Triumphs and Tragedies of the Modern Presidency: Seventy-Six Case Studies in Presidential Leadership

In Triumphs and Tragedies of the Modern Presidency, more than 50 of the nation’s leading Presidential historians and journalists describe the most notable successes—and failures—of American presidents from Woodrow Wilson to Bill Clinton. This kaleidoscope of many of the most dramatic events of the twentieth century is presented in 76 case histories told by observers, practitioners, scholars, and top advisors to the Presidents whose decisions resulted in success or failure, triumph or tragedy.

Originally prepared as a non-partisan guide to help the President-Elect 2000 better understand the potential pitfalls and unintended consequences of his actions, Triumphs and Tragedies makes available to policymakers, journalists, and citizens the unique insights of these insiders as they guide the reader through the stories behind the headlines, the thinking behind decisions, the personal struggles, the politics, and the disappointments. Rich in humanity as well as history, it is invaluable to the understanding of the tumultuous events of the past 80 years, told in everyday terms by some of our greatest journalists and Presidential scholars.

Among the successes documented are the Marshall Plan, the Kennedy space program, LBJ’s landmark Civil Rights Act, Nixon’s opening to China, Clinton’s rescue of the Mexican economy, and the seamless Y2K conversion. There are also the dramatic setbacks, beginning with Woodrow Wilson’s failure to secure Senate support for the Versailles Treaty and U.S. membership in the League of Nations, described as "perhaps the greatest Presidential failure in the politics of foreign policy." Other events which cast long shadows include the Bay of Pigs, Vietnam, Watergate, Iran-Contra, and the Clinton impeachment.

The purpose of Triumphs and Tragedies is not only to describe what went wrong or right—but why: why some Presidents were successful in their relations with Congress and foreign leaders—and others were not. Why some transitions went well and others did not. Included are ten fascinating examples of how American Presidents since FDR have handled their “First 100 Days” in office, with an overview by Richard Neustadt.

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About CSPC

CSPC's mission is to apply the lessons of history to address today’s political challenges; Develop real-world strategic policy solutions by convening representatives from government, academia, and the private sector; and educate the next generation of leaders.

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Jonathan Murphy

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