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Why Presidents Fail And How They Can Succeed Again

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About the Author

Elaine C. Kamarck is a senior fellow in the Governance Studies program at Brookings and the Director of the Management and Leadership Initiative at Brookings. She is a public sector scholar with wide experience in government, academia and politics. Kamarck is an expert on government innovation and reform in the United States, OECD countries and developing countries. In addition, she also focuses her research on the presidential nomination system and American politics and has worked in many American presidential campaigns.


In the Broadway musical Hamilton, George Washington tells Alexander Hamilton, who is fulminating about Congress's failure to adopt his proposal for a national bank, "Winning was easy. Governing's harder." Kamarck (Brookings Institution) presents a handful of case studies of presidential governance failures that illustrate how recent presidents' distance from and inattention to the executive establishment have caused the loss of lives, the decline of presidential popularity, and the growth of Americans' distrust of government. Kamarck argues that the requirements of "the permanent campaign" have led presidents to court the public to the point that they now often treat "the government [they] lead [as] an afterthought--until it takes down [their] presidency. Recommended.--CHOICE It's amazing how much we talk about politicians and how little we talk about what politicians actually do. Politicians govern. Elaine Kamarck has rectified that brilliantly in Why Presidents Fail, showing that an inability to govern effectively is at the heart of recent presidential failures. This is crucial information, compellingly told. --Joe Klein, columnist, Time Magazine Elaine Kamarck's book is a must-read for all presidential candidates, correspondents, students of government, and citizens who hunger for Washington to function well again. There's a stick of dynamite in every chapter. --Donna Brazile, commentator, CNN White House failures have occurred so often--Desert Storm, 9/11, Katrina, Iraq, the VA, the Health Care Rollout--that many think them inevitable. Not so argues Elaine Kamarck, widely respected as both academic andpractitioner. Presidents should talk less and manage more; stop the perpetual campaign and start governing. This book should go to the top of the required reading list for our next chief executive. --David Gergen, professor of public service and co-director, Center for Public Leadership, Harvard Kennedy School Why have so many modern presidencies begun in hope and ended in disappointment? In this concise and trenchant book, Elaine Kamarck offers a convincing answer: Too many presidents have neglected a vital part of their job, managing the federal government. Kamarck's compelling case studies of political disasters are page-turners--a label few books on public administration ever get. Every American should read this book before voting. Would-be White House aides should read it more than once. --Doyle McManus, Washington columnist, Los Angeles Times In this magnificent and timely book, Elaine Kamarck unlocks vital truths about why modern presidents so often fail--and what they must do to succeed. Writing as both a superb scholar and a seasoned White House adviser, her case-based analyses of several recent presidencies leave none of conventional academic wisdom unchallenged. This wise book will be read by scholars and students for generations to come--and it ought to be read by the president, top White House aides, and cabinet leaders right now! --John J. Dilulio Jr., Frederic Fox Leadership Professor, University of Pennsylvania

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