The End of Greatness

The End of Greatness

Why America Can't Have (and Doesn't Want) Another Great President

eBook - 2014
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The Presidency has always been an implausible'some might even say an impossible job. Part of the problem is that the challenges of the presidency and the expectations Americans have for their presidents have skyrocketed, while the president's capacity and power to deliver on what ails the nations has diminished. Indeed, as citizens we continue to aspire and hope for greatness in our only nationally elected office. The problem of course is that the demand for great presidents has always exceeded the supply. As a result, Americans are adrift in a kind of Presidential Bermuda Triangle suspended between the great presidents we want and the ones we can no longer have. The End of Greatness explores the concept of greatness in the presidency and the ways in which it has become both essential and detrimental to America and the nation's politics. Miller argues that greatness in presidents is a much overrated virtue. Indeed, greatness is too rare to be relevant in our current politics, and driven as it is by nation-encumbering crisis, too dangerous to be desirable. Our preoccupation with greatness in the presidency consistently inflates our expectations, skews the debate over presidential performance, and drives presidents to misjudge their own times and capacity. And our focus on the individual misses the constraints of both the office and the times, distorting how Presidents actually lead. In wanting and expecting our leaders to be great, we have simply made it impossible for them to be good. The End of Greatness takes a journey through presidential history, helping us understand how greatness in the presidency was achieved, why it's gone, and how we can better come to appreciate the presidents we have, rather than being consumed with the ones we want.
Publisher: New York : St. Martin's Press, 2014.
ISBN: 1137464461
Characteristics: 1 online resource.


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Dec 15, 2014

To speculate on the end of presidential greatness, one needs to understand the standard by which we judge it. Aaron David Miller spends the majority of the book doing exactly that. Specifically, The End of Greatness: Why America Can't Have (and Doesn't Want) Another Great President is mostly a biography of three of the greatest presidents in American history: Franklin Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, and George Washington. And according to Miller, these are THE undisputed top three.

We learn of the circumstances under which these three men assumed the office of the presidency, and it soon becomes clear that greatness cannot be orchestrated. As if there was any doubt. So much depends on the external factors of the age, which are nearly always external threats.

I recommend The End of Greatness on the strength of these mini-biographies alone. There are mentions of other notable presidents—Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt for example—who were great men, but who inherited stakes that weren't nearly as high as the big three. There's also a discussion of the originally perceived greatness of our current president, Barack Obama, and how greatness has so far eluded him. Maybe time will tell.

We live in a digital age where the lives and deeds of anyone public are extensively recorded and astonishingly personal. When our revered heroes of the modern age don't have the luxury of elusiveness, then greatness will have to evolve to mean something more.

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