Professor Margaret Susan Thompson

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[Spring 2016]

Professor Margaret Susan Thompson

Office: 313C Maxwell Hall, x. 5882

Email: [twitter: @MSTfromSU]

Office hours—TuTh 2-3, Th 9:45-10:45, & by appt.
TAs for the Course:

Matt Kendrick – Joel Kersting –

Office: 132 Eggers Hall, x. 5861 Office: 024 Eggers Hall, x. 9068

Office Hours—M 1-2, Tu 9:45-10:45 & by appt. Office Hours—W 2-3, F 10:30-11:30,

& by appt.

HST341/PSC329: The Modern American Presidency

What’s It All About? This course analyzes the evolution of the modern presidency and its present operation. The focus of our attention will be on the years since the Second World War, and especially on those since 1960. The decision-making process and operation of presidential administrations from Kennedy to Obama will be studied in detail. We shall consider the various roles that the president plays in government, politics, and society. The presidency as an institution and as an individual office will be examined to identify factors that have contributed to the successes and failures of particular administrations. This course also shall examine the roles and influence of unelected officials, especially senior White House staff), and popular attitudes toward both the symbolic and the practical presidency—especially as they have been shaped by the traditional mass media and the “new media.” We will consider what lasting effects, if any, events during the past quarter century have had on the presidency as an institution. Finally, we will leave plenty of space for discussion of breaking news and unexpected developments, especially those related to the primaries, caucuses, and presidential politics generally.
Required Books:

HST341/PSC329 READER (on Course CD—distributed without cost to each class member)

Readings in the Modern American Presidency, Custom Edition—EBook [cited in daily schedule as


William E. Leuchtenburg, In the Shadow of FDR: From Harry Truman to Barack Obama (4th ed.)

Julia R. Azari, Delivering the People’s Message: The Changing Politics of the Presidential


George Reedy, The Twilight of the Presidency, 2nd ed. (on Course CD)

Joe Klein, Politics Lost: How American Democracy Was Trivialized by People Who Think

You’re Stupid (SU Bookstore)

There are additional required readings located on the internet; see syllabus and the course

website for URLs. Also, there will be occasional handouts or URLS sent by email.
LEARNING OUTCOMES. By the end of this course, students should understand the evolution of the American presidency, through both the modern and post-modern eras. They should come to know the presidency institutionally and behaviorally, from both historical and social scientific perspectives, using a range of primary sources and scholarly literatures. The course also encourages students to improve their analytical and expository skills, through a series of writing assignments. Finally, this course aims help students to understand current U.S. politics, including federal governance and electoral behavior (including the presidential nominating process).
READINGS, ATTENDANCE, AND PARTICIPATION. Students are expected to attend class regularly, and are responsible for all material covered and for any handouts and announcements that are made. It should be noted that lectures will include material not contained in the readings, so if you must miss a class you should borrow notes from a classmate. Students are encouraged to participate in discussions, and should feel free to ask questions at any time during class. You should also be aware that all class meetings will assume prior familiarity with pertinent readings; therefore, you are urged to complete the readings before the date for which they are assigned.
Please arrive on time. If you leave class once it begins, except for emergencies, do not expect to return—use restroom and get water, snacks, etc., before you arrive, or not at all. You are welcome to bring beverages and snacks to class, but be considerate. Don’t rattle wrappers or bring excessively noisy or smelly items, please.
TECHNOLOGY POLICY. A 2014 study by Princeton and UCLA researchers shows that taking notes electronically actually interferes with learning and with memory, so it is in your interest to take notes the old-fashioned way, that is, via pen (or pencil) and paper. (See Meuller and Oppenheimer, 2014; And, let’s be honest, many people find it difficult if not impossible to resist cycling over to facebook, twitter, instagram, or other sites irrelevant to the course. Therefore, the general policy in this class is that students will not be permitted to use laptops, tablets, recorders, or smartphones, even to take notes. Turn all devices off and put them away before class begins. If you have a legitimate reason to ask for an exception to this policy—which includes, but is not limited to, dis/ability concerns—please contact MST directly (by phone, email, or in person) to discuss it. If you are given permission to use a device, please set it to “airplane” mode (that is, no internet access) while in class. Technology privileges will be withdrawn if they are abused. Please see Dis/Ability Accommodations, below, as well.
OFFICE HOURS/CONFERENCES. We all will be available during regular office hours to meet with you about specific questions you might have, or just to chat. If you cannot meet during those hours, we will be happy to schedule appointments at other, mutually convenient, times. [IMPORTANT: Drop-ins are welcome. But if you have arranged a specific appointment and find that you cannot make it, please call or email to cancel.] Of course, you are always free to contact us via email; I check it many times a day, including most weekends, and so do the TAs..

