THE LIVING PRESIDENCY: The Resources and Dilemmas of the American Presidential Office by Emmet John Hughes

THE LIVING PRESIDENCY: The Resources and Dilemmas of the American Presidential Office

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KIRKUS REVIEW

There have been a number of fine books over the years on the subject, including Harold Laski's The American Presidency (1940), Clinton Rossiter's 1960 treatise of the same title, and more recently George Reedy's remarkable essays The Twilight of the Presidency (1970) and The Presidency in Flux (KR, p. 549). Add Emmet John Hughes' thoughtful study to the list. Like the office it describes, The Living Presidency possesses a savvy blend of historical buoyancy, political authority, respect for mystique, and spirited resilience. Hughes, as have other contemporary scholars of the American executive, discusses the steady tendency toward centralization of power in the White House since Roosevelt's New Deal and especially the coming of the nuclear age, while recounting some of the crises, constitutional and otherwise, which have marked that 200-year march up Pennsylvania Avenue. As a bonus, twelve public men -- Sherman Adams, Clark Clifford, Abe Fortas, Averell Harriman, David Lilienthal, Ted Sorensen -- contribute personal statements on the office as they observed it. This is not as adventurous a book analytically as, say, Reedy's -- Hughes notes the dangers of presidential arrogance, the appeal of the secret and deceitful (Watergate is not mentioned), the ""seduction of optimism,"" and the alarming erosion of congressional checks and balances, but unlike Reedy he does not emphasize the increasing ""monarchical"" character of the office nor the resulting isolation from the roots of power, the people. Instead Hughes cautions that we not act hastily in attempting to change the presidency, that we resist the urge of ""reforming zeal"" and live with the ""abiding paradoxes"" inherent in the office, a concession to the need for quick and decisive decision-making in foreign affairs; ""the restraining reforms,"" he says, ""must be not so much matters of statute as matters of practice."" Hughes' opinions come to us in a time of grave national trouble and they deserve our considered attention.

Pub Date: Aug. 20th, 1973
Publisher: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan