While the late great Gore Vidal almost had some choice words for the man who has been described as Camelot’s court historian, I am glad to have finally read something longer than an old New Yorker essay by Schlesinger. He’s a good, though not great stylist and enjoyed the history I learned, though part of me wishes that he had also written a more concise version, where the polemical aspect could have shown through more brightly when it comes the general thesis (his deep and understandable antipathy towards Nixon amply shines through).
Indeed, even as he charts the presidency through nearly two hundred years, even before reaching 1968, Nixon surfaces on a regular basis.
But the most interesting part was the very end. I can rightly recommend just skipping the first few hundred pages to get there, but it’s a little tempting. He criticizes those – and I have been among that number – who say that a parliamentary system could resolve many of the issues around that titular imperial presidency. He really just looks at the British model (which is very nearly a two party model) and points out that the Prime Minister is even more empowered than an American style president with even fewer guardrails and says that many British commentators look longingly at our system. And, yes, in this Trumpian world, a supine Republic parliamentary majority and a Trump PM does feel frightening, especially without any contemporary tradition of members being willing to fall on their swords to depose a rogue PM of their own party.