A Defective Institution?
The American Presidency is an office of such power, prestige, and historical dignity that most of us are content to accept it as one of the prime given facts of the political universe. Surveying the shelves and shelves of Presidential literature in the libraries, becoming excited once more—despite moments of cynicism—by the predictive intricacies of the quadrennial contest, we are apt to take its traditional shape for granted. There would seem to be no more point in questioning its basic shape than in questioning the shape of the Matterhorn.
The formidable essence of the office is recalled to us yet again by the recent reprinting of a bulky three-volume set of The State of the Union Messages of the Presidents, with an introduction by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. Here they all are, from George Washington to L.B.J., the courageous and the pusillanimous, the workers and the shirkers, the articulate and the ponderous. Nobody, not even a reviewer, reads such a compilation. Useful for reference or for musing (it has an excellent index), the set is imposing in its mere physical presence—evidence of venerability, continuity, competence, and sometimes greatness.
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