to make sense out of George Bush’s relative lack of interest in policy and very great interest in procedures for unravelling the puzzles of his presidency. Few books answer the questions raised here or manifest such a wide-ranging cultural approach to the modern presidency.”
– From the publisher’s description.