THE PROGRESSIVE PRESIDENTS: Roosevelt, Wilson, Roosevelt, Johnson by John Morton Blum

THE PROGRESSIVE PRESIDENTS: Roosevelt, Wilson, Roosevelt, Johnson

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At a time when Jimmy Carter warns against asking too much of the federal government, a book extolling the expanders of presidential power seems a non-starter. But that, presumably, is what spurred Yale historian Blum to this defense of progressivism. Blum argues that, by 1900, America had already become a de facto world power, and that Teddy Roosevelt was merely acknowledging this in his insistence on the power of the presidency. Without such a powerful office, in Blum's view, the government cannot function properly in a complex and fast-moving world, and it is up to the other branches--legislative and judicial--to see to it that presidential power is held within reasonable bounds. But without a president willing to utilize the power, the bounds will shrink. Blum summarizes the rise of progressivism in the Roosevelt and Wilson years, describing the antitrust and social reform measures which the White House championed, but also noting those occasions--like the suppression of dissent in World War I--when presidential efforts in one area led to excesses in others. The power to do right overwhelmed Wilson, and the reaction from Congress and the people resulted in a backlash favoring weak executives. FDR's New Deal resurrected the older tradition, and New Dealer Johnson kept it alive until Vietnam toppled him and, with him, Progressivism. Blum is aware that these presidents all combined progressive domestic policies with aggressive foreign policies, but, without judging any particular foreign episode, he sees the two as logically connected and the price which must be paid for progressive principles. To a skeptic, the wars might seem to provide the economic stimulus that makes the social legislation look good. Blum has made a case, but the verdict is not assured.

Pub Date: April 28th, 1980
Publisher: Norton