THE MORTAL PRESIDENCY: Illness and Anguish in the White House by Robert E. Gilbert

THE MORTAL PRESIDENCY: Illness and Anguish in the White House

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The unique demands of the US presidency have made the position hazardous to health, according to this intriguing study by Gilbert (Political Science/Northeastern Univ.). Gilbert focuses on five 20th-century Presidents--Coolidge, Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Reagan--with some passing comments on Bush. He examines these Chief Executives' formative years, as well as their time in office, searching for clues from which to construct psychological profiles that attempt to explain each President's vulnerabilities and how these may have affected the ability to govern. Gilbert sees Coolidge, for example, as a broken man who sank into deep depression and withdrew from his executive responsibilities after the death of his son. FDR, however, is described as coping extraordinarily well with his disabilities and carrying out his duties to the very end, while JFK is perceived as deriving ""strength of character"" from his painful physical problems. Unlike Robert H. Ferrell (Ill-Advised, p. 1162), Gilbert doesn't look for a pattern of medical coverups in the White House but does see an office that is becoming increasingly stressful to those who hold it. He presents statistical evidence that most US Presidents (even excluding those who were assassinated) have lived shorter-than-expected life spans. Regarding stress as a significant risk factor, Gilbert would reduce the demands of the job by downsizing the executive office and reshaping the role of the President's chief of staff. After examining the provisions of the Twenty-fifth Amendment, he recommends no modifications but does propose upgrading the vice-presidency and revising the procedure for selecting vice-presidential nominees. Although his psychological profiles are too superficial to he totally convincing, Gilbert raises important questions and gives useful advice.

Pub Date: Dec. 2nd, 1992
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Basic Books