Thursday, February 14, 2013

Greenstein on Leadership

Winding up a quick read of  Fred L. Greenstein's Inventing the Job of the President: Leadership Style from George Washington to Andrew Jackson..  It's an entertaining and (somewhat) instructive read, a companion piece to his earlier The Presidential Difference:  Leadership Styles from FDR to [insert the name of the President in office at the time of the particular edition].  The newer is a bit thinner than its predecessor, at least in content, perhaps because earlier Presidents had less to do and were thereby less likely to show so much nuance and complexity.  Still, I'm struck by how truly   awful several of the early incumbents were at their job.  And not just nobodys on the order of Millard Fillmore: no, we are talking about the Adamses, father and son; even more, James Madison, perhaps the dominant intellectual presence at the founding of the republic, utterly miscast in the presidency.  Thomas Jefferson gets somewhat better marks, building on a somewhat strained comparison to Lyndon Johnson.  James Monroe gets high marks for stable good sense,though beyond that it is hard to remember just why.  Washington--of course, Washington, and for all the well-known reasons.  Andrew Jackson comes across as the great paradox:a man of enormous energy and  purpose who redefined the Presidency in achieving ends that you'd just as well wish he had not pursued in the first place.

I found myself wondering for a moment whether we can look forward to further volumes filling in the interstices.  But then I thought--nah, "leadership style of" (Pierce, Buchanan, Fillmore., Harding, etc)--it doesn't bear thinking on. By indirection, that insight probably highlights what is distinctive about the Greenstein books: right or wrong, they do focus on what aspects of the job are uniquely Presidential, and who can fill them, and how.

Update:  No, wait, it's already here.


Anonymous said...

don't want one on buchanan. yoo depressing.

marcel said...

Still, I'm struck by how truly several of the early incumbents were at their job.

Paraphrasing a 1980 Doonesbury strip about an EMK press conference[1], I write, "An adjective, sir, we need an adjective."[2]

[1] It's strange, but until looking this up, I thought it was a decade younger and referred to a GHWB press conference.

[2] I'm trying to figure out how to use "several" in this role, but even thinking of it as "separate", it won't work.

Buce said...

Thanks, Marcel. The adjective truck pulled up out front just a minute ago.