IMPORTANT: Readings in this course are unequally distributed. Don't get discouraged--but do try to plan ahead. Besides, the readings for this course are interesting! We will devote a substantial amount of time to discussion. The focus will be on current political developments, in addition to any questions students may have about the assigned readings and the day’s formal focus. To make this both lively and useful, students are urged to come prepared—with questions, insights, etc. [Please note: Discussions may be initiated by students, as well as the professor or TAs—so be assertive. However, the professor reserves the right to cut discussion off, postpone it, or redirect it when that seems appropriate.] One more point: Since this course is very much about history-in-progress, unanticipated or as-yet-unscheduled events naturally may claim our attention. Believe it or not, flexibility to account for this has been built into the daily schedule. But, if necessary, the schedule will be reworked during the semester if things change dramatically—as they almost certainly will.
PAPERS. There will be two short papers in this course. Each is to be 5-7 double-spaced, typewritten pages in length. The due dates are February 16 and April 7. Topics are on the course website, as are general guidelines for writing papers. Topics provide plenty of room for originality, but they are not the sorts of assignments best left for the last minute. Note: If you work with one of us in the process of preparing a paper, that person is the one who will grade your work. So please work with only one of us on any single assignment.
TESTS. There will be two exams in this course. The midterm (Tuesday, March 8) will be an in-class, closed-book test. The final will be take-home, and due on Monday, May 9 (at 11 a.m.), with questions available on the last day of class. The final will stress material covered after the midterm, but one section will be cumulative. All questions will be in essay form, and the emphasis will be on your ability to integrate and analyze general themes and ideas (not on regurgitation of facts). In virtually all cases, you will have a choice among questions to answer, and a review session for the midterm will be provided if students desire it.
"MODPREZ". To facilitate discussion both of the current campaign and of the course, an internet discussion group has been created for this course. All students are strongly encouraged to sign up for and participate in MODPREZ, which is the name of this group. We will collect your e-mail addresses during the first week of class; once you receive a message that you're "on," you're welcome to participate by sending messages to:
TWEETING. We will be live-tweeting during presidential debates and on the nights of major primaries and caucuses. To contribute, or just to follow along, use #SUModprez.
WEBSITE. A special website has been created for this class. In addition to course-related materials and announcements, check this site for useful links to other political, governmental, and media sites. Suggestions for sites (or other information) to add here will be received gratefully at any time. The URL is http:/
DEADLINES AND EXTENSIONS. To forestall problems and misunderstandings later on, here is the policy: Since you are receiving due dates and so on at the beginning of the term, it is assumed that you will plan accordingly, and will consider potential conflicts with other courses and extracurricular commitments. Therefore, extensions will be granted only in extraordinary or emergency circumstances, and (except in dire emergencies), only if specific circumstances are explained in advance to the professor or TA. Grades on papers that are turned in after the beginning of class on the due date (without prior permission) will automatically be lowered at least one letter in grade (more, if tardiness is extended). NO unexcused late papers will be accepted more than one week after the original due date and time. Similarly, if you absolutely can't take the midterm or final on the scheduled date, please make arrangements with the professor well before its date. If you have an accident, or are suddenly ill, etc., and cannot make advance provision, you must present written explanation, signed by either physician or dean, as soon as you can. It is my hope that this covers all contingencies, and that it helps to have things in writing....
A NOTE ON ACADEMIC INTEGRITY. Please remember that academic honesty is one of the most important values we have at Syracuse University. Plagiarism and other offenses will not be tolerated in this course; penalties for violations will be severe, up to and including failure in the course. For more details, please consult the SU Academic Integrity website, at If you have any questions about this, see MST.

