Monday, September 25, 2017

Jeremi Suri's "The Impossible Presidency"

Jeremi Suri is a professor of history and holds the Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs at the University of Texas.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Impossible Presidency: The Rise and Fall of America's Highest Office, and reported the following:
From page 99:
George Washington would have recognized the unifying vision of Abraham Lincoln, but Lincoln’s transformative ambitions would have astounded the first president.

“The war came,” Lincoln wrote; the president acted to help the people find their way through to a better future. He was an active visionary and a collective redeemer, as never before. His beautiful words made him a new kind of leader for a new kind of nation, searching for the “better angels” of its originally sinful nature.

Lincoln’s assassination, one month after his Second Inaugural Address, gives the speech a “farewell address” quality. Lincoln delivered another more informal speech on 11 April 1865, just a few days before his murder, but the Second Inaugural reflects his deepest thinking about the role of the American president. It also shows the fundamental transformation in the presidency from the troubled beginning of his time in office to his sudden and shocking death.
Over two centuries the power of the American presidency has risen, but the effectiveness of the office has declined. I wrote The Impossible Presidency to understand this contradictory phenomenon. Many Americans are frustrated with their leaders, and many are seeking to “blow up” the system. My book seeks to get beyond the name-calling and partisanship, to understand how the presidency has evolved to our current moment, and how we can make the office better for the future. Studying history gives us the broader view that we so desperately need in a time of deep division.

Abraham Lincoln is one of the inspiring figures I examine. He was not a genius, and he was not always effective as president. But he understood the crucial unifying role of the president in times of conflict, and he found the words to define a new America for diverse citizens. Lincoln made the president into a nation-builder, and he left an enduring legacy for his successors. Although few presidents have reached Lincolnian heights, all aspiring leaders should learn from studying his example, and others.
Visit Jeremi Suri's website.

--Marshal Zeringue