Presidential PR and leadership in the Oval Office
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The sum, however, is greater than its individual parts. ``Leadership in the Presidency'' offers a vivid account of the evolution of the presidency into the modern, highly complex, highly influential office we know today. It is highly recommended to anyone interested in understanding how our country is led, and by whom.Skip to next paragraph
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``Leadership'' leaves one question hanging: Who will come next? Dukakis: An American Odyssey, by Charles Kenney and Robert L. Turner (Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 248 pages, $16.95), offers one possible answer. It is a biography of Michael Dukakis, the Massachusetts governor and candidate for the Democratic Presidential nomination, written by two journalists for the Boston Globe. (See a review of Republican campaign biographies on Page B3.)
Kenney and Turner have followed Dukakis's political career for the last decade. Clearly then, he's had quite a ride, what with Dukakis's disastrous first term, embarrassing primary loss to Edward King, and subsequent recapture of the governorship four years later. The authors obviously admire Dukakis and are clearly enthusiastic about his candidacy. Still, Kenney and Turner do not shy away from discussing the candidate's personal strengths and weaknesses - character traits that have played a major role in the twists and turns of his political odyssey and, doubtless, would shape a Dukakis presidency.
Indeed, their journalistic instincts help keep the biography honest enough to be mildly damning of its subject. Whether intended or not, ``Dukakis'' conveys the image of a somewhat arrogant, somewhat cold-hearted, highly intelligent technocrat with many of the same strengths and foibles that, ultimately, hobbled Jimmy Carter. There are more superficial similarities as well: Dukakis's relationship with his brother, who once attempted suicide and was killed in a bicycle accident, reads like atragic case of sibling rivalry and sounds faintly reminiscent of Jimmy Carter's relationship with his brother, Billy.
Kenney and Turner show Dukakis to be occasionally ruthless. Take the case of Beryl Cohen, a local Massachusetts pol who, Kenney and Turner tell us, helped Dukakis ``at important junctures in his career.'' Cohen and Dukakis agreed to run for lieutenant governor and attorney general, respectively, on the 1968 Democratic ticket. But when the state legislators elevated one of their own to the attorney general's slot after the position was unexpectedly vacated, Dukakis was suddenly left without a post to run for. So he turned on his erstwhile pal Cohen and ran for the governorship himself.
If only Dukakis had been clever enough to preempt Kenney and Turner with a campaign biography of his own, we might not pay any attention to the repetition of such episodes in the midst of a distinguished career in public service. But those experiences say something about the character of the individual in whose hands the world's fate may rest. So they are significant.
``Dukakis'' constitutes an important contribution to the electoral process - all the more so because Dukakis appears to be the front runner for the Democratic nomination for president. It also underscores the lesson of Fred Greenstein's collection: For presidential aspirants, as for presidents themselves, there's no substitute for good PR.
Peter Osterlund is on the Monitor staff.