DISABILITY-RELATED ACCOMMODATIONS. Students who are in need of disability-related academic accommodations must register with the Office of Disability Services (ODS), 804 University Avenue, Room 309, 315-443-4498. Students with authorized disability-related accommodations should provide a current Accommodation Authorization Letter from ODS to the instructor and review those accommodations with the instructor. Accommodations, such as exam administration, are not provided retroactively; therefore, planning for accommodations as early as possible is necessary. For further information, see the ODS website, Office of Disability Services:

GRADES. The relative weight of each component of this course is as follows. In addition, improvement over time, and/or extraordinary performance (good or bad!) in one or more areas, will be considered--especially in borderline cases.

Paper I------------------------------------------------------ 20%

Paper II----------------------------------------------------- 20%

Midterm Test---------------------------------------------- 20%

Final Exam------------------------------------------------- 30%

Attendance/Participation/Improvement------------- 10%

[NOTE: In addition to what is listed below, students are expected to keep themselves informed! Relevant television programs and/or periodical articles that appear during the semester will be announced in class, but routine reading and following of the news is each student’s responsibility.]
TU 1/19 Introduction to the Course

Handouts, discussion of expectations, etc.

TH 1/21 What is “Presidential Greatness”?

Readings—Polls of Presidential Greatness

Eakin, “Looking for X in the Algebra of Leadership”

How Good Are Experienced Presidents?

Contemplating Obama’s Place in History

Michael Nelson, “Evaluating the Presidency”

TU 1/26 Concepts of the Presidency, I

Readings—Three Presidential Views of Presidential Power

Woodrow Wilson, “Preface” to the 15th Printing of Congressional Government


Sean Wilentz, “Competing Visions of the Presidency”

Dan Balz, “The Absent Professor: Why Politicians Don't Listen to Political


Ragsdale, “Studying the Presidency” [EBook]

TH 1/28 Concepts of the Presidency, II

Readings—Skowronek, “The Development of Presidential Power” [EBook]

Landy & Milkis, “The Presidency in History” [EBook]

READER: pp. 343-366.
TU 2/2 “Two Presidencies”

Readings—READER: pp. 1-9

Tulis, “The Two Constitutional Presidencies” [EBook]

Azari, Prologue, Chapter 1.
TH 2/4 FDR and the Charismatic Cure: Toward the Cult of Personality

Readings—Reedy: chap. 1.

Leuchtenburg, Preface.

FDR, “First Inaugural Address”

Brownlow Committee Report [EBook]

Burke, “The Institutional Presidency” [EBook]
TU 2/9 “In the Shadow of FDR”: Defining the “Modern” Presidency

Readings—Azari, chapter 2.

Quirk, “Presidential Competence” [EBook]

“Resolved, the Framers of the Constitution would approve” [EBook]

Leuchtenburg, chapters 1-2.

Nixon, “Checkers’ Speech”

Eisenhower, “Farewell Address”

TH 2/11 JFK and the Politics of “Vigah”

Readings—READER: pp. 14-42.

Azari, chapter 3.

Nelson, “The Psychological Presidency” [EBook]

Leuchtenburg, chapter 3.

JFK, “Inaugural Address”

JFK, “A Force that Has Changed the Political Scene”

Reedy: chaps. 2-3

Butter and Guns: The Presidencies of Lyndon Johnson

Readings—READER: pp. 43-52.

Leuchtenburg, chapter 4.

Reedy: chaps. 4-6

LBJ, “Inaugural Address”

LBJ, Speech at the Newhouse School, SU

Tonkin Gulf Resolution [EBook]

TH 2/18 The Concept of an “Imperial” Presidency—or, It Didn’t Start With Watergate

Readings—READER: 53-75

Reedy: chaps. 7-9

TU 2/23 “Bring Us Together”: A “New Nixon”—or a “Long National Nightmare”?

Readings—READER: 84-94

Reedy: finish [Suggestion: Preview “Bush in the Bubble”]

Leuchtenburg, chapter 5.

Nixon, “First Inaugural Address“

TH 2/25 The Meaning(s) of “Watergate”: Toward a Post-Modern Presidency

Readings—READER: pp. 76-83, 95-99

Azari, chapter 4.

McGovern-Fraser Commission Report [EBook]

Nixon, “2nd Inaugural Address”

Nixon, Statement of 5 August 1974
TU 3/1 From “A Time To Heal” to “Why Not the Best”: The Instructiveness of the “Samson”


Readings—READER: pp. 100-134

Leuchtenburg, chapter 6.

