Last week, I had to teach the AP Government class and we were beginning a unit on the American Presidency. One of the many readings they had was about the paradoxes of the presidency. I thought that was interesting, so I wanted to share…
just in case you weren’t aware, here is the definiton of paradox, supplied by dictionary.com:
1. A seemingly contradictory statement that may nonetheless be true: the paradox that standing is more tiring than walking.
2. One exhibiting inexplicable or contradictory aspects: “The silence of midnight, to speak truly, though apparently a paradox, rung in my ears” (Mary Shelley).
3. An assertion that is essentially self-contradictory, though based on a valid deduction from acceptable premises.
4. A statement contrary to received opinion.
Paradoxes of the American Presidency:
1. Americans demand power, popular presidential leadership that solves the nation’s problems yet we are inherently suspicious of strong centralized leadership and especially the abuse of power and therefore we place significant limits on the president’s power.
2. We yearn for the democratic “common person” and also for the uncommon, charismatic, heroic, visionary performance.
3. We want a decent, just, caring, and compassionate president, yet we admire a cunning, guileful, and, on occasions that warrant it, even a ruthless, manipulative president.
4. We admire the “above politics” nonpartisan or bipartisan approach, yet the presidency is perhaps the most political office in the American system, a system in which we need a creative and entrepreneurial master politician.
5. We want a president who can unify us, yet the job requires taking firm stands, making unpopular or controversial decisions that necessarily upset and divide us.
6. We expect our presidents to provide bold, visionary, innovative, programmatic leadership and at the same time to pragmatically respond to the will of public opinion majorities; that is to say, we expect presidents to lead and follow, to exercise “democratic leadership”.
7. Americans want powerful, self-confident presidential leadership yet we are inherently suspicious of leaders who are arrogant, infallible, and above criticism.
8. What it takes to become president may not be what is needed to govern the nation.
9. The presidency is sometimes too strong, yet other times too weak.
Also this reading included the following passage:
Leaders live with contradictions—presidents, more than most people, learn to take advantage of contrary or divergent forces. Leadership situations commonly require successive displays of contrasting characteristics. The effective leader understands the present of opposites; the aware leader, much like a first-rate conductor, knows when to bring in various sections, knows when and how to turn the volume up and down, and learns how to manage these contradictions and give meaning and purpose to confusing and often clashing expectations.
All that said, what do you think about the above paradoxes and the passage? After reading this and preparing a lesson, I realized that there were a lot of things that I expect from my president (as well as other leaders). What I learned from my own experiences is that leadership (or being in a leadership position) can be a giant paradox and it’s difficult to be everything to everyone. There are lots of expectations, some realistic; many unrealistic and you’re held in this fish bowl for the world to watch.
What do these paradoxes mean for the president? How do they affect the ability to get the job done? Are they unrealistic? You tell me…