William E, Leuchtenburg: In the Shadow of FDR: From Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan; Cornell University Press; Ithaca, NY.
John Kenneth Galbraith: The Anatomy of Power; Houghton Mifflin Company; Boston.
When Ronald Reagan assumed the Presidency, he was assailed by liberals for wanting both too much power and too little. Mr. Reagan had made it clear that he intended to restore the United States to the position of strength and world leadership it had formerly occupied, and he also wanted to restore to the Presidency the pre-Carterian dignity of the office. At the same time, the President was determined to reduce the size and scope of the Federal government, and to delegate more responsibility to his subordinates than his recent predecessors had done. Of course, his liberal critics would have none of these changes. They charged Mr. Reagan with wanting both an “imperial” and a “nine-to-five” Presidency. They attacked him for seeking too much power in foreign affairs and not enough domestically. To them, he was trying to usurp power by asking for less of it.
This reaction to President Reagan highlights an interesting feature of contemporary liberalism: its apparent ambivalence toward power. On the one hand, liberals like to believe that power is a poor substitute for good will and thus unsavory. At the same time, however, they insist on the use of power, particularly state power, in the services of their objectives. While there appears to be ambivalence in this view, closer examination reveals a clear pattern of preference in the liberal notion of power. Liberals wring their hands over corporate power, but seem unconcerned about the power of labor unions. They celebrate the use of governmental power by the “positive state,” but are fearful of growing military power. They want the government to support the anti-American “forces for change” around the world, but not friendly governments trying to maintain order. In short, liberals are not really skittish about power, only nonliberal uses of power.
This pattern can be clearly seen in the liberal view of the Presidency, as the treatment of Mr. Reagan suggests. Franklin Roosevelt is their great Presidential hero, because he used the power of his office and the force of his personality to build the modern welfare state. When Dwight Eisenhower consciously adopted a more reserved presidential style, he was condemned as “the bland leading the bland” by critics aching for a Rooseveltian Presidency. John Kennedy’s posturing and rhetoric seemed to satisfy that ache, particularly after his death. The reaction to Lyndon Johnson was mixed: loved for the Great Society, vilified for the war in Vietnam and the invasion of the Dominican Republic. By the time of Richard Nixon, the liberal cohort was condemning the “imperial Presidency” and calling for executive restraint. Yet Nixon’s use of presidential power was not unlike Roosevelt’s or Kennedy’s–his political goals were simply different. Liberals welcomed Jimmy Carter’s populist Presidency, then abandoned it as passionless and weak. Moreover, instead of stridently advancing liberal causes, Carter became inordinately concerned with inflation and government spending. When Ronald Reagan assumed office, he was accused of trying to revive the imperial Presidency for reasons ranging from his belief in the dignity of the office to his wife’s desire for new china for the White House. What Jack and Jackie had done was Camelot, but what the Reagans wanted was Caesarism.
Liberals accept only those uses of power which serve their ends, and castigate all others as dangerous. Presidents who seek to implement nonliberal goals are not merely misguided, but imperialistic abusers of power and the Presidential office. The corollary to this view is the insistence that Presidents be judged according to standards associated with liberal heroes, such as Roosevelt and Kennedy. Both Democrats and Republicans have suffered under these comparisons: no living President, particularly a conservative one, can compare with the idealized memories of FDR and JFK. Moreover, nonliberals are unqualified as models for comparison. Consequentially, the recent efforts to reinterpret Eisenhower’s Presidency have been regarded as controversial among academicians and media pundits. Revisionist interpretations of Eisenhower (i.e., those which challenge the liberals’ view of him as somnolent) are dismissed as wrong or accepted only with qualifications.The usual line is that Ike may have been a good manager, bu the lacked Roosevelt’s vision or Kennedy’s vigor–nevermind the balanced budgets. Similarly, Mr. Reagan’s successful handling of the Presidency is dismissed as unworthy of emulation, and he is said to be out of touch with reality. His successful leader ship of public opinion is explained away as mere theatrics. No matter what he, Eisenhower, or any other nonliberal may accomplish, they lack the necessary political orientation to earn them their due credit.
William Leuchtenburg’s In the Shadow of FDR stands as a monument to this view. His thesis is that every President since Truman has had to live down comparison to Roosevelt, and that living in FDR’s long shadow has affected the behavior of these Presidents. Yet Leuchtenburg only chronicles the modulations in liberal judgments of Presidents and the Presidency since 1945. Indeed, his unstated operational definition of the Roosevelt legacy is liberal opinion, particularly that of old New Dealers. Little is recorded of public opinion or of the opinions of anyone not among Roosevelt’s most devoted followers. The shadow of FDR, then, is but a wraith of the Brain Trust. Indeed, the figure who looms largest in this book is not FDR, but Eleanor Roosevelt. Leuchtenburg faithfully records her interactions with and opinions of Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson, as if her views were the most important in the nation. She dominates this work, and other liberal views of the post-Roosevelt presidency are cast in relation to hers. This is because her views were most important to Leuchtenburg and his ilk.
The consequence of this particular conception of the Roosevelt legacy is that most of the Presidents Leuchtenburg surveys are unaffected by the supposed shadow of FDR; only Tmman, Kennedy, and Johnson really felt any burden of the Roosevelt legacy, and the effect on Kennedy and Johnson was marginal. As for the others, Leuchtenburg must overwork weak links between Roosevelt and them to make his case. He makes much of Eisenhower’s “owing” his Presidency to FDR, because Roosevelt had promoted Ike rapidly during World War II. The chapter on Nixon and Ford is an exercise in obfuscation, one that merely shows that the two opposed FDR’s policies. Carter initially sought to identify himself with the memory of Roosevelt, but soon found it of little value. Finally, because he cannot bear Mr. Reagan’s outright repudiation of the Roosevelt legacy, Leuchtenburg devotes an enormous amount of space to demonstrating that Mr. Reagan was, in his youth, a liberal Democrat.
Leuchtenburg not only thinks that Presidents have been judged according to the memory of FDR, but that they ought to be:
Yet it has also been, and continues to be, beneficial to use Roosevelt’s performance as a measuring rod, for his largeness of view has been, and is, badly needed. FDR displayed a hospitality to new ideas and vivid personalities that sets a standard for all who follow him. He demonstrated, as well, a willingness to concern himself about excluded groups in America relevant to our own times as it was to his.
The shadow of FDR, then, falls across the minds of Leuchtenburg and other liberals rather than across the Presidency. The relevance of this legacy to Chief Executives, however, lies in the liberals’ dominance of commentary and the academe. They continue to hound the Presidents with idealized reminiscences of the Roosevelt era. Moreover, they have added Kennedy to their presidential pantheon, as the JFK hagiography marking the 20th anniversary of his assassination illustrates. They have defined the Presidency in their own terms, as the great engine of liberalism.
The Anatomy of Power, ostensibly intended as a primer on the fundamental elements of power, is essentially an effort to provide a philosophical justification for the liberal concept of power. Professor Galbraith begins by analyzing the instruments and sources of power in a rather abstract fashion, but quickly reveals the essential message of his work. He develops a typology of power instruments–condign, compensatory, and conditioned–and traces the sources of power in personality, property, and organization. It soon becomes apparent that this groundwork is only prefatory to Galbraith’s main argument, as he reveals in the examples he employs to develop and illustrate his points: power is held by men over women, corporations over their employees and the economy, and the elite over the masses.The messageis clear: power is mostly held by the nonliberal segments of society. Others have little power.
Then come the concrete examples, all of which are supposed to convince the reader of the power of corporations and the military establishment, and of the relative weakness of the bulk of society and the nonmilitary state in the face of these forces.
The modern military establishment strongly concentrates power. It exacts a high level of submission from a large number of individuals within the organization, and in symmetrical fashion it exacts an equivalent obedience outside. The modern corporation expects and receives a high level of conformity from the many in its management. And its property resources accord it an extensive command over the many it employs. From this flows an extensive submission by the citizenryand the state. As in the case of the military, the purposes of the great business enterprise, the ideas that sustain it are largely, though not quite completely, above debate.
The point of Galbraith’s argument is clear: military and corporate power must be undercut, and the power of those elements in society opposed to them must be enhanced. This means limits on corporations, more power for unions and consumer groups, a shift of government resources from military to nonmilitary programs, and an overall growth in state power. In short, Galbraith uses the concept of power to develop a philosophical brief for the liberal agenda, one that shares the same sorts of biases, presuppositions, and interpretations as Leuchtenburg’s treatise. Galbraith provides the rationale for employing the Presidency as the engine of liberalism: the sources of power opposed to corporate and military power must be concentrated, and it is through state action that such concentration should occur. As Roosevelt’s tenure demonstrates,the Presidency is a wonderful vehicle for accomplishing this growth in state power and the implementation of the liberal agenda. That is why all Presidents must be judged in reference to the Roosevelt-Kennedy legacy: only this model of Presidential leadership properly addresses the need for concentrating power in the “positive state.” For the liberals, then, the Presidency is only legitimate when its occupant seeks to carry out the programs and purposes of liberalism. Otherwise, it is a danger to the Republic. This view is the real shadow of FDR. As long as it continues to influence assessments of Presidents and the Presidency, this view will cast a pall over the nation. D