“Resolved, Presidential Success and Failure” [EBook]

Carter, “Inaugural Address”

TH 3/3 “A Government As Good As the People(?)”: The Downfall of Jimmy Carter

Readings—READER: pp. 135-144 (review pp. 131-134)

Miroff, “The Presidential Spectacle” [EBook]

“Resolved, “Presidential Power is the Power to Persuade” [EBook]

Fallows, “The Passionless Presidency,” Part I

Klein: Prologue, chap. 1.
TH 3/10 Reagan’s “New Beginning”: The Triumph of Politics

Readings—Reagan, “1st Inaugural Address”

Greider, “The Education of David Stockman”

Leuchtenburg, chapter 7.

Klein: chap. 2.

READER: p. 145
[March 12-20: Spring break. Try to read ahead….]
TU 3/22 From Euphoria to Iran-Contra: Was There a “Reagan Revolution”?

Readings—READER: pp. 146-171

Miroff, “The Presidential Spectacle” [EBook]

Reagan, “2nd Inaugural Address”

Lou Cannon: “Framework for the Iran-Contra Affair”

TH 3/24 The “No-Hands” President: or, What Did Reagan Know, & When Did He Know It?

Readings—READER: pp. 172-201

Azari, chapter 5.

TU 3/29 “Read My Lips”: George Bush and the Politics of a “New World Order”

How to Watch Election Results Tonight

Readings—READER: 202-230.

Klein: chap. 3.

Leuchtenburg, chapter 8.

GHW Bush, “Inaugural Address”

TH 3/31 “A Place Called Hope(?)”: Bill Clinton’s Rocky (Freshman-Year) Road

Election Outcome Discussion

Readings—READER: pp. 231-251.

Leuchtenburg, chapter 9.

Porter, “The Three Presidencies” [EBook]

Clinton, “First Inaugural Address”

TU 4/5 Sophomore Slump & the Comeback Kid: “Newt Frontier” & Clinton’s Recovery

Readings—READER: pp. 268-279

Klein: chap. 4.


From Vindication to Zippergate: What Did It All MEAN?

Readings—READER: pp. 252-267, 280-329.

Clinton, “2nd Inaugural Address”

TU 4/12 “43”: Dubya’s Inauspicious Beginning….

Readings—READER: pp. 330-334, 367-374.

Todd Purdum, “43+41=84”

GWBush, “First Inaugural Address”

Klein: chaps. 5-6.

TH 4/14 After 9/11: New Assumptions, New Agenda—New Presidency?

Readings—READER: pp. 335-342.

Klein, chap. 7.

Read as much as possible of Ten Days in September

(series by Balz and Woodward of the Washington Post)

GWBush: Three Sets of Remarks on September 11

GWBush, Address to the Nation and Joint Session of Congress, 20 Sept. 2001

GWBush, 2002 State of the Union Address
TU 4/19 Reelection—But to What End? What Happened?

Readings—Greenstein: chap. 14

Klein, chap. 8

Evan Thomas and Richard Wolffe, “Bush in the Bubble”

Evan Thomas and Daniel Klaidman, “Full Speed Ahead”

Cullen Murphy and Todd Purdum, Oral History of the Bush White House
TH 4/21 Toward 2008—and A(nother) New Generation of Americans

Readings—Obama, 2004 Convention Speech

Obama, 2007 Candidacy Announcement

Obama, 2008 Speech on Race

Obama, 2008 Convention Acceptance Address

Heith, “Obama and the Public Presidency” [EBook]

TU 4/26 The Obama Administration…. A First Look

Readings—Rockman, et al., “Presidential Style & the Obama Presidency” [EBook]

Obama, First Inaugural Address

Leuchtenburg, chapter 10 and Epilogue.

Azari, conclusion.

TH 4/28 Success, Stalemate, Frustration—or Failure?

Readings—The Brookings Institution, “The Status Report: Assessing the Obama

Administration’s First Year” [Suggestion: focus especially on the “Leadership”


Romney, 2012 Convention Acceptance Address

Obama, 2012 Convention Acceptance Address

Obama, Second Inaugural Address

TU 5/2 To the Future
THE FINAL EXAM will be due on Monday, May 9, at 11 a.m.
Directory: hst341

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