From Wilson to Obama

Steve Hayward has been been touting his new book on the presidents from Wilson to Obama in a good-humored sort of way, but the book makes a substantial contribution to the subject. The book is officially published and available in bookstores next week, though it is shipping now from Amazon. The book comes with recommendations from Jonah Goldberg, Ed Meese and Michael Barone. Here is what I said about it in the review posted at Amazon:

Steven Hayward is my favorite historian of American politics. His two-volume history of The Age of Reagan hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves, but it is a magnificent work of narrative history and informed judgment. Hayward took a time out from his work on the second volume to write Greatness, a comparison of Churchill and Reagan along with a meditation on the sources of political greatness.

Hayward now turns his attention to the modern American presidency. All his powers are vividly on display in this wonderful book. It is full of deep learning worn lightly. It continues Hayward’s mission of providing a narrative undermining the liberal version of American politics served up by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and his successors. As always, Hayward entertains while he teaches.

The book rings my chimes right from the git-to. Here is the opening paragraph:

The Founding Fathers would be appalled by the modern presidency. Of all the things that would horrify them about the scope and reach of government today, the one that might alarm them the most is the character of the modern office of president. The scale of the presidential office and the conduct of modern presidents are very different from what the Founders envisioned. In fact, the modern presidency is the exact opposite of what the Founders intended. The behavior of most modern presidents–personally ambitious politicians (or demagogues’ in the Founders eighteenth century vocabulary) making populist appeals, offering lavish promises, often impossible to fulfill, of what they will do for the people–is precisely what the Founders wanted to avoid when they created the institution. The modern presidency has become one of the chief ingredients in the recipe for endlessly expanding the government beyond the limits the Founders laid out for it in the Constitution.

And here is Steve’s conclusion:

The election of 1912, when the parties splintered and a short-lived Progressive Party facilitated the election of Woodrow Wilson, marked the beginning of a new chapter in American political thought and practice. The election of 2012 could mark the end of this chapter and the return to an older, sounder constitutional order, if a majority of American voters taek to heart the wisdom of of the Founders. Might the Tea Party represent the inverse of the Progressive Party of 100 years ago? Even if the Tea Party does not become a formal political party as the Progressives did in 1912, it is clear this populist constitutional movement is having an effect on both parties–reminding us once again that the Constitution begins, We the people…”

Although it is a work covering a hundred years of American history, Steve’s book could not be more timely.


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