978-0-06-093054-7 / 9780060930547

Presidential Ambition: Gaining Power At Any Cost


Publisher:Harper Perennial



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About the book:

The standard by which all books on presidential power are judged is Richard E. Neustadt's Presidential Power, which considers modern presidents in terms of their ability to wield influence. In Presidential Ambition, Richard Shenkman takes a more historical--and much more cynical--look at the question of how a president uses and consolidates power. In addition to the compromising of principles, lying, pandering, stealing votes, manipulation of the press, and attempts to manipulate public opinion that take place in the Oval Office, Shenkman also delves into the nefarious methods by which these men became America's leaders.

He maintains that the primary quality that separates the presidents from other Americans, from George Washington onward, is their overwhelming ambition. The most successful occupants of the White House, he suggests, expanded the powers of their position by molding the presidency to their own talents and skills, finding ways to do what they wanted--including lying to the American people (a trait, he makes abundantly clear, that is far from limited to the Clinton administration). Shenkman's conclusions about the presidency and the United States are bleak. He argues that the behavior of American presidents has gotten worse as the world has grown more complex: "If you looked carefully at American history you could see a clear pattern of decline. Instead of things getting better and better over time, as Americans liked to fantasize, they had gotten worse and worse.... The system over time had become more and more politically promiscuous, ever more tolerant of a wider and wider range of unseemly presidential behavior." --Linda Killian

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