Americans tend to have a romanticized, inflated sense of the White House and its power. In domestic affairs, most of the power is elsewhere.
Randall Balmer uses Jimmy Carter's career to trace the history of progressive religious beliefs in the post-Watergate political environment.
When Barack Obama addressed the “Trayvon Martin ruling” Friday, he did more than offer his “thought and prayers” to the family of Martin, applaud them for their “incredible grace and dignity,” and narrate a history of racial surveillance that often leaves African Americans frustrated and even afraid. The president did more than acknowledge that the democratic judicial system had done its work, urge demonstrations to be peaceful, and call for close evaluations of “stand your ground” laws. Obama took a moment where the nation was viciously debating its most cherished values through the death of a child and cast a vision for a better future through other children.
Holidays evoke moments of reflection. Americans just celebrated Memorial Day, a time to honor those who have fought and died in wars for the nation. Traditionally, people hold parades, gather in cemeteries and rally around monuments to fallen soldiers. Perhaps it was fitting, then, both that President Barack Obama delivered a signal speech on the war on terror last week and that Google bestowed the honor of “Google doodle of 2013” to Sabrina Brady, a Wisconsin teenager who depicted her father’s return from a tour of duty in Iraq.
The primary problem with American political culture is that almost all of our scrutiny goes to the human beings running for president.
How should we decide who to vote for? Paul Root Wolpe thinks a candidate's personal ethics should be at the top of the list: When we care about a candidate’s character, we are really asking, Is this person authentic? Are their positions a true reflection of their inner values, or are they politically expedient? Is a change of opinion on an issue a result of the candidate listening to others, learning and making a principled decision, or is it a response to pressure, polls and popularity? . . . . It is in the American character to care about our leader’s values. We should be proud of that. I don't exactly disagree, but I don't find this all that helpful, either.
John F. Kennedy's famous Houston speech on church and state during the 1960 presidential campaign elicited Rick Santorum's after-the-fact disgust. Though Santorum misrepresents the speech in some ways--Kennedy didn't say anything about limiting religious institutions and leaders from speaking on public issues--he is right to find the speech theologically lame.
Many aspects of governing exist outside the president's control, via rhetoric or anything else.
Ulysses S. Grant never allowed alcohol to interfere with his responsibilities. His reputation as a corrupt, inadequate president is also wrong, or at least incomplete.
When I opened this biography, I was as curious about how David Remnick would pull off a biography of a sitting president—after only one year in office—as I was about Obama himself.