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Goldstein Program in Public Affairs

Date: February 18 2013 5:00pm - 6:30pm

“Even Great Presidents Fall Short: Lincoln as a Wartime Leader”

Dr. Andrew Polsky, CUNY Hunter

Dr. Andrew J. Polsky is a professor of political science at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY). In addition to a number of scholarly articles, he is the author of two books, The Rise of the Therapeutic State (Princeton University Press, 1991) and Elusive Victories: The American Presidency at War (Oxford University Press, 2012). In Elusive Victories, Polsky provides a fascinating study of six wartime presidents, drawing larger lessons about the limits of the power of the White House during armed conflict. He examines, in turn, Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, showing how each gravely overestimated his power as commander-in-chief. In each case, these presidents’ resources did not match the key challenges that recur from war to war. Elusive Victories is the first book to provide a comprehensive account of presidential leadership during wartime, highlighting the key dangers that presidents have ignored at their peril. Pulitzer Prize-winning author James M. McPherson, commenting on the book, stated: “In this provocative and incisive study of six presidents as wartime commanders in chief, Andrew Polsky demonstrates that it is much easier to start a war than to bring it to a successful conclusion.” The Washington Post called it “a sobering counterpoint to heroic narratives celebrating martial presidencies and to the scholarly emphasis on how presidential power has expanded with war.”