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Command of Office
Stephen Graubard
Book Review with commentary

If there is a modern writer with a grasp of history reflected by Barbara Tuchman in her "March of Folly," Stephen Graubard is that writer. He will disturb many for his forthright appraisal of what is happening at the White House and what has happened since the glory days of Theodore Roosevelt, who was not only from another century, but from another political party as well.

It was Franklin Roosevelt and the "accidental" president, Harry Truman who started the trend toward secrecy, concentration of power in the White House, and its smoke and mirrors, not to mention the necessary trend toward mediocrity in wisdom when compared with the earlier greats. Although Graubard relies heavily on Toqueville and Bryce (who each accurately forecast things to come, for some of his themes), that in no way detracts from their relevance. Toqueville in particular foresaw the strength of the White House in terms of the strength of its enemies.

This book is a must read for all who want to understand the political background for our present awe of that "presidential look." As we do, he places part of the responsibility squarely on the American electorate. Graubard illustrates clearly the inner workings of a presidency the founding fathers never had in mind.

He asks the poignant question in connection with American discontents:

"What has the failure been? Can it be ascribed to those elected to lead the country, and to those selected to advise and serve them? Or must it be seen as a failure of the American mind, "too easily excited" and "too easily satisfied?"

It fell to Reagan to maximize the effectiveness of the sleight of hand in the White House, though all presidents following Hoover contributed their increasing shares.

On the Democratic side, Kennedy too managed an illusion. In fact, neither he nor Khrushchev understood the other. And the irony is that that fact is incontrovertible. Kennedy taped the 13 days of uncertainties, in the end doing the right thing. The practice of taping, too, started earlier with FDR, though he recorded only a few conversations.

These and hundreds of similar eye-openers are to be found in this most-thoughtful of books.


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