The Executive

Ever since the nation’s most important secret meeting—the Constitutional Convention—presidents have struggled to balance open, accountable government with necessary secrecy in military affairs and negotiations. For the first one hundred and twenty years, a culture of open government persisted, but new threats and technology have long since shattered the old bargains. Today, presidents neither protect vital information nor provide the open debate Americans expect.
Mary Graham tracks the rise in governmental secrecy that began with surveillance and loyalty programs during Woodrow Wilson’s administration, explores how it developed during the Cold War, and analyzes efforts to reform the secrecy apparatus and restore oversight in the 1970s. Chronicling the expansion of presidential secrecy in the Bush years, Graham explains what presidents and the American people can learn from earlier crises, why the attempts of Congress to rein in stealth activities don’t work, and why presidents cannot hide actions that affect citizens’ rights and values.
Mary Graham co-directs the Transparency Policy Project at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and is the author of three earlier books on the politics of information. She has written for the Atlantic, Science, and other publications.

In 1940, for the first time since America’s founding, a sitting president sought a third term in office. But this was only one remarkable aspect of that year’s election, which was, as John Jeffries makes clear in his new book, one of the most interesting and important elections in American history.
Franklin Roosevelt’s plan to pack the Supreme Court had failed; in the wake of a recent recession, his New Deal had hardened support and opposition among both parties; and the German advance across Europe, along with Japanese aggression in Asia, was stirring fierce debate over America’s role in the world. Adding to the moment of profound uncertainty was FDR’s procrastination over whether to run again. Jeffries explores how these tensions played out and what they meant, not just for the presidential election but also for domestic politics and policy generally, and for state and local contests. In the context of the Roosevelt Coalition and the New Deal party system, he parses the debates and struggles within both the Democratic and Republican parties as Roosevelt deliberated over running and Wendell Wilkie, a businessman from Indiana and New York City, got the nod from Republicans over a field including the rising moderate Thomas E. Dewey, the conservative Michigan senator Arthur Vandenburg, and the isolationist Ohio senator Robert Taft.
A Third Term for FDR reveals how domestic policy more than international events influenced Roosevelt’s decision to run and his victory in November. A detailed analysis of the results offers insights into the impact of the year’s events on voting, and into the election’s long-term implications and ramifications—many of which continue to this day.

When the 1952 presidential election campaign began, many assumed it would be a race between Harry Truman, seeking his second full term, and Robert A. Taft, son of a former president and, to many of his fellow partisans, “Mr. Republican.” No one imagined the party standard bearers would be Illinois governor Adlai E. Stevenson II and Supreme Allied Commander in World War II, Dwight D. Eisenhower.. I Like Ike tells the story of a critical election fought between two avowedly reluctant warriors, including Truman’s efforts to recruit Eisenhower as the candidate of the Democrat Party—to a finish that, for all the partisan wrangling, had more to do with the extraordinary popularity of the former general, who, along with Stevenson, was seen to be somehow above politics.

I Like Ike is a compelling account of how an America fearful of a Communist threat elected a war hero and brought an end to twenty years of Democrat control of the White House. In an era of political ferment, it also makes a timely and persuasive case for the importance of the election of 1952 not only to the Eisenhower Administration, but also to the development of presidential politics well into the future.

In the final years of the nineteenth century, as a large-scale movement of farmers and laborers swept much the country, the United States engaged in an ostensibly anti-colonial war against Spain and a colonial war of its own in the Philippines. How one related to the other—the nature of the activists’ involvement in foreign policy debates and the influence of these wars upon the prospects for domestic reform—is what Nathan Jessen explores in Populism and Imperialism.
American reformers at the turn of the twentieth century have long been misrepresented as accomplices of empire. Rather, as Populism and Imperialism makes clear, they were imperialism’s chief opponents—and that opposition contributed to their ultimate defeat. Correcting the record, Jessen charts the fortunes of the Populists through the nineteenth century’s last decade. He shows that, contrary to the standard narrative, Populists remained powerful in West after the election of 1896; they only suffered their final political reverses in 1900 after being branded as unpatriotic traitors by their opponents. In fact, the Populists and Democrats in the West favored war with Spain for humanitarian reasons; some among them led the opposition to Hawaiian annexation and—as leaders of the anti-imperialists in Congress from 1899 on—the occupation of the Philippines.
Populism and Imperialism revises a critical chapter in US history and offers lessons for the present as well as insights into the nation’s past.

Newton Minow’s long engagement with the world of television began nearly fifty years ago when President Kennedy appointed him chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. As its head, Minow would famously dub TV a “vast wasteland,” thus inaugurating a career dedicated to reforming television to better serve the public interest. Since then, he has been chairman of PBS and on the board of CBS and elsewhere, but his most lasting contribution remains his leadership on televised presidential debates. He was assistant counsel to Illinois governor Adlai Stevenson when Stevenson first proposed the idea of the debates in 1960; he served as cochair of the presidential debates in 1976 and 1980; and he helped create and is currently vice chairman of the Commission on Presidential Debates, which has organized the debates for the last two decades.

Written with longtime collaborator Craig LaMay, this fascinating history offers readers for the first time a genuinely inside look into the origins of the presidential debates and the many battles—both legal and personal—that have determined who has been allowed to debate and under what circumstances. The authors do not dismiss the criticism of the presidential debates in recent years but do come down solidly in favor of them, arguing that they are one of the great accomplishments of modern American electoral politics. As they remind us, the debates were once unique in the democratic world, are now emulated across the globe, and they offer the public the only real chance to see the candidates speak in direct response to one another in a discussion of major social, economic, and foreign policy issues.

How much power does a president really have? Theories and arguments abound—pointlessly, Bruce Miroff says, if we don’t understand the context in which presidents operate. Borrowing from Machiavelli, Miroff maps five fields of political struggle that presidents must traverse to make any headway: media, powerful economic interests, political coalitions, the high-risk politics of domestic policy, and the partisan politics of foreign policy.

The prince readying for war, Machiavelli writes, must “learn the nature of the terrain, and know how mountains slope, how valleys open, how plains lie, and understand the nature of rivers and swamps.” So it is with presidents navigating the political landscape. The variability of political ground, and of the conflicts fought on it, is a core proposition of this study. The swift collapse of the Soviet Union, the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and the financial crisis of 2008—recent history offers a quick lesson in fortune’s role in the careers of presidents. Taking a historical perspective, which opens on an array of cases, Miroff explores the various ways in which a president’s agenda is constrained or facilitated by political conditions on the ground. His book reveals how political identity is constructed and contested in the media through the ever-changing presidential spectacle; what happens when Democrats in the White House tangle with the titans of the economy; why presidents claiming to represent the entire nation have to manage political coalitions that direct rewards to their own followers; why domestic policy has become tough terrain for presidents; and how partisan polarization has reshaped presidential leadership in foreign policy, an area once considered “beyond politics.”

Reinhold Niebuhr is remembered as an inspiration for the revival of “realism” in US foreign policy. He was also one of America’s most visible Christian supporters of the state of Israel. Niebuhr rejected eschatological interpretations of Jewish destiny. But his lifelong support for Zionism rested partly on religious grounds—including a conception of providence that linked America’s global responsibility with the survival of the Jewish state.

Pages: