Gateway to ideas; 20; #20 "The Job of the Presidency"
Gateway to Ideas Gateway to Ideas, a new series of conversations in which ideas are discussed in relation to reading. Today's program, The Job of the Presidency, is moderated by Quincy Howe, the editor of Atlas magazine. Our panelists are Dr. Lewis Kernig, Professor of Government at New York University, whose most recent book, The Chief Executive, deals with this very issue. And Dr. Charles Masterson, Executive Director of the National Safety Council. During the first four years of the Eisenhower administration, Dr. Masterson was a member of the White House staff as Special Assistant to President Eisenhower. Professor Kernig, your book, The Chief Executive, emphasizes among other things the need for
increased powers for the President. What are some of these increased powers that you regard as most important? Well, Mr. Howe, I think one area of difficulty for the President frequently is the area of Congress, and there, as I see it, it's not so much giving new powers to the President, as it is making some changes inside Congress. The problem is frequently there is deadlock, legislation the President wants does not come forth, and it is usually legislation that the country wants, which makes it all the worst. The difficulties, I think, center in the seniority rule and the selection of committee chairman and the powers of the rules committee, much of this, of course, reflects the system of checks and balances that we have. And the upshot frequently is that legislation has bottled up in committee, or there is a good deal of crippling amendment, which is done to the legislation. These are some of the problems.
As to what might be done about them, as I say, internal changes in Congress on the committee chairman and the power of the rules committee, this, I think, would be helpful to, I think, if the President had an item veto, as we know he has only a general veto, but this would give him a little more leverage, I think, in dealing with Congress. The treaty power, too, concerns me. Two-thirds of the Senators' present voting is required for the approval of a treaty. And I think this makes the President somewhat vulnerable, sometimes, to conditions, reservations. The test band treaty, for example, President Kennedy, I recall, had to send over a letter to the Senate indicating six or seven pledges on his part and presumably of future presidents that he would observe. There's weakness, I think, too, in the President's power as party leader in getting the support of the party organization. So as you can see from some of these references, it's not so much changing the Constitution to give new substantive powers to the President. It's more weakness, I think, in his relationship to the party and to Congress. One thing I would like to see, though, change the Constitution as a 22nd amendment, limiting
the President the two terms, which I think creates weakness for the President in his influence with Congress and also in his own party. Dr. Masterson, you saw a lot of this right up close as a special assistant to President Eisenhower. President Eisenhower came in, rather deploring some of the extremes of power that recent presidents had exercised and a little more determined to give some of the powers back to Congress. And having served there for a while, do you feel that he still held to that view, or did he come over perhaps a little more to the views that Professor König has expressed? It's difficult to say just how great this move may have been, but I'm quite sure there was a move. It's difficult to be in that position, and I'm sure President Eisenhower felt it and not be frustrated by some of the limitations upon the presidential office, some of the ones that Professor König mentioned.
The third term in particular comes to mind, doesn't it? Not that President Eisenhower wanted the third term, but that the fact that he could not have one severely limited his powers during his second term, isn't that true? Yes, it would limit any president in that spot, I'm certain. And then there is the book of Professor Clinton Rossiter on the American presidency. That makes many of the same points, or the same kind of emphasis that Professor König stresses of the need for increased powers. Yes, in fact, Mr. Rossiter lists the criteria in a very interesting section of his book on rating presidents. And just the criteria he selects gives you a view, I think, of his evaluation of the role of the president. He says, for example, in what sort of times did this president live? How bravely and imaginatively did he bear the burden of extraordinary responsibility? What was his philosophy of presidential power?
What sort of technician was he? What men did he call on for help? What manner of man was he beneath the trappings of office? What was his influence on the presidency? What was his influence on history? Now if these are the criteria, that spells out a strong president. And then Mr. Rossiter goes on in a fascinating chapter to rank the president's. Yes, I think it does add up to a strong president. The first criterion I believe you mentioned about the nature of the times, to me, was quite interesting. Sometimes I wonder if Franklin Roosevelt, for example, had lived in the sunny days of James Garfield, just what the impression on history for all of his skills. And I take it, he possessed most of those, indeed, that Clinton Rossiter writes about. But in a sense, sometimes I wonder whether we could say the presidency thrives on trouble. It thrives on gloom and doom, so to speak, crisis, and so forth. This is indispensable to the making of a great impact on history by a president.
As we talk about presidential power, too, I think of Richard Newstad's book, which of course has that title presidential power. And sometimes I wonder whether his book, which stresses, I suppose one might say, the need for the president to have a variety of political skills, which some critics of the book and friends of the book have almost seen in a Machiavellian kind of way, in other words, an element of practical politics very much stressed. Whether this, too, isn't a key to suggesting to us some weaknesses in the powers of the president, again, the need for some of these highly important, personal, practical, political skills. It seems to me, reflects the weakness of the president as a party leader and as a legislative leader. In other words, great burdens fall upon the president personally to carry on successfully in the office. As you know, Professor Kernick, there's no shortage of experts on this subject. One of the things that really fascinated me about Mr. Newstad's book is the emphasis
he places on the nature of the man himself. He uses the word temperament, just the temperament of this man in this vital situation is really of paramount importance. And it seems to me that in many of these books, Mr. Sauron's book on decision-making in the White House and Rostritor's book and Newstad's book, and even to a little bit, to a small extent in your book, Professor Kernick, it seems to me a little more emphasis could have been placed on the man himself, what is the nature of this individual that's required in these times? Yeah. I take it above all, Dr. Masterson, the impression comes through from these books of the man above all, I must love the job. They ask me doubts about it in the political life that things go pretty hard for him. I take it, would you get that impression from these sources? One point that Professor Lasky makes in his book is that the man in that spot must be tuned in to the course which history is taking.
And I suspect sometimes we have not always had at least a spirance for the presidency who are really tuned in to the direction that seems inevitable over the near future. Yeah. The vision of the future would be impressed too from a study of the presidents. This is most vital, a sense too of what the people want, but also what they might want in the future that this would be terribly important. And on the way to thinking about the growth of presidential power, I suppose this aspect of it becomes increasingly international in its dimension, in other words sensing the trends of the world and the needs of other peoples and the rise of the new nations and so on, the relation to these developments of what the American presidency can do, that all this becomes increasingly important in the president's job. President Eisenhower gives a rather fascinating example in connection with what you were saying, what both of you have been saying about the man's suitability and his temperamental adaptability to the job, because President Eisenhower came in a man of enormous prestige with great
experience in world problems and dealing with other leaders of other countries. And yet he came in at a time when the need was for a kind of a relaxation of excitement and tensions and his temperament was actually extremely well suited to that. Wouldn't you say that, Mr. Dr. Masterson, that there was a sort of a paradox that his very strength was that he was going to compose everything, the Korean War, for example. That's a difficult question. I've seen President Eisenhower on more than one occasion, not exactly in a composing mood. He was a gentleman who could express himself in no uncertain terms when the occasion demanded it. He may very well have had a calming effect on many people. On the other hand, he had a short fuse. Well, then President Truman is another example of almost the opposite, a man who had not had anything like President Eisenhower's experience, but who came in at a time when the crises
were breaking all over the place, and he simply had to rise to meet them. He met them with varying success, and then came the Eisenhower years, which is called for a different type of person. And it seems that I would say that President Eisenhower was very well equipped to meet a number of those. He was quite a pacificator when he was the supreme commander in Europe. Yes. You know, as we think about various presidents, Mr. Howell, it seems to me sometimes the element of prediction is quite difficult, that the many men have come into the presidency with very strong credentials, and we expect great things to happen after they come into the office. And other men have come in who are thought of almost badly in terms of their talents. I suppose Lincoln was in that category that James Polk, I guess, was another one. And of course, Truman, where in many circles, opinions of these gentlemen were not very strong, but yet they came through beautifully. As I think back to, I think of James Buchanan, who came in with very strong credentials into the office, he had been leading figure in our political and administrative life for
several decades, a secretary of state, administrative Britain, and a legislative career as well. And of course, a strong position in the party. But things just didn't work out, he didn't rise to the occasion pretty obviously, and left it all for Lincoln. Several of the books, including Professor Lasky's, and I think you too, sir, in your book mentioned the idea that public service is almost, experience in public service is almost a requirement for the president. Professor Lasky says specifically that the businessman is not likely to make a good president. That success in private life is not a good way to move into the presidency. It seems to me that even more in the future than in the past, because of the demands of the world scene, that the president, in addition to some of his other qualities, must be a profit, he must be a philosopher, he must be a dreamer of dreams, more so than ever in the past. Now, I don't, in my judgment, eliminate a businessman from this role, or an educator,
or anyone else, but in addition to those things, he must be these things, he must have a commitment to mankind. Yes, I think the commitment side is very important. Now there are some who have raised questions about the recent trend, I suppose we might say, of selecting our presidents from the Senate. In other words, our tradition, I suppose, is more the selection of governors for the presidency. And sometimes I wonder whether then this is not in some years to come going to influence the nature of the presidency, that a legislative career may tend to produce a rather different type of individual than say an executive career. And the legislative career, perhaps stressing more, negotiation, compromise, accommodation, and so forth, which, to be sure, of course, are very important qualities in the context of the presidency. But two, there are some of these other qualities that we've been hitting on, in other words, commitment, as you just said, and the element of prophecy, and whether one wonders, we get these qualities more from individuals coming from, let's say, an executive kind of life,
and might be forthcoming, say, from a legislative type of career. I don't know this. Oh, I don't know why, perhaps. You're all other. Well, it couldn't you say, in this connection, that the one reason why the senators have been more favored is, since the war, particularly, is that senators have more and more had to know something about world affairs, whereas the governors are more and more really parochial and provincial and limited in their views. One of Vice President Humphrey's chief qualifications for his position, as the next in line, was all his experience in foreign affairs, his talks with Christchurch, and so on. Wouldn't that be true, too? I would think so. I would think, of course, the Senate pretty clearly gives the great opportunity for this kind of participation in foreign affairs, and I just say it's much more difficult for the governor to get into it, some governors have tried, nobly, but it is pretty awkward. And in this sense... We must keep the man himself in mind, however, it's so difficult to generalize about senators or about businessmen or about educators, just as a body.
Yes, it's perfectly true when you think of the equipment that Herbert Hoover seemed to have when he came to the White House, but you could, I think, fairly say that temperamentally, he really wasn't awfully well-suited to that job, well as he could do other things, and perhaps it was also true of William Howard Taft, who became the only president who was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and he made a very fine record there, isn't that true? That would be true. And the introduction of books too, I think, his book about the presidency, a series of lectures at Columbia University, our Chief Magistrate and his powers is rather interesting. I think it's one of the most limiting descriptions of presidential power that one could point to, in other words, he was a quite literal interpreter of presidential power, so that he, of course, was critical of theodore Roosevelt's opposite interpretation, the stewardship theory, which gave quite a bit of leeway to the president. Hoover question, Mr. Houdemy has always been quite interesting in view of, as you suggested, his previous career before the presidency, where he had a strong record.
I take it as an administrator in the food relief operation and a secretary of commerce. And nevertheless, when he becomes president, the effectiveness dwindles Elmer Cornwell's book on the president and public opinion, I think, is rather interesting just on that area, where in commerce, as secretary, Hoover was quite effective in public relations in creating, of course, the image that he had, which was very strong and favorable. But this talent for public relations seemed to have vanished when it became president. To me, that's always been a rather interesting mystery, this transformation of the man. Maybe he was overwhelmed by the circumstances of his presidency, the great depression that made an impossible task for anyone to be effective under his circumstances, I don't know. But the contrast is striking. Mr. Houdemy, now that we have Professor Kernick sitting here, and I think we both enjoyed reading his book tremendously, in fact, I'd like to point out one part of his book that I recommend to all authors, and that is that at the end of almost all the chapters, Professor
Kernick gives a summary of the major points, and it's a wonderful device. But as I read his book, I was very curious to come to the chapter, dealing with the trends in the American presidency, as he saw them. And perhaps that's going to be the sequel. But Professor Kernick, would you care to comment on the trends over the recent years in the presidency, as you see them? Yes. Well, of course, there's been an enormous increase of his activity, as we know, in response billion foreign affairs, military affairs, the decisions there, which have implications not only for the American people, but in effect create a constituency that we could say is all mankind here in the future. I think, too, there's been a great increase of responsibility in the field of what we might call social justice, typified, of course, by civil rights, the activity of the president there. The economy becomes more complex, sensitive, and here, too, the president, I think Adolf Burley, has called him the chief administrator of the American economy, which is a rather interesting idea. Would you say that you feel the president more and more is responsive to the public need?
I think so. I think, increasingly, as to the economy, he's a watchdog, as to the laborers. And management and their bargaining, and the duty he has, of course, is to represent public interest. And I suppose this theme could be carried over in too many aspects of the presidency. We've seen, too, a great increase in the role of the vice president, as we know, and are seeing now with Mr. Humphrey. And we've placed greater stress on smoothness of transition between presidencies. And our recent presidents have given a good deal of attention to this. I think there are a couple of problems around, too, that we need to be watchful of. One of these, of course, is presidential disability. Another one is presidential succession. And as we know, of course, we have an amendment, or two, before us, on these subjects. And my hope is that these amendments might make some progress, or at least a treatment of these problems, will make some progress, because I think they're quite serious. One thing that you imagine is particularly interesting to me.
And that's the transition between one administration and the next. It's just incredible to go down that some of us did in the White House that started a new administration, walk into an empty office, and just wonder where you go from here. I was amazed to find that there are some 500 people already on the staff, just to keep the White House running. The president's staff runs maybe 20 or 25 people, but there are 500 there. And the transition from one group to the next is a very difficult problem. And the Brookings Institution, I believe, has made a study of this. Yes, Lauren Henry. So that following the Eisenhower administration's departure, the new administration came in with a great deal more help than in the past. There's one little story, which proves to me that this is a very graceful transition. We had a young lady working in our office down there by the name of Nell Yates, very talented and pretty young lady. And she is still there.
Now, so are several hundred other secretaries and employees. But the interesting thing about this particular employee is that her name is Mrs. Dixon Yates. You know, all of this contrast with the story that Rex Tugwell, I think, has included in his writings. And that is that Frank Roosevelt, after taking the oath and walking over to his desk, I believe he was on a Sunday, wanted to start work and started pressing buttons and opening the desk drawers. Nothing was in the drawers. And when he pressed the buttons, nothing happened. And he let out a great shout, demanding attention. But again, there was no response. So the transitions, I think, are a little bit smoother now than they were, at least in this time. And it's so important to make these transitions graceful. Yes. I wonder if you could say a little something about the beginning you've discussed, the congressional powers, this whole system of checks and balances, and some people feel that the Congress is overchecking and overbalancing the president. Then how about the Supreme Court, which is the third check and balance?
I think it would be well to just make a little reference to that. It played quite a part in this campaign. Yes. Of course, from time to time, the court has been in the president's hair. Thomas Jefferson was quite disturbed about the judiciary. Of course, it was largely a federalist judiciary in his time, in the way of his Democratic Republican principles. Andrew Jackson had his difficulty. And of course, we remember Franklin Roosevelt, the court-packing plan. And of course, Harry Truman and the steel seizure. So that the court very much is there as a check on the president, and when in its view, he exceeds his constitutional powers, he has to reckon with it. Two, I think of the court as being a help to the presidency. I would think that the recent Supreme Court decisions on the question of a portionment, a legislative apportionment, that this will be a help to the president, as I think of him representative of majority opinion in the nation. I take it with these apportionment decisions that this will assist majority opinion in the nation and the state legislatures, and I believe, too, in the House of Representatives.
In the field of civil rights, I think one might say that here we found an expansion of, of course, a very important social subject, which has helped presidential power, that is in a sense of giving it opportunities for action, without those court decisions in the sequence of history, which, of course, preceded legislation, that things might have been more difficult for the president to assert himself in the field. So it's a mixed thing, I suppose, Mr. Howell, that one might say the court and the presidency, sometimes the court has been, indeed, a powerful check on the president, and sometimes to it's been a facilitator, I'd say, of presidential power and presidential functioning. What would you say about the court, Dr. Masterson, after all, President Eisenhower was the man who appointed Chief Justice Warren, who's been one of the most controversial and strong Chief Justices we've ever had, and yet at the same time, President Eisenhower himself withheld much of any comment from some of the decisions of the court.
