Summary of Why Presidents Fail and How They Can Succeed Again

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Why Presidents Fail and How They Can Succeed Again book summary
Why do so many US presidents fall short?


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What do the failed Iranian hostage rescue mission, the lead-up to the September 11, 2001 attacks, the hapless response to Hurricane Katrina and the botched rollout of have in common? They exemplify failed presidential leadership. They all have roots in a president’s failure to “balance…policy, communication and implementation.” Brookings Institution senior fellow Elaine C. Kamarck relates the causes and details of various presidential failures. Most of these downfalls, she reports – drawing examples from both Republican and Democratic administrations – stem from chief executives’ overreliance on communicating with the public at the expense of policy and implementation, and from their unfamiliarity with the depth, history and power of the bureaucracy they head. While always politically neutral, getAbstract suggests this timely thesis to students, professors, policy makers, political campaigners and strategists, lobbyists, government employees, and readers who ponder the state of the US presidency.

In this summary, you will learn

  • What characteristics several high-profile US presidential failures share,
  • How presidential failures stem from chief executives’ disconnection from the governments they lead and
  • How future presidents can avoid management pitfalls.


Presidencies Out of Balance
Recent US history presents many examples of presidential failure, enough to cause “a crisis of competence” in the office. To grasp the roots of this crisis, consider what successful presidents are good at: maintaining equilibrium among “policy, communication...
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About the Author

Elaine C. Kamarck, who holds her PhD in political science, is a veteran of several Democratic administrations. She is a Brookings Institution senior fellow and a faculty member at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

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