Intellectuals and the American Presidency: Philosophers, Jesters, or Technicians.

Author:Shogan, Colleen
Position::Book Review

By Tevi Troy. New York: Rowman & Little field, 2002. 255 pp.

Finally, there is a justification for those of us who spent years in graduate school while our college buddies were making money on the stock market. A Ph.D. might get not only a university appointment but also a job in the White House and the ear of a president. The most heartening revelation is that these positions are not mere window dressing; presidents listen to intellectuals and use their ideas to enhance their authority and prestige.

Tevi Troy's Intellectuals and the American Presidency describes how modern presidents use public intellectuals as advisers. Intellectuals make a difference because they influence how presidents are perceived publicly, in both the near and the distant future. Troy explains how presidents from Kennedy through Clinton established working relationships with intellectuals and how these relationships altered the effectiveness of administrations. Presidents who avoided intellectual advisers altogether (Carter and Bush I) suffered adverse consequences, while chief executives who were aware of the power of intellectuals (Kennedy and Clinton) benefit considerably.

Intellectuals and the American Presidency outlines the strategies presidents employ when they deal with the intellectual community. The achievement of this approach is that Troy argues convincingly that such decisions have real consequences for the president's political authority. The most compelling case study is Troy's discussion of the presidency of George H. W. Bush. The conventional criticism of Bush's leadership was that he lacked the "vision thing." If Bush had included an intellectual on his staff, he might have avoided this criticism or, at the very least, mitigated the effects of it. His hard-nosed, pragmatic approach to policy ultimately came back to haunt Bush, who looked desperately bereft of any overarching ideology in comparison to the intellectually savvy Bill Clinton. In this sense, Troy observes something about the metamorphosis of the institution itself--modern presidents cannot ignore the formulation of a broad policy vision and a well-articulated message.

Bill Clinton wins the prize for the most cunning political strategy concerning intellectuals. He courted the liberal intellectual establishment, whose members, after twelve years of Republican administrations, were hungry for attention. Even after Clinton moved to the right after the 1994 midterm elections, the president...

To continue reading