ALL THINGS TO ALL MEN: The False Promise of the Modern American Presidency by Godfrey Hodgson
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ALL THINGS TO ALL MEN: The False Promise of the Modern American Presidency

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Among the spate of presidential books in this presidential-election year, Washington correspondent Hodgson's stands out: it has some coherent ideas. Though he refers as far back as Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, Hodgson argues that the archetype of the modern president was FDR, who, coming into office amidst the Depression, was the first president mandated to ""do something"" about setting things right. A brilliant politician, FDR started setting up agencies wholesale while at the same time playing to the media. The upshot, as we all know, was the vast bureaucracy of the New Deal coupled with the image of activism. But Hodgson adds a twist: what was unique about this bureaucracy--and has plagued presidents ever since--was its haphazard structure. Roosevelt was able to manipulate his creation because of his exemplary political skills; but subsequent presidents, faced with the hardening of this arbitrarily-constructed apparatus, have had less success. So, while the old idea of the president as the representative of ""all the People"" has been bolstered by the mass media--especially television, the media of all the people--the hodge-podge that is the Washington bureaucracy ensures that the president will not be able to deliver on his promises to the people. Hodgson incorporates some other theories into this frame, including the notion that the decline of the parties has contributed to the isolation of the president; and that presidents, frustrated on domestic issues, are likely to turn to foreign policy--where they have more direct control--around the third year of their first term to find some blockbusters for the upcoming election. The failures of the Carter regime on civil service reform, energy and health-care legislation, etc., are all used as illustrations, as are the Camp David and Iran media events. Hodgson has few new ideas for ending this impasse--he rehearses some of them, from strengthening the parties to electing a new House every four years--but by putting the Carter presidency into a theoretical and historical perspective, he's done more than Haynes Johnson, Clark Mollenhoff, David Barber, John Hersey, et al. combined. Simply the best book on the presidency in too long a time.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1980
Publisher: Simon & Schuster