THE POWER TO LEAD: The Crisis of the American Presidency by James MacGregor Burns

THE POWER TO LEAD: The Crisis of the American Presidency

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Williams College political scientist Burns, a Pulitzer-Prize-winner for his biography of FDR, has repeatedly taken up the issue of presidential leadership, with increasingly negligible results (cf. Leadership, 1978). The problem, as Burns sees it, is a familiar one: the presidency is detached from Congress, partly because the political parties have become nebulous catch-all conglomerations without ideological cohesion, partly because of the methods of presidential selection, which have increasingly separated out the presidential nominating process from the larger party structures. Centered on media manipulation and primaries, the nominating procedures favor isolated ""King of the Rock"" types who come over well on TV and in print, but lack presidential skills at dealing with establishment political figures. JFK was the first of the media wizards; but Jimmy Carter is clearly, and unremarkably, the archetype of the Burns model. Where Burns thinks he's breaking new ground is in arguing that these problems are not solely the product of new technology; rather, they are rooted in the Constitution, where the Founders sought to dissipate power and paid no heed to party politics. Burns, like many others, regards the British parliamentary system as a better one for the modern world--it has been copied, he notes, far more often than the American model--and, also like others, proposes some constitutional and other alterations to make the American system more like the British, where the executive is assured of legislative support and effective leadership is thus possible. Burns' particular list includes: integrating government committees and agencies to combine congressional and executive representation; amending the Constitution to allow for a ""team ticket""--whereby voters would cast a single vote for president, senator, and congressman; passing another amendment to allow senators and representatives to serve in the Cabinet; making impeachment a process akin to votes of confidence, allowing the president to be removed short of ""high crimes and misdemeanors."" More organized and ideological parties would also be required: Burns sees a precedent in Reagan's revamping of the Republicans; he hopes the Democrats will reciprocate and move to the left. The blueprint is laced with anecdotes of conversations with presidents and presidential staffers; it's thin on nitty-gritty detail of how the system works for the people in it. Election-year musings to file alongside Sorenson's A Different Kind of Presidency (p. 41).

Pub Date: April 16th, 1984
Publisher: Simon & Schuster