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The Heart of Power

The Heart of Power: Health and Politics in the Oval Office, With a New Preface

David Blumenthal
James A. Morone
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 2
Pages: 500
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  • Book Info
    The Heart of Power
    Book Description:

    Even the most powerful men in the world are human-they get sick, take dubious drugs, drink too much, contemplate suicide, fret about ailing parents, and bury people they love. Young Richard Nixon watched two brothers die of tuberculosis, even while doctors monitored a suspicious shadow on his own lungs. John Kennedy received last rites four times as an adult, and Lyndon Johnson suffered a "belly buster" of a heart attack. David Blumenthal and James A. Morone explore how modern presidents have wrestled with their own mortality-and how they have taken this most human experience to heart as they faced the difficult politics of health care. Drawing on a trove of newly released White House tapes, on extensive interviews with White House staff, and on dramatic archival material that has only recently come to light,The Heart of Powerexplores the hidden ways in which presidents shape our destinies through their own experiences. Taking a close look at Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Herbert Walker Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, the book shows what history can teach us as we confront the health care challenges of the twenty-first century.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94804-4
    Subjects: Health Sciences

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. iii-iv)
  3. Preface to the 2010 Edition
    (pp. v-xii)
    David Blumenthal and James Morone
  4. 2009 Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    Tuberculosis tormented the Nixons. When Richard was ten, doctors found a shadow on his lungs and told him to lay off sports while they watched for other symptoms. Then his brother Arthur developed a fever and began to waste away. Doctors, tests, and treatments did not help. Just before dying, the boy drifted back into consciousness and recited a little prayer: “If I should die before I wake, I pray thee, Lord, my soul to take.” The boys’ tough, abusive father broke down and weptwept—but not Richard, then twelve years old. He just sat in a big armchair and...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Franklin Delano Roosevelt The Enigmatic Angler
    (pp. 21-56)

    After four ballots, the Democratic Party Convention of 1932 finally brushed aside Governor Al Smith and nominated Franklin Delano Roosevelt for president. Tradition dictated that a committee would travel—not too quickly—to New York and proffer the nomination to Governor Roosevelt. But with the country in the grip of the Great Depression, this nominee chose something more dramatic. As soon as the California delegation put him over the top, Roosevelt chartered a small trimotor airplane from American Airlines and made the rough nine-hour flight to the convention in Chicago, battling strong head winds all the way. He landed in...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Harry S. Truman We’ll Take the Starch Out of Them—Eventually
    (pp. 57-98)

    Vice President Harry Truman was up on Capitol Hill discussing stalled bills with congressional leaders. As Sam Rayburn (D-TX), the speaker of the house, mixed their drinks, he remembered that the White House press secretary had called for Harry. “I didn’t think it was anything important,” recalled Truman. He returned the call and a short while later Eleanor Roosevelt was putting her hand on his shoulder and telling him, “Harry, the president is dead.” Stunned, Truman responded, “Is there anything I can do for you?” “Is there anything I can do foryou?” answered Eleanor. “You’re the one in trouble...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Dwight D. Eisenhower Compassionate Conservative
    (pp. 99-130)

    Tourists peering through the White House fence could see President Dwight Eisenhower putting on the golf green newly installed on the South Lawn. Ike posed as a bland, amiable, easy-going leader who left Americans alone to enjoy their 1950s prosperity after the uproar of the Great Depression, New Deal, World War, and Harry Truman. The president seemed, wrote one correspondent, “like a man who slipped into the White House by the back door and still hasn’t found his way to the presidential desk.” Ike did not aim to accomplish much—according to this common perception—and that went double for...

  9. CHAPTER 4 John F. Kennedy The Charismatic with a Stricken Father
    (pp. 131-162)

    No modern president evokes more brilliant images than John F. Kennedy: coatless in January, the vigorous new president takes the oath of office and proclaims that the torch of the American Revolution “has been passed to a new generation” while the old departing general hunches up, bundled against the chill. A youthful profile, caught through the glow of the Oval Office window, contemplates the burdens of leading the Free World. The children, Caroline and John Jr., tumble about the White House, tugging at the president’s trousers. Warships circle the placid seas off Cuba during thirteen perilous days in October 1962....

  10. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  11. CHAPTER 5 Lyndon B. Johnson The Secret History of Medicare
    (pp. 163-205)

    If John F. Kennedy swept elegantly into the Oval Office, Lyndon Johnson filled it to bursting. “He’d come on just like a tidal wave,” marveled Vice President Hubert Humphrey. “He went through the walls.… He’d take the whole room over. Just like that.” “He never, never relaxed,” added Speaker of the House Carl Albert (D-OK). Lyndon Johnson vibrated with ambitions, aspirations, insecurities, complicated plots, dirty stories, an astonishing ability to work Congress, an itch to dominate (one might say bully), and a soaring New Deal dream about the Great Society. Health care sat right at the heart of it all.¹...

