Presidential Leadership and Decision Making: Lincoln, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Obama


The president is the most prominent actor in the American government, and developing an understanding of how and why political leaders make the choices that they do is the goal of this course. Presidents must make countless decisions while in office and, as Edwards and Wayne explain, “Executive officials look to [the presidency] for direction, coordination, and general guidance in the implementation of policy…Congress looks to it for establishing priorities, exerting influence…the heads of foreign governments look to it for articulating positions, conducting diplomacy, and flexing muscle; the general public looks to it for…solving problems and exercising symbolic and moral leadership….” This course will examine and analyze the development and modern practice of presidential leadership in the United States by studying the evolution of the modern presidency, which includes the process of presidential selection and the structure of the presidency as an institution. The course will then reflect on the ways in which presidents make decisions and seek to shape foreign, economic, and domestic policy. This will be based on a variety of literatures, ranging from social psychology to organizational behavior. We will look at the psychology and character of presidents in this section of the course. Finally, the course will explore the relationship of the presidency to other major government institutions and organized interests. We will pay particular attention to a particular set of presidents: Lincoln, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Obama. Prior course work in American politics and history is required.