Contemplating the dismal record of recent Administrations, pundits are wont to blame the separation between presidents and...


NONE OF THE ABOVE: Why Presidents Fail and What Can Be Done About It

Contemplating the dismal record of recent Administrations, pundits are wont to blame the separation between presidents and their parties, and the declining influence of the latter. L.A, Times Washington correspondent Shogan, however, doesn't think that tinkering with party rules, to reduce the independence of presidential candidates, will solve the problem. The Democratic National Convention that renominated Jimmy Carter, he points out, was made up two-thirds of party officials. Limiting the number of primaries, or shifting to regional primaries, might help keep enterprising upstarts (like Carter) from stealing nominations while party office-holders groan at their desks; but Shogan considers such reforms marginal. The causes of the party/presidential schism are built into the Constitution, he feels, and only Constitutional changes will avail. Basing himself almost entirely on Madison's gloss in The Federalist No. 51, Shogan explains that the framers of the Constitution feared the influence of parties and therefore made no provision for them. That didn't keep Madison himself and other early presidents from pulling together informal parties to try and control an unruly Congress. This fact of political life is inflated by Shogan into a full-fledged opposition between political reality and Constitutional fancy. In fact, the Constitution does not rule out parties, it ignores them, and Madison's fears were of factions--narrow interests--which he designated parties. Shogan has mixed up a lot of different problems in order to come up with his Constitutional cause: it's one kind of problem, built into the Constitution, to have an Executive of a different party from the majority party in Congress; it's another kind of problem when the parties are the same but at odds. Shogan, in fact, has only one chapter on parties and presidents up to the 1960 election of Kennedy, and he then looks at each president since. The catch is that Kennedy was the first, in Shogan's reading, to capture his party's nomination from outside the party structure and to exploit the new media possibilities of direct presidential communication and personality projection, complete with vague positions on issues. If Kennedy had had closer ties to his party, Shogan argues, he would have been more restrained abroad and more venturesome at home. From then on, presidents have tried to go around parties by appealing to the public. Shogan would like to see the Constitution amended to produce something like the British parliamentary system, complete with votes of confidence. Such a system, he thinks, would have slowed down LBJ's Great Society programs to a more reasonable pace, kept Richard Nixon on this side of the law, given Gerald Ford more strength, gotten rid of Jimmy Carter had he gotten into office, and forced a closer study of Ronald Reagan's economic policies. Ambitious tinkering; otherwise unremarkable.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 1982


Page Count: -

Publisher: New American Library

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1982