  12. CHAPTER 6 Richard Nixon A Flower That Bloomed Only in the Dark
    (pp. 206-247)

    J. K. Rowling might have imagined Richard Nixon: now you see him, now you don’t. His dark side roiled just below his granite discipline. Bitterness, anger, and hatred erupted in vindictive fits that consumed him and scathed others. For liberals, he became the closest thing to “he who must not be named.”

    And yet, and yet—other currents circulated in his cauldron of paranoia, deceit, and opportunism. Secluded in his hideaway office across the street from the White House, the fireplace crackling as the air conditioner hummed, Richard Nixon scribbled on yellow legal pads far into the night, and the...

  13. CHAPTER 7 Jimmy Carter The Righteous Engineer
    (pp. 248-282)

    Jimmy Carter ran for president as a skeptical outsider come to clean up the mess. The former Georgia governor was so new to Washington that the day after his inauguration he had no idea how to get from the White House living quarters to the Oval Office. “When the elevator reached the ground floor, the security men were waiting,” he recalled. “Not certain how to find my office, I said as casually as possible, ‘I’m just going to the Oval Office’ and followed the lead agent.”¹

    Critics thought Carter never really learned the way. His approval ratings dropped below 50...

  14. CHAPTER 8 Ronald Reagan Socialized Medicine and the Working Stiff
    (pp. 283-318)

    President Ronald Reagan walked out of the Washington Hilton Hotel after delivering a speech to the construction unions two months into his first term. “Not riotously received,” Reagan later scribbled in his journal, although the incurable optimist could not stop himself from adding, “still, it was successful.” As he neared his limousine, a reporter began to shout a question about the Solidarity movement sweeping Poland. The president paused—then a series of pops rang out like firecrackers. “What the hell’s that?” asked the president, turning toward the sound. The Secret Service knew. Agent Jerry Parr grabbed Reagan, folded him roughly...

  15. CHAPTER 9 George Herbert Walker Bush Stick to the Running Game
    (pp. 319-345)

    In early February 1992, President George Herbert Walker Bush ducked from the warm Southern California sun into the thronged waiting area of the maternal and child health clinic at Logan Heights Family Health Center in downtown San Diego. Jacketless, sleeves rolled up, fresh from enthusiastically working crowds, the tall, trim, energetic president looked momentarily puzzled. His slightly crooked campaign smile began to dim. Low-income mothers—brown, black, Asian, white—clutched squirming infants and chased their toddlers. Newly immunized babies screamed in hurt protest. Secret Service agents hustled about. Cameras flashed.

    “Why am I doing this?” murmured the president of the...

  16. CHAPTER 10 Bill Clinton Kicking the Can down the Road
    (pp. 346-384)

    They’ll always have 1993–94. The memories burn deep in the psyches of health reformers: months of soaring anticipation, elation, dread, defeat, and despair. Like a bewitched talisman, the story of Clinton health care reform remains hot to the touch, radiating hope and warning for the next time. In 1993 and 1994, everything was possible. And so was nothing.

    At the center of it all stood William Jefferson Clinton, the kid from Hope whose incandescent talent rocketed him from a nightmarish childhood to the Oval Office. This was his story. He promised health reform, he managed the process, and he...

  17. CHAPTER 11 George W. Bush Bring It On—Reforming Medicare
    (pp. 385-408)

    George W. Bush was a child of privilege, but not always a privileged child. Grandson of a senator, son of a president, descendant of financiers, oilmen, and industrialists—he never lacked for money or opportunity. Compared to many presidential stories—FDR’s polio, Ike’s D-Day gut-check, Nixon’s poverty, Clinton’s child abuse—W.’s path to the presidency looked, in the words of another Texas president, like “a dose of salt going through a widow woman.”¹

    But it wasn’t quite that easy, and if it had been, George W. Bush might have been a different kind of health care president. Under the placid...

  18. Conclusion Eight Rules for the Heart of Power
    (pp. 409-420)

    President Nixon shunned people. He didn’t want to meet strangers, and he didn’t like to talk to his subordinates. Two tough staff members kept almost everyone at a distance while Nixon sat alone in his hideaway and—fire crackling, air conditioner humming—scratched down his often brilliant plans on pad after pad of yellow paper. Ten years later, President Ronald Reagan dutifully kept a White House diary. The old actor recorded every review, every compliment, every applause line. His gauzy optimism almost never failed him—even rocky performances had morphed into minor hits by the end of the entry. He...

  19. Notes
    (pp. 421-470)
  20. Index
    (pp. 471-484)