Well, I think it can be said that President Eisenhower was a firm believer in this balance of power concept. He saw a particular and fairly specific role for the Congress, for the executive, and for the court, and I suspect he rather resented encroachments of one upon the other. But he was fully prepared to accept the type of decision that Chief Justice Warren handed down, wasn't he? I have no reason to believe otherwise. Well, he after all, he appointed him. On the question of Eisenhower and Congress, sometimes I wonder whether he had severe moments of discouragement, particularly in 1953, he had just come into office and he ran into all sorts of obstacles. I remember the brick or amendment developed great force, and he had difficulty with Dan Rita, I believe, and the appropriations committee, and just a lot of trouble all around the place. Do you think he hailed pretty much to this view under those circumstances, or did he have moments of doubt as to whether it was his duty to restore a kind of balance in the
relationship, which he thought I believe sometimes had tipped in the favor of the present, particularly under Franklin Roosevelt? Well, it's certainly difficult to evaluate his view. I'm sure he felt the frustrations of the brick or amendment. I'm equally certain that he felt that there should be a balance of power. The frustration that he might have felt in the infringements of perhaps on his own power may perhaps have led to some modification in his view, but I'm sure that he didn't change the basic view that the idea of the balance of power was a sound idea. Could we talk a little about the role of the vice president, which is becoming so increasingly important and receiving more and more attention all the time? I don't think any discussion of the job of the presidency is complete without that. I mean, there's even the suggestion to have two vice presidents. Yes. Yes, sometimes that is made. President, as far as I know, don't seem to be too happy about the idea, and perhaps it's just as well, but I suppose if we look at the duties of Mr. Humphrey as they seem
to be developing in the field of civil rights and in the defense area that this apparently is a continuing trend. Of course, Mr. Johnson, his vice president, too, had important responsibilities in these fields, space, too, I believe, as well as civil rights. And of course, again, under President Eisenhower, as I'm sure you could fill us in very well, Dr. Masterson. Mr. Nixon had very important responsibilities, and Eisenhower, I suppose we might say, contributed to great deal to this trend. And of course, there's the international dimension, the use of the vice president to represent the nation and the president abroad. A good deal, although Mr. Humphrey didn't get to Churchill's funeral that nevertheless the ceremonial or representative quality, I suppose, has been a continuous one. Nixon, I believe, had a large order of duty as an emissary of the president abroad in the Eisenhower administration.
I didn't know whether we might consider further the question of succession or disability, Mr. Howe, do you want to get into that more? Or is it sufficient just to say that we ought to give careful attention to that as citizens and as voters, with the amendment, of course, before us on these subjects? Well, I would think it might be well to just touch on the importance of the presidency being further reflected in the increasing importance of the vice presidency. Haven't the two gone side by side the increased attention given to the vice president has gone parry passos step by step along with the increased importance of the presidency, isn't that right? I think one might say so. I would say the legislative side, which hasn't been mentioned, that Mr. Nixon, I would understand, had a very important legislative dimension to his activity. He was important in the McCarthy period in negotiations between the administration and Mr. McCarthy's work in the Senate, as I remember, and I think there were a couple of other
occasions in which Nixon's role was important. Of course, Nixon too was important in party campaigning. The Congress elections again, he was, I would interpret a good deal of a substitute for the president. President Eisenhower, I believed in that desire too much to get out on the campaign trail and the good deal of this duty then fell to Mr. Nixon in the election, particularly as I remember it with 58. So there is this aspect. Of course, we've had vice presidents earlier in history, have been quite important on some of these sides. Martin Van Buren and the Jackson administration was, of course, a key figure in some of the legislative struggles of the Jackson period. And I dare say there are a few others, I believe, vice president Hobart and the McKinley administration had an important legislative. It seems to me, as Mr. House says, that the role of the president and the role of the vice president are both growing. And yet it seems to me they spring from different sources that times demand a stronger president today than in the past.
But I'm not sure that the increased role of the vice president is not simply due to the idea of the president to make him what he wishes. I think that brings it to a nice and clear conclusion. And thank you so much, Professor Kaye and thank you, Dr. Masterson. We've been listening to Gateway to Ideas, a new series of conversations in which ideas are discussed in relation to reading. Today's program, The Job of the Presidency, has presented Dr. Louis König, Professor of Government at New York University, whose most recent book is The Chief Executive, and Dr. Charles Masterson, Executive Director of the National Safety Council, and former Special Assistant to President Eisenhower. The moderator was Quincy Howe, Editor of Atlas magazine. To extend the dimensions of today's program for you, a list of the books mentioned in the discussion, as well as others relevant to the subject, has been prepared. You can obtain a copy from your local library, or by writing to Gateway to Ideas, post office box 641, Times Square Station, New York.
And please enclose a stamped self-addressed envelope. Data box 641, Times Square Station, New York. Gateway to Ideas is produced for National Educational Radio under a grant from the National Home Library Foundation. The programs are prepared by the National Book Committee and the American Library Association in cooperation with the National Association of Educational Broadcasters, Technical Production by Riverside Radio, WRVR in New York City. This is the National Educational Radio Network.
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