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Monday, February 20, 2012

Presidential Myths

At The Washington Post, Aaron David Miller identifies five myths about the presidency:
1. The president has the power to get things done. "The framers wanted a strong executive but one who was accountable, too, reined in by shared and separated powers. As a consequence, the president can’t simply impose — he needs consensus and cooperation. William Howard Taft lamented a century ago that the president `cannot make the corn to grow, he cannot make business good.'"
2. War enhances a president’s power and reputation. "[F]or most 20th-century presidents, military conflict has hurt rather than helped them."
3. You must have a strong character to be a successful president. "Americans want and deserve presidents who play by the rules in public and private, but we seem confused about what’s acceptable."
4. The best presidents are highly educated and have long experience in government. "There’s no ideal preparation for the presidency. Experience in state and public affairs can be critical — of our 43 presidents, 34 had backgrounds in law, government or the military. But James Buchanan and Herbert Hoover had two of the best résumés in the business and yet were ill-equipped to handle the crises they confronted — the drift toward civil war and economic calamity, respectively."
5. The stresses of the presidency are hazardous to your health and shorten your life span. "Our first eight presidents lived an average of 79.8 years when life expectancy for American men was around 40 years...From Hoover through Ronald Reagan (excluding Kennedy), seven of eight lived longer than expected. Johnson was an exception; he died of a heart attack at 64. But the average age at death was 81.6 years. And four of our 43 presidents lived to their 90s: Gerald Ford, Reagan, John Adams and Hoover."