A Dose of Law and Realism for Presidential Studies


  • Louis Fisher

    1. Senior specialist in separation of powers at Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress. His hooks include American Constitutional Law, 4th ed. (Carolina Academic Press, 2001).
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  • AUTHOR'S NOTE: The author appreciates suggestions and comments from David Gray Adler, Lee Fisher, Nancy Kassop, Walter Oleszek, and Richard Pious.


Despite Tom Cronin's critique more than three decades ago objecting to theheroic qualities routinely assigned to the presidency, scholarly works and public debate continue to place the president on an artificially high pedestal. Students leave the university believing that the president–compared to Congress–represents the national interest, has special expertise and wisdom (especially in foreign affairs), and is more apt to protect the public purse andrestrain spending. These generalizations find no support in what we know about the two institutions. Those who write about the presidency need to look beneath the glowing generalizations to see some disturbing weaknesses. Why do we think so highly of the presidency when the individual occupants of the White House have been, to put it mildly, a mixed lot?