Reassessing Presidents and Prime Ministers in North America, Europe and Japan
New Horizons in Leadership Studies series
Edited by Ludger Helms
Chapter 2: In the Grip of Context: American Presidents and their Choices
Bert A. Rockman As in all countries, there have been many instances of both poor leadership and bad governance in the United States in the years postdating the conclusion of World War II. That, of course, is not to say that the years predating 1945 were lacking in poor leadership and bad governance as well. Since the United States had a costly civil war in the middle of the nineteenth century, one might conclude that the earlier history of the United States was replete with more devastating errors than the years of the post-war era. Still, recent American history is laden with bad governance and cases of poor leadership. In fact, one scarcely knows where to begin. Picking out notorious cases of poor leadership and of bad governance implies a normative posture. The problem, of course, is that my idea of the public good may be someone else’s idea of a public bad and vice versa. Different people bring different judgmental criteria to bear on both the quality of leadership and its presumptive result, the quality of government. Aside from this rather obvious, yet important, consideration, other matters obscure and complicate attributions of responsibility as we think about both leadership and its consequences for governance. COMPLICATIONS The first complication is that not all governments are faced with the same set of choices. The menu from which to choose courses of action (or inaction) is more elaborate the more expansive a country’s status as a regional or global power. The longer...
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