Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Two Bad Kings and Two Bad Presidents

The June 2009 issue of Presidential Studies Quarterly has an intriguing article. It is Two Bad Kings and Two Bad Presidents by Philip Abbott of Wayne State University. The abstract reads, "One of the rewards for those engaged in presidential studies is the opportunity to rank presidents. Identifying great presidents is often the focus of this pastime. As important, perhaps—and as engaging—is the identification of bad presidents. Is their "badness" the polar opposite of "greatness"? Is badness easier or more difficult to define than greatness? Based on the insights found in Shakespeare's treatment of two bad kings, I identify two kinds of bad presidents and suggest that the relationship between great presidents and bad ones is a complex one that may lead us to revaluate what makes some presidents great."

The two bad kings are Richard II and Richard III. The two bad presidents are James Buchanan and Richard Nixon.

In his conclusion, Abbott wrote, "I have suggested that kings and presidents can be bad in at least two ways. They can be inept, and they can be ruthless. They can rely too much on their authority or too much on their power. In both instances, one decision or cluster of decisions is archetypical of their badness. Both, too, seem driven by factors, personal or systemic, which they are unable to resist. In both cases, bad leaders haunt subsequent generations, as did Richard II and Richard III and James Buchanan and Richard Nixon. Citizens must not only cope with the consequences of their actions, but bad leaders also shake confidence in political institutions in general."

The article is not available for free on the Web. You will need to find a copy at a library or have access to a subscription database which has full-text. This article is worth reading though if you are interested in looking at "bad" presidents from another perspective.

1 comment:

coriolan said...

A few years back, playwright William Lees wrote "Nixon's Nixon" - a two-character play with Pres. Nixon and Secretary of State Kissinger on the eve of Nixon's resignation. Lees said that he conceived Nixon as a cross between Richard II and Richard III.

The play can be accessed here:


And of course, there is a small but eloquent minority who argue that Richard III was actually quite a good king, far different that the hyper-Machiavel of the Shakespearean theatre: