Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Personal tools

Navigation

Bad for Democracy

How the Presidency Undermines the Power of the People

2010
Author:

Dana D. Nelson

Bad for Democracy

Voting for the president is not enough—a bold call to reclaim democracy

Dana D. Nelson goes beyond blaming particular presidents for jeopardizing the delicate balance of the Constitution to argue that it is the office of the presidency itself that endangers the great American experiment. This urgent book reveals the futility of placing all of our hopes for the future in the American president and encourages citizens to create a politics of deliberation, action, and agency.

Dana Nelson argues provocatively—and persuasively—that the mythological status accorded the presidency is drowning our democracy. The remedy will not come from Washington. It starts with people rediscovering—then reclaiming—their birthright as active citizens, restoring meaning to the sacred idea of self-government.

William Greider of The Nation magazine, author of The Soul of Capitalism: Opening Paths to a Moral Economy

Throughout our history, Americans have been simultaneously inspired and seduced by the American presidency and concerned about the misuse of presidential power—from the time of Lincoln, Wilson, and FDR to Nixon, Reagan, and George W. Bush—as a grave threat to the United States. In Bad for Democracy, Dana D. Nelson goes beyond blaming particular presidents for jeopardizing the delicate balance of the Constitution to argue that it is the office of the presidency itself that endangers the great American experiment.

The emotional impulse to see the president as a hero, Nelson contends, has ceded our ability to practice government by the people and for the people. She shows that exercising democratic rights has become idealized as—and woefully limited to—the act of voting for the president.

This urgent book reveals the futility of placing all of our hopes for the future in the American president and encourages citizens to create a politics of deliberation, action, and agency. Arguing for a return of the balance of power—both symbolically and in practice—to all the branches of government, Nelson ultimately calls on Americans to change our own course and imagine a democracy that we, the people, lead together.

Bad for Democracy

Dana D. Nelson is a professor of English and American studies at Vanderbilt University, where she teaches classes in U.S. literature and history, and courses that connect activism, volunteering, and citizenship. She has published numerous books and essays on U.S. literature and the history of citizenship and democratic culture. She lives in Nashville and is involved locally with a program that helps incarcerated women develop strong decision-making skills and with an innovative activist group fighting homelessness in the area.

Bad for Democracy

Dana Nelson argues provocatively—and persuasively—that the mythological status accorded the presidency is drowning our democracy. The remedy will not come from Washington. It starts with people rediscovering—then reclaiming—their birthright as active citizens, restoring meaning to the sacred idea of self-government.

William Greider of The Nation magazine, author of The Soul of Capitalism: Opening Paths to a Moral Economy

If democratic practice is going to flourish in the United States, the American people are going to have to roll up their sleeves and take on the hard work of self-governance. Dana Nelson offers an astute historical analysis of how the presidency, far from advancing this goal, has actually impeded it. Highly recommended.

David Bollier, author of Silent Theft and Brand Name Bullies

At a time when ‘leadership’ is deemed the cure for every ill—from decreasing corporate profits to increasing civic dysfunction—Dana Nelson tells us this remedy is more snake oil than good medicine. Bad for Democracy is the much-needed reminder that self-government is a do-it-yourself endeavor, and Nelson sets a standard for civic life that was promised in the country’s founding, but never achieved. This book comes at exactly the right moment.

Bill Bishop, author of The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart

The title of Dana D. Nelson’s latest book captures both its radical rhetorical edge and its populist center. In Bad for Democracy: How the Presidency Undermines the Power of the People, the Vanderbilt University professor combines political philosophy, historical anecdote, and a sprinkling of pop arcana to deliver a compelling case against both the cult of Obama and the centrist pull of McCain’s ‘straight talk express.’

UTNE Reader

Bad for Democracy is both a rousing call to arms and much more entertaining than watching another friggin’ campaign commercial.

City Pages

Nelson’s book is a thorough historical review and an appeal to our highest ideals, a call to each of us to reclaim our country with good old-fashioned hard work.

Twin Cities Daily Planet

Dana D. Nelson has written a passionate and thought-provoking book about the tension between American presidency and the nation’s commitment to democracy—government of, by and for the people.

Journal of American History

Dana Nelson has written a provocative, challenging, and powerful book.

Congress & Presidency

Nelson has given us a strong argument that the presidency is dangerous to democracy, one that we ignore at our peril.

Congress & Presidency

Nelson delivers a tidy, angry polemic against the ‘mesmerizing power of presidentialism.’

American Quarterly

In Bad for Democracy: How the Presidency Undermines the Power of the People, Dana D. Nelson makes a compelling case that the strong presidential system in the United States is working to enfeeble both the democratic character and relative effectiveness of American government.

Public Knowledge Journal

Bad for Democracy

UMP blog - What Participatory Democracy Looks Like: Occupy Wall Street and the Myth of Leadership

Since just about the second week of Occupy Wall Street, mainstream pundits have been arguing that the Occupation needs, basically, to grow up and get a clear message. Occupiers need to agree on some goals, and most importantly get some leaders, who could then participate in the rough and tumble of Washington politics, documenting the seriousness of the protest/movement. Direly, pundits have warned that an inability to do so will cause the movement to “fizzle.”

Read the full article.

 

UMP blog: Reinvigorating Democracy: What "The People" Really Need

2/3/2009
In the run-up to the first anniversary of President Barack Obama’s historic election, HBO is advertising a new documentary about that election. Titled By the People, the film promises to celebrate the democratic power of the people in the making of this event. Presumably, it aims to restore its viewers to the magical, lever-pull thrill of the moment, the extraordinary—if fleeting—sense of power his supporters felt on that night. Read more ...