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The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership

by Kenneth T. Walsh

Pub Date: May 30th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-61205-160-4
Publisher: Paradigm

A White House correspondent’s study of how presidents from Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama have coped with the challenges caused by executive isolation.

The Executive Mansion is a space of tremendous power and privilege. But as Walsh (Family of Freedom: Presidents and African Americans in the White House, 2011, etc.) reveals in this account of the American presidency since FDR, it is also a space that keeps the politically entitled at a distance from their fellow Americans. Modern presidents have been all too aware of this phenomenon. Harry Truman called the White House “the great white jail,” and Bill Clinton quipped that it was “the crown jewel in the federal penitentiary system.” Walsh suggests that the problem stems from several factors, not the least of which is that the White House was designed “to serve the material needs and desires of one man.” In the 1990s, the rise of the 24-hour news cycle created a need to maintain appearances in front of the media, and the president’s perceived vulnerability to assassination has made it impossible for the commander in chief to do anything without the presence of armed security personnel. Through interviews with presidential aides and pollsters and trenchant analysis of White House correspondence, Walsh examines how modern presidents have dealt with this isolation. He also looks at the degree to which they succeeded or failed in their attempts to keep up with the American people. Effective presidents like Ronald Reagan, Clinton and Obama paid close attention to polls and sought innovative ways to stay connected to everyday Americans. Others, like Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter, also took great pains to understand public opinion but neglected to heed it. Intelligent and insightful, Walsh’s analysis is a reminder that for American leaders, freedom is not for free.

An intriguing look at one of the world’s toughest jobs.