Bad for Democracy: How the Presidency Undermines the Power of the People

Bad for Democracy: How the Presidency Undermines the Power of the People

Dana D. Nelson

Language: English

Pages: 256

ISBN: 0816656770

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Dana D. Nelson argues that it is the office of the presidency itself that endangers the great American experiment. This urgent book, with new analysis of President Barack Obama's first months in office, reveals the futility of placing all of our hopes for the future in the American president and encourages citizens to create a politics of deliberation, action, and agency.

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Constitution’s framing, then turns to a pivotal and famous text, Mason Locke Weems’s “I cannot tell a lie” biography of Washington. This enduring work presented Washington in terms of what people 24 BAD FOR DEMOCR ACY would come to know more familiarly in the twentieth century as a “superhero,” and studying it helps us see how presidentialism, from early in the nineteenth century, begins converting democratic energies aimed at the public sphere into private feelings aimed at an idealized

was lowered to eighteen in 1971, to match the age of Vietnam draftees, during an era of powerful civil reform designed to ensure that minority citizens were actually able to vote. We narrate the expansion of democracy by remembering the obstacles overcome by citizens trying to gain the right to vote. Voting is a democratic power, and voting, as I show in this chapter, makes voters feel powerful. But it is a democratic power that takes as much as it gives. In chapter 1, I noted that while the

sounds of governmental life and by supersaturating them with political information. All too often . . . this tumult creates in viewers a sense of activity rather than genuine civic involvement. In addition, television consistently tells the story of specific persons in specific situations, thereby producing a kind of highly individuated, cameo politics that distracts viewers from common problems and public possibilities. Television does this work, and much more, in a highly entertaining fashion and

application of his secret powers—a surprise for close observers of his administration. He waived all executive privilege and went so far, when Congress demanded, as to agree to turn over his own personal diaries. Those who support expanded executive powers denounced his “weakness” on this score, his refusal to fight for the presidential right to secrecy, given how sure they were that Reagan could easily have won a battle over something that was arguably not an official record. But other observers

performance, corporate boards have come to value “charisma” over demonstrable skill and company records, overpaying prized candidates at the same time that they load these charismatic saviors up with impossible expectations. Soon these expectations are disappointed, and the CEO bails (usually with a fabulous severance package) and the expensive search for the charismatic corporate savior begins anew, with everhigher expectations for performance and lower odds for rescue. But